What does it feel like to realize you've been played by a master? Maybe you feel a little stung at being caught hook, line, and sinker. Maybe you write a short note to self: "I'm not going to let this happen again." When Rihanna pulled a fast one on me this morning, all I could summon was admiration. Clad in shaggy white fur, she threw a cellphone over the deck of her yacht and then shot it to bits before it could fall into the ocean. My eyes lit up, GIFs dancing back and forth between them. I had been snared by an expert.
That's a scene from her lengthy, blood-spattered video for single "Bitch Better Have My Money." She released it last night at midnight, disrupting the peaceful slumber of fans around the world like the true agent of chaos she is. We've been talking about the video in the office all morning: its stylistic debt to movies like Natural Born Killers, Spring Breakers, and Kill Bill, its connection to Rihanna's real life, its eminent GIFability.
We all agree this video's a hot mess
If there's one thing we all agree on, it's that the clip's a bit of a hot mess. It's visually and narratively incoherent. It features Eric Roberts as a horny sheriff and Mads Mikkelsen as a corrupt accountant, but doesn't do much with either beyond the shock value of their appearance. It doesn't have much function as a showcase for the song itself. It even gets the details wrong: instead of toting Mikkelsen's captive wife around in a "brand new foreign car," she's hauled along in the backseat of an aging piece of American muscle. But that's all fine, and to pick through the video for tonal consistency and adherence to the text is to completely miss the point. This is a delivery vehicle for bits and pieces of Rihanna doing Rihanna Things, bits and pieces that her fanbase can use to flood the internet in a matter of hours. It's 2015 fan service at its finest.
Rihanna is a genius. This is not a contentious statement: she's one of the most successful and distinctive performers of the last few decades, someone whose understanding of the link between music and image is almost unparalleled. This is important to remember when thinking about this "Bitch Better Have My Money" video: it's been designed by someone who has an intuitive grasp of the role she's currently playing in pop culture, of the aspects of her persona that matter most. There's Rihanna, the vengeful "bad bitch"; Rihanna, the unrepentant stoner; Rihanna, the queen of DGAF, an icon of personal liberation in a world where the constraints of systematic oppression and broken systems are more evident than ever.
Fans want to see her kicking ass and taking names
And while the song and video could have immense personal meaning to her — according to The Fader, the "bitch accountant" character is likely a reference to her own financial drama in recent years — she also knows how to play into the hands of fans who want to see her kicking ass and taking names. Cue up the signature scenes: the blunts getting torched with abandon, the bong hit that turns the camera upside down, the queen surveying her vast array of weaponry as she gets ready to exact revenge. Quality is irrelevant when you know how to give the people what they want. And if you think that's a statement grounded in criticism, I can assure you it's not — it's appreciation. Remember: she hooked me too.