“I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it.”
There we have it: the definitive statement of purpose by Rihanna for unrepentant bad girls everywhere. Or the final commercialization of a formerly underground subculture. Take your pick. It could even be both. You can be delighted by Rihanna’s gleeful embrace of sexual transgression and still wonder just how transgressive anything really is if four million people are buying it. Perhaps there’s not much taboo left to fetish culture when it’s constantly in your face and at your fingertips. On the other hand, though, good. Let people be sexually liberated, empty out those closets, sweep open the dungeons of shame, stop clutching your pearls at other people’s pleasures. Girls just wanna have fun! With ball gags and Japanese rope bondage and puppy play and femdom and slashfic and cam shows and dd/lg and latex and friendly fire and cryptozoophiliac Patreon subscriptions and whatever other filthy things you didn’t know you were into until the internet brought them to your attention. It’s a great time to be alive and sexually active.
Well, this is about the polar opposite of my own life, but I’m glad that Rihanna and Nicki are both getting some. Obviously, the level of bad-bitch-ness that Rih and Nicki Minaj are at is an unattainable ideal, especially for those of us who spend most of our time indoors with our cats. But there’s a little bit of a bad bitch inside of all of us, and we need to remember that when we’re feeling like useless blobs of angst. The musical stylings of Rihanna don’t get a lot of credit for having deep cultural or spiritual impact, and hey, they’re not really there for that. But Bad Gal RiRi is there to remind us that we should be having fun and being fabulous and there’s billions of fish in the sea, just in case anyone cares about fish. Don’t ever misunderestimate how fucking empowering it feels to be fabulous and get in front of the lights and cut loose.
Let’s take a break from the arty and obscure and just enjoy a shot of pure, uncomplicated pop. Yep, simple and uncomplicated with no problematic baggage to unpack or intricate social context to parse- Oh wait! Never mind, this is Rihanna. No pop star in her echelon has more contextual baggage. If you want to ask why I would be a fan of Rihanna, one of the queens of the corporate pop machine, the short answer would be, she’s so damn good at being a pop star. She can dance in a negligee and deliver a mindless song like she really believes in it. She’s great at being glamorous. She’s an unrepentant ‘bad girl’ with very little interest in maintaining a ‘likable’ reputation. And as for the heavy baggage of being a woman of color in the stereotype-driven pop world, of having her difficult personal past made into another item of public consumption, of trying to have a creative voice and control her image in an industry that gives its biggest names the least amount of freedom? She carries it all with remarkable grace. I call it the grace of having no fucks left to give. She’s damn good at what she does, she’s not ashamed to profit from the industry that profits from her, she’s not afraid to reclaim images of black womanhood that ‘cleaner’ stars would shy away from as too loaded, and she will not be a part of anyone’s cheap victim narrative.