Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This Chick Rocks: Rihanna

She's come a long way from "Pon de Replay"-- which was my jam in 2005.

A year later Rihanna was sending out a distress call from the dance floor with "S.O.S."-- the obvious favorite from her second album "Girl Like Me."

Losing her inhibitions in 2008, the world began to understand what this Barbados bombshell could really do. After teaming up with rap legend Jay-Z, splashing her way through "Umbrella" and getting a little crazy in "Disturbia," the good girl had officially gone bad.

Her edgier, sexier image came with a shocking new hairstyle and a seemingly perfect relationship. She and Chris Brown confirmed rumors of a romance by dancing together at the MTV Video Music Awards. The show-stopping performace dubbed the new couple hip-hop royalty.

But in February of 2009 the two made headlines when Brown assaulted the queen of pop.

That Fall Rihanna's fourth album was already pushing boundaries. She flipped the script with songs about unbreakable self-esteem. "Hard" and "Rock Star 101" exemplified a new confidence usually reserved for male artists.

Gender issues were aggressively surfacing as Rihanna's music took on a feminist tone. "Rude Boy" not only expressed a woman's sexual desires, but demanded her male counter-part walk his talk-- if he's "big enough."

And then "Te Amo" explicitly depicted a lesbian encounter between Rihanna and a dark-haired woman wearing leather. An startling transformation was taking place.

After a very public break-up with her abuser, Rihanna emerged as a force that only vaguely resembled Breezy's girlfriend. While Brown's career suffered, she was successfully releasing one hit after another.

With every song Rihanna grew stronger. "Love the Way You Lie" directly addressed the domestic violence she had lived through. Exploding in 2010 with powerful lyrics from Eminem, the duet was the beginning of this diva's creative healing process.

"Loud," her most recent contribution to senses of sight and sound, tackles more issues and continues to raise eyebrows. Rihanna becomes more and more controversial with every note she sings.

"Only Girl (In the World)" demands everyone's undivided attention, as do her fiery red locks. Drake joined Rihanna for the hot and steamy hook-up anthem, "What's My Name?" And "S&M" fetishizes her own relationship with pain and the press.

She said it herself-- she might be bad, but she's perfectly good at it.

But the real story concerning Rihanna and censorship came with the release of her latest song "Man Down"-- which was banned from MTV, VH1 and BET.

Bob Marley shot the sheriff; one of his most recognizable songs. Jimi Hendrix told the tale of a man willing to kill his "old lady" for infidelity; a classic rock hit. Eminem described killing his ex-wife in vivid detail on multiple tracks and his deep emotional reveal is applauded.

But Rihanna shoots her rapist in a real portrayal of gendered violence and somehow it's too much.

Industy Ears, "a new generation nonpartisan think tank aimed at addressing and finding solutions to disparities in media that negatively impact individuals and communities" called the musical confession "an inexecusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song."

However, Terry O'Neil, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), told MTV the singer is simply "working out personal issues through her art" and did not find the video exploitive at all.

Others support Rihanna's efforts but think her message is muddled by the nonlinear story. Many have questioned whether her skimpy clothing and suggestive dancing resulting in sexual assault will encourage victim-blaming instead of urging audiences to fault the rapist.

Only one thing is for sure-- Rihanna is a fearless crusader for women's rights both on and off stage. The adversity in her life has only emboldened her to test the limits and speak her mind. She continues to inspire us while topping the charts and giving women everywhere something they deserve-- a role model.

Rihanna's fluid reinvention incorporates a certain depth that demands respect. She is the voice of the voiceless-- loud, proud and unashamed. Her soulful lyrics paired with electric beats move your heart and your feet.

Six years ago she promised to make the DJ turn it up-- and she certainly has. Believing in this survivor's staying power, feminists only ask that Rihanna keep 'em coming because we all identify as the girl from the dancefloor wanting some more.

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