Rihanna’s Russian Roulette
Pop culture, especially music, is a major influence of fashion trends, with pop stars being the voice of what is in. Of course a pop star is more of a figure head, exercising the wishes of corporations selling products. The fashion industry is an interesting marketing machine, that must create fashion that is different, edgier, sexier, and more shocking than the last season. Designers remind me of the 24-hour news networks – in an attempt to keep up with the competition they churn out garbage and call it “news” or in this case “fashion.” I have to say I am disappointed with what I see happening in women’s fashion these days. Particularly the fashion found in mainstream music. Women are reduced to objects to be desired. Nothing proves this more than the cover of Rihanna’s single “Russian Roulette.” It begs the question, just how much further can this really go? This is fashion that is truly painful to look at.
So many thoughts, feelings, and emotions come to my head when looking at this picture. At first the picture is shocking, grotesque, and demeaning…like something out of pornography. Yet another misogynistic concoction from the mind of a fellow human being. I always wonder, when I see such images being advertised, who thinks of these things? Who decided, that to sell this female artist’s music, it was best to show her body exposed, except the barbed wired wrapped around her flesh? You imagine this “character” being locked in a dungeon being tortured by a psychopath – chains, knives, and blood all befitting of such a scene.
Then I listen to the song. The words are powerful, deep, dark. The song’s sound is like the same old pop beat, nothing too impressive, but at least it fits along with the lyrics for the most part. I listened to the song over and over, until the sound grew on me. But it was truly the lyrics alone that drew me in, and broke my heart. I felt I could cry just thinking of the pain inside these words. Rihanna, a survivor of domestic violence, was expected to send a message with her release after recovering from assault. For anyone who has experienced trauma, it is a known fact that you have seen true evil in every sense. When a person victimizes another, they go to the darkest place in their soul to do such a thing. And that victim will forever carry that pain that was inflicted. But thankfully through creative expression, one can release that pain. Through creativity and art, we lose ourselves in true happiness and learn to love ourselves again. I feel that when Rihanna came through her experience and decided to create a new song, she had to release and express all that she endured, and this is what probably led her to select these lyrics. Artists always share their life experiences in their work; it is the essence of their art. Rihanna is no exception. Sadly, I think we try to ignore the pain that goes along with violence. We want victims to be over it so we don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Victims of so many crimes hide because there is an unspoken rule to not talk about your suffering. And I think everything from the lyrics to the album art is very telling of the times we live in. We are so desensitized that media keeps taking it one step further – hence the degrading image of Rihanna as tortured sex object. And the lyrics, like poetry, can be interpreted in a million different ways. What’s clear is that Rihanna felt they correctly expressed something about herself, her experience.
After reading the lyrics I hear the product of a personal experience against the backdrop of celebrity and over exposure. We cannot forget that Rihanna’s rights were not only taken away when Chris Brown physically assaulted her, but also when the police failed to protect her identity and private images of the abuse she suffered. The actual police photos of her victimization were illegally obtained and then posted on a slew of websites for the voyeuristic public to view. Imagining what it must have felt like for her, to go through what she did, and on top of that under the magnifying glass of the media paparazzi is mind blowing. It comes as no surprise that she would agree to do the cover above – exposed, vulnerable, in an air of brutality. Her lyrics are soaked in raw trauma.
[Verse 1:] Take a breath, take it deep Calm yourself, he says to me If you play, you play for keeps Take a gun, and count to three I’m sweating now, moving slow No time to think, my turn to go [Chorus:] And you can see my heart beating You can see it through my chest And I’m terrified but I’m not leaving Know that I must pass this test So just pull the trigger [Verse 2:] Say a prayer to yourself He says, close you eyes Sometimes it helps And then I get a scary thought That he’s here means he’s never lost [Chorus:] And you can see my heart beating You can see it through my chest And I’m terrified but I’m not leaving Know that I must pass this test So just pull the trigger [Bridge:] As my life flashes before my eyes I’m wondering will I ever see another sunrise? So many won’t get the chance to say goodbye But it’s too late to think of the value of my life [Chorus:] And you can see my heart beating You can see it through my chest And I’m terrified but I’m not leaving Know that I must pass this test x2 So just pull the trigger
I wonder how this woman must feel. Like so many others with a dream, just trying to do what she loves. She’s guided to sell herself through her sexuality, and all her outfits, her dances, her videos, her songs are cloaked in it. Do you think as a young girl she imagined it would be this way? That this would be the formula for female fame? I wonder what such a self image does to one’s self worth? But judging from the aftermath it’s clear that wrongs can be forgotten even with half ass apologies, and that victims aren’t really victims but instead the ones we blame.
Though the video is disappointing, it does convey the dark and tortured emotions in her lyrics. But the fashion is a huge disappointment. The gray hooded tanktop/ onsie can only be described as infantilized erotica for the ridiculous. I could imagine Rihanna in a sharp black pin-stripe suit, white buttoned up shirt and tie, ready for business. In the scenes where she seems to be locked up in a room with padded walls, one imagines the life of a prisoner locked in an institution. I didn’t know it was possible to hyper sexualize suicide, but the creators of this video found a way.
In the end people will move on and forget about Rihanna’s and Chris Brown’s “story” as the devour the next personal tragedy. But I hope that something is learned; that through the dialogue this has started, more people open their eyes to the epidemic of violence against women. Because we all know a woman who has been in this same place, and she will hope that we have humanity instead of blame or complacency. If we educate ourselves about the realities of violence, we can help end this suffering for good one day.