Last week Rihanna launched the video for her latest single “Bitch Better Have My Money.” For all its intended shock value, nipples, and more shock value, it bored me. I couldn’t take a single positive thing from it. There has been much discussion about the politics of the video, but since I’d only be adding to the noise, allow me to critique it from an artistic and cinematic perspective.
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I love cinema. I went to college as a wide-eyed 18 year old hoping to one day become a film editor, but disappointed with my course, I quit 6-months later. However before I dropped out, my lecturers did manage to impart some very important nuggets of wisdom to me which I have been able to apply to my current work and most other areas of life - nuggets of wisdom I wish someone had imparted upon Rihanna and Megaforce before they had agreed on the treatment for this video.
“Form follows function” - The idea that a piece of work, whether it be a product, a structure, or art (in this case a music video), must be designed to function before worrying about the aesthetic.
“Only break the rules when you know the rules and why you are breaking them.”
While a very thin narrative does exist in the video, it is overshadowed by the use of sexualised violence, consumerism, and film references solely for the sake of it. Rihanna kidnaps a rich, spoilt white woman, and along with her Thelma & Lousie-esque accomplices, tortures said woman and takes her on a joy ride before murdering her and later her husband, who it turns out is her dodgy accountant who stole money from Rihanna. The video spends so much time covering the kidnapping and torture of the wife, they are forced to reveal the husband as “The Accountant” by way of wacky titles. Thus reminding me of one more piece of excellent advice that a college lecturer gave me:
“Using voice overs and titles is the laziest way of moving a narrative along.”
One film that the video nods to is Kill Bill. While Quentin Tarantino’s Bride character goes on her gruesome journey of revenge, we feel empathy for her and compelled to be on her side because of the horrific violence she was subjected to, both at the start of the story and throughout the two films. In Rihanna’s case her motive for twisted, murderous revenge was sparked by the most boring reason possible: her accountant was skimming money from her. Violence can be big, theatrical and stylised, but there must be a functional reason for it. I’m afraid one very rich person stealing money from another very rich person doesn’t qualify for me.
This theme of appropriating classic cinema while not understanding why the visuals and plot devices work in the films they’re lifting them from, is rife throughout. Films that Rihanna and Megaforce draw from like Carrie and Thelma and Louise are about women who turn violent after having suffered severe physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the people around them. Even references to exploitation cult classic Faster Pussycat Kill Kill are out of place. While it too had gratuitous violence and overt sexuality, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill made a statement in an era when women were grossly underestimated.Like the overwhelming majority of pop music videos, BBHMM falls into the trope of creating a completely unrelatable universe by using over-the-top consumerism and product placement to the point where the video becomes more about the products than the narrative. As critical as I am, I even found myself thinking “I really wish I had those shoes and that skirt….and those sunglasses.” For the past 10-or so-years, that has become the fate of music videos as an art medium - one big commercial. So debate all you want about whether or not Rihanna’s artistic intention was to shine a spotlight on intersectional feminism, the real answer is painted all over the video’s visuals and written in it’s title. In a strange way though, despite all my criticisms, Rihanna has indeed followed the rule of “Form follows function” in that the video’s sole purpose is to make money for her, and by discussing it, we have all helped it fulfill that purpose.