Rihanna’s Whips-and-Rope Confection

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

Wait….another Black female singer is causing a brouhaha with bondage/domination/submission/sadism/masochism (BDSM) imagery?

Like Ciara’s kinky video, I’m not going to clutch my pearls over this one, either.

For the last week, parts of Onlinelandia has been chatting about Rihanna’s latest vid, “S&M,” in which she indulges in a Technicolor blur of ball gags, cellophane, PVC gear, whips, electrical tape, and ropes.  Oh yeah, and her fellating a banana and getting sexy with a strawberry. (I can see PETA putting Rihanna on their short list for future campaigns on the strength of that alone.) Check it out (NSFW):

MTV News reported that the clip has been banned in 11 countries and YouTube’s already restricted it.   To YouTube’s restriction, Rihanna gave it side-eye on Twitter: “They’ve watched Umbrella…..I was full nude.”  She also told her fans to peep the uncensored clip on her websiteOther news sources have reported that MTV itself is trying to clean up the video so it can be shown the maximum audience.

And unlike Rihanna’s influence, Madonna and her visual ode to BDSM, “Human Nature,” or even Ciara’s “Love Sex Magic” (where the sexin’ “tricks” ultimately becomes a segue to or reason for “falling in love”), Rihanna just lets you know:

Feels so good being bad (Oh oh oh oh oh)
Cause no way I’m turning back (Oh oh oh oh oh)
And now the pain is my pleasure
Cause nothing could measure (Oh oh oh)

Love is great, love is fine (Oh oh oh oh oh)
Out the box, out the line (Oh oh oh oh oh)
The affliction of the feeling
Leaves me wanting more (Oh oh oh)

Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

Na-na-na come on, come on, come on
I like it, like it, come on, come on, come on
I like it, like it, come on, come on, come on
I like it, like it, come on, come on, come on
I like it, like it


Oh, I love the feeling you bring to me, oh, you turn me on
It’s exactly what I’ve been yearning for, give it to me strong
And meet me in my boudoir give my body some ah-ah-ah-ah
I like it, like it

In other words, the lyrics are a more literal match with the whiplash images.

And, of course, this is the part in which people may want to analyze exactly why RiRi is doing a video about BDSM (especially when she’s tied up) post-Chris Brown because, they’d argue, doesn’t she want to heal from her abuse?  I could understand that explanation when discussing her guest spot with Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” because I thought, by her participating in a song grounded in an abuser’s perspective, she was “victim-empathizing” (“I can see why he was abusive—I must have done something wrong–so it’s OK”) with the man who abused her and from whom she just extricated herself.  In fact, I held that opinion until I realized that I was dictating how she “should” heal and whom she “should” forgive as part of it, as if I have a patent on the healing process.

As for this color-saturated whips-and-rope confection and what Rihanna “should” be doing as far as her indulging in kink post-intimate partner violence?  I suspect, because BDSM’s and abuses’ manifestations may look the same to some people—all they’re “seeing” and “hearing” about are the physical contact and the verbal viciousness and it all “looks” the same and it “looks” bad because some people cannot fathom why some other people want to be in pain as a part of their sexual experiences—it’s easy to see why some pearl-clutching would ensue.

But here’s the thing:  I severely doubt Rihanna consented to Chris Brown abusing her.  Abuse, by its very nature, is never about consent.  However, Rihanna (from what I gather) agreed to be, say, tied up and cellophaned for this video.  BDSM, by its very nature, is all about consent.  Now, can a person who’s been in abusive relationships use BDSM to work out zie’s issues around the abuse? Yes.  Can a person be involved in an abusive BDSM relationship? Yes.  But the part of the nuance is to realize that these are not the cases of every person who’s been abused or into BDSM.  Is this what’s going on with Rihanna? Shrug.

I think the video’s BDSM images are a bit of a cheat–as race play expert Mollena Williams said about Ciara’s “Love Sex Magic,” it’s kink used to sell musical units moreso than a celebration and/or exploration of the acts themselves. I also think it’s Rihanna conveying to us concerned viewers/fans and The Media — to whom she is both sub (the reporters, themselves with ball-gags in their mouths, dragging Rihanna into the press conference in a dress created from their employers’ headlines about the singer and taping her up in cellophane) and domme (celebrity gossip-monger Perez Hilton on a leash, and various press types whom Rihanna has taped to the bed and the wall as she struts and preens with her PVC gear and matching whip) — that, to quote Racialicious cohort Arturo García, she is still a sexual human being, not a Barbie doll needing to stay wrapped, boxed, and news-itemed as only An Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Victim.

Surviving IPV hasn’t dampened her love for sex, especially switching kink involving grinding biker mamas, blow-up dolls, tongue-and-fruit play, and taping and kissing Black women of size … and all with Rihanna mischievously mugging at the camera. She’s a surviving sistah — which counteracts narratives that Black women survive abuses and other social/personal onslaughts and slights, including from Black men, with fierce stoicism–and doing so with a wink and a smile. (Again, that’s how she‘s surviving. It’s not a prescription for how and/or what others “should” do.)

What I also enjoy about “S&M” is the many people of various hues and sizes participating in RiRi’s kaleidoscopic kink display.   At the same time, she’s doing a lot of girl-girl action in the vid which, as several feminist and other cultural critics point out, such sexual action is seen in this society as safely titillating because it’s usually for the straight male gaze. As well, her domme role does have a racial element to it, namely that it plays into stereotypes of dominating Black women which lends itself to a popular race play scene of a Black woman domming a White man.

And even though Rihanna’s video been banned, her video has yet to cause the usual racial upset, perhaps because she doesn’t have any Race™-Unapproved White Guys for whom she’s trying to perform/seduce.  (Considering the fallout around a 2007 interview in which she said she’s found herself attracted to white guys, perhaps she sussed she would be courting enough controversy with the kink. As Ciara proved, kink + Justin Timberlake = possible Black Card revocation.) But it’s not like the singer hasn’t been cheeky about desiring white guys in videos (the cheekiness starts at 2:35):

So, Rihanna just may make it after all.

Image credit: NY Daily News

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

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