Friday, June 3, 2011

Music Note #11: Beyonce and Rihanna: Feminism is Complicated

In the past two week, pop divas, Beyonce and Rihanna have released songs that have stirred controversy and further opened up the discussion about feminism and women's rights. Beyonce's anthem "Run the World" and Rihanna's "Man Down" coincidently came out around the same time, however the latter surprisingly for me turned out to be more meaningful and empowering than the former. I remember listening to both to Destiny's Child's "Independent Women" anthem in 2000 and loving that song, but when I hear "Run the World," I do not feel as strong of a reaction.

 First off, that song, which was written by Beyonce, even though it is not really progressive because it is equating full independence with being able to buy things (materialism), at least called us "women," not "girls." Also, the entire song could be used as an anthem, not just one line, which brings me to "Run The World." Yes, it also focuses on "getting that check," but Beyonce's song have never been the most progressive things in the world. However, besides a lackluster beat, which she used from Major Lazer's "Pon De Floor", a song that has a questionable video, and that The Dream actually wrote this song, not Beyonce herself, the song is not empowering to me.

The only part of the song that is worth it is "Who run the world? Girls!" and toasting to the college grads. What does the line "Make your check, come at they neck" mean and what does "Boy this beat is crazy/This is how they made me/Houston Texas Baby" have to do with anything? I also do not see how "I think I need a barber/None of these n****s can fade me/I'm so good with this/I remind you I'm so hood with this" or saying "f*** you, pay me" is empowering. She sounds like she is trying to do a role reversal with herself and her man, which I do not think is the point of feminism.

The video is not convince me to like the song better either. No, I do not care that the girls are in revealing outfits, even though I think that today the focus on many female pop stars is to come off as sexual and seductive, which can lead to objectification of women. Yes, the dancing is amazing, but the video just looks Mad Max-ish and the "girls" in the video do not look like they are running the world, but playing the seductresses in order to rule the world. Watch the "Evil Demon Seductress" video at Sociological Images to know what I am talking about. The guys in the video do not even look phased by them as the "girls" seductively dance their way to winning the world. Nothing about this song feels personal....

On the other hand, Rihanna's "Man Down" moved me. Generally, I do not like Rihanna's music all that much. There are a few songs that I do like, but her voice in general irritates me to much to care (it works better when she sings in reggae or in a slower style). However, I do not like the criticism that has come down on her because of the song and video. This is a a heartfelt song about a woman feeling grief and guilt over killing a man and the video portrays a woman who is sexually assaulted and kills her attacker. After Rihanna released the video, she received criticism for the violence against the man in this video, but what about the violence against the woman who he violated.

Yes, murder is wrong, but so is rape or any other kind of sexual assault, and Rihanna shows that in this video. This man took something from her and she ended up taking his life; it is a consequence  to his actions. Moreover, it is not as if Rihanna is showing a woman who is glorifying herself murdering someone; she is stricken with grief in the song ("I didn't mean to end his life/I know it wasn't right") and video. If you want that, go listen to the Dixie Chick's "Goodbye Earl." Revenge killing in music is nothing new, so stop unfairly judging Rihanna. Instead try to stop what causes people to do those killings in the first place. Even Rihanna brings up the idea of "blaming the victim" when she sings about now being a criminal for killing the man who assaulted her. This video is more personal to me because it shows how complicated life is and we often do things we regret even thought it was a reaction to someone else's actions.

1 comment:

Jane Odartey said...

I felt something similar when I saw Beyonce's new video. I found it was disappointing. I thought she was trying to be someone else and it was of course not working. The lyrics were poor because they seem to portray feminism but didn't have a clear message to support the claim and therefore couldn't be portrayed as such.

I actually like Rhianna's voice. I see what you mean by it being better when used for reggae and such but I think it's actually stronger because she didn't go with tradition and did what she wanted instead. I usually find her videos to be the exact cliche of "sex sells." This time I impressed too. It was a pretty good video and lyrics made sense. It reminds me a bit of Hardy's Tess of D'Urbervilles; I am not sure if you read it but Tess murdered the man who raped her.