Rihanna’s Ultimate Revenge Fantasy in BBHMM
Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” (BBHMM) music video has been labeled as explicit due to its language, nudity and violence incorporated in almost every scene throughout the seven minute visual story. Viewers themselves are even warned to consent to watching if they desire to view the artist perform her most vengeful tale. Presenting Rihanna as the main character in this traditional high energy plot, she brings reality to her own revenge fantasy after being cheated out of a large sum of money by attacking the accountant (also known as the ‘bitch’) who wronged her. The video keeps the viewers attention with Rihanna’s entire persona creating a sense of uncomfortability as she takes on the role as the violent and aggressive gangster woman who will kill to get what she wants. This paper will focus on BBHMM’s use of gender stereotyping and categorization to bring to light victimization in current social standards, the violence of selfish desire and lust for wealth, as well as visual techniques to convey the overall detrimental image of women as perpetual victims.
Rihanna implements the stereotypical housewife image of an upper class, model-esque, caucasian woman (the accountant’s wife) whose lifestyle revolves around wealth and luxury. This is exemplified in the first few moments in the video when she’s elegantly putting on lipstick while wearing expensive lingerie in her 12th floor apartment, for her, status delicately drips off of her like the diamonds on her decollage. The beautiful wife’s lifestyle is not perceived as self-earned though, it is her partner, the ‘bitch’ Rihanna is referring to, that has given the woman her pristine materialism. The paradigms of a woman are exposed in this storyline: from the youthful, rich, and highly sexualized white woman that Rihanna chooses to target as a mechanism to alarm the accountant is contrasted to the image of con-woman Rihanna herself. With smeared dark eye makeup and a fashion wardrobe resembling the image of a villain (she wears oversized coats throughout the video, heavy accessories, and the bandana over her head), both female personas juxtapose each other but share the role of the victim in some way. While one woman is kidnapped as ploy to scare the accountant into handing over the money, Rihanna herself has been played by the selfish and conniving banker. Rihanna’s resortment to torture and weapons and her constant drinking and smoking also illuminates the carefree and lifestyle that she wants to attain, especially with the help of the millions she wants back. Lines such as “Louis XIII and it’s all on me, nigga, you just bought a shot” carry a double meaning, especially with the word ‘shot’. Rihanna repeatedly resorts to violence in this music video, but also alludes to her wanting to drink alcohol shots and be intoxicated with her friends and to live life in never ending euphoria.
The reference to the division of social classes and their stereotypes can be acknowledged in the wealth and status of the white woman and her husband in comparison to Rihanna and her group of two other women. While the wealthy and charmed are polite and quaint, Rihanna’s sense of brutality against the blonde trophy wife signify the disruption between social class and and the shared desire for wealth and lavishness.The contradiction in experience when Rihanna is partying in the hotel room smoking from a bong while one of her friends is dancing on the kidnapped and unconscious woman unravels into a scene when the accountant’s wife wakes up and partake in the same activities with them. Comical in a way, she has rollers still tucked perfectly into her blonde shiny hair in this abrupt change of character. For one second, as the accountant’s wife is clearly intoxicated now from her forced hits from the bong, everyone seems to share the same feelings of being high both on life and on marijuana. It’s clear though that the kidnapped victim does not smoke or drink in the same way that Rihanna does. On a similar note of the representations of men in the music video, the two male figures that are shown are the account ‘bitch’ himself and the sheriff who appears in two scenes just as a bystander. In these scenes, the sheriff stops by and leers at the girls when they’re lounging on some chairs in the middle of nowhere shows how sexualized women still are. He inspects their bikini-clad bodies and drives away with an uncomfortable almost perverted gaze towards the four women. Then, as Rihanna and her two accomplices are swimming with the bitch’s wife floating underwater, the sheriff comes to talk to them only to be obliviously charmed by Rihanna. It is pertinent to note that the accountant and the sheriff are two white men of high power who both use women for only their superficial values. The end of the movie flashes clips of the banker rolling around with two other lingerie clad women shooting from a money gun while at the same time his wife is heavily assaulted. The stereotype of the money hungry caucasian business man is magnified in his carelessness towards his own partner and recklessness in greed.
As Rihanna’s motives become more desperate and urgent in the music video, the sporadic twists and turns of the camera mimics her desperation. Starting with an unexpected, yet surprisingly smooth, kidnapping of the wife to the upside down shot of when she’s in the motel room smoking a bong and getting drunk, the artist pulls the viewer into the depths of her audacious heist. The upside down shot illuminates on the chaos of greed, selfishness, and crime. Filmed to make the viewer feel like they are in the fast paced, true crime, high risk adventure with Rihanna herself, the usage of camera work and videography makes the video even more heist like. With scenes where the camera is facing up towards Rihanna, the musical artist shares an intense soul-burning gaze with the lens to show ultimate defiance and hunger for retribution. In a similar scene, Rihanna shoots a bullet into the sky when she’s lounging on the top deck of her yacht, the camera then switches to a visually appealing far-away image of what fireworks would look like in the middle of the day. This shot of the bullet firing into the vibrant blue water with the pale lavender sky parallels the hidden dangers and destruction behind the acts of greed and capitalism as well as human betrayal.
The highly exaggerated and almost comical music video with scenes of Rihanna amplifying every characteristic of an angry con-man: violent, vindictive, and impulsive. Comparing the first scene to the last scene with a shot of the singer in the box from the behind view to the last scene where she’s smoking a blunt covered in blood that isn’t hers, the escalation of her trailblazing anger entices the viewers since it’s rare that a woman takes the seat of the vengeful criminal who seeks out justice for what she’s lost (Kornhaber, 2015). However, her apathy in the last few moments of the video where she’s sitting in the box padded with her millions: was that revenge fantasy enough? Was Rihanna smoking the blunt to relieve of the stress that she had gone through or is she daydreaming of an even more brash and violent ending to her
Critical Hip Hop Studies