Pop Music

Rihanna's "Man Down" video opens fire on the subject of rape and gets blasted by detractors

There's been a lot of talk about Rhianna's controversial new video for the song "Man Down." If you haven't seen it, Rihanna shoots a man who is shown to be her rapist with a gun she calls "Peggy Sue." The scene opens in a crowded area with a shot of her assailant-turned-victim, and Rihanna, who emerges from the shadows holding a gun. Then with more emotion on her face than she showed in her Diane Sawyer interview about her real life abuse, Rhianna pulls the trigger and smokes his ass in cold blood.

Cut to the lively, up-tempo track showing the Bajan beauty just yesterday, wandering the streets of her neighborhood, being just one of the "regular girls." The directors do take care to paint her as a flirty, sexy temptress -- she smiles and flirts with boys, gives a long phallic draw on a straw inserted into a fresh coconut -- and of course, the party scene, where the initial meeting with the abuser takes place.

She dances sexily all over the room, with ease, even winding and grinding with her attacker, in what appears to be innocent fun. She gives the very specific "no" gesture, and walks away from him and leaves the party. He trails her, and that's where the implied sexual assault takes place.A frantic Rihanna is seen running down a dirt path, where she retrieves a gun and then boom! That's that. Rum-pum-pump-pum.

Musically, this might be one of the best joints Rihanna has released in a long while. She's vocally right in the middle of her reggae influences and lets her accent take over the song, and it's pretty fucking tight. Her critics largely wanted her to make a statement about domestic abuse, rather than rape and frankly, she's just not in a position to do so. This song -- coming on the heels of her hot single "S&M," in which she breathlessly sings about whips and chains exciting her -- is not a story Rihanna has to publicly subscribe to. She didn't want to tell "her" story, she wanted to tell many womens' stories. Unfortunately, one of the easiest ways to string together commonalities in women is with rape as a storyline.

Throughout the whole Chris Brown/Rihanna debacle, I stayed indifferent to Rihanna's healing process. She talked about it in vague, round-about ways, and only really when it was beneficial to her, making it hard to believe any contrived artistic themes she came out with after the fact. Example: "I'm so Hard." Yeah. Okay.

"Man Down," though, seems like a hysterical, cathartic fantasy played out with a different storyline, so that her pain can continue to largely remain anonymous. Regardless, Rihanna got down with this, and if there is any place where she should be given credit, it should be for opening the dialogue about rape and sexuality on a broader scale.

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Ru Johnson
Contact: Ru Johnson