The Feminist Media Reader #16 - Bad Blood, Feelin Myself and Bitch Better Have My Money

by - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What a treat I have instore for y'all today! I've been sitting on a feminist analysis of Nicki and Taylor for a while but then, as the media is want to do, something else came along that blew the game apart. That thing was Rihanna. Of course. Let's have a closer look at three of the biggest music videos of recent years...

CASE STUDY 1: Nicki Minaj featuring Beyonce 'Feelin Myself' 

If you do not have a Tidal account, chances are you haven't yet paid witness to 'Feeling Myself' in video form. For that, I pity you - it's about as much fun as an all-you-can-eat jelly and ice cream buffet. The treatment is brief - Nicki and B road trip their way to Coachella, piss about the festival and generally have a whole lot of reasonably harmless fun while sporting swimsuits and fur coats (an outfit combo that suddenly makes SO much sense).

I'm going to put it out there - I adore this video. With nary a man insight, I find it hugely empowering because it's so overtly girly and silly - throwing fries in each others mouths, pool parties, extravagant manicures... it is EXACTLY what I would spend my downtime doing if I was a popstar at the top of my game. Feminism seems intent on stating that we must be like men and do as men do in order to secure equality. While the option to do this is of course pivotal, I do feel like overtly feminine women are often shamed into not being 'proper' feminists, so it feels great to see two women celebrate everything wonderful about being a boss without ditching any of the pink and giggles.

Despite being so glossily shot, it looks impressively low budget, never taking itself too seriously. Even the narrative of the song is important 'feeling myself' as a metaphor for feeling self confident and powerful, without needing validation from the opposite sex but also not directly slamming them - let us look at Queen B's verse as a case in point:

"Changed the game with that digital drop / Know where you was when that digital popped / I stopped the world/ Male or female, it make no difference / I stop the world, world stop... Carry on"

 CASE STUDY 2: Taylor Swift feat Kendrick Lamar 'Bad Blood'

Or that should read 'Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar and everybody else in the entire industry aside from Katy Perry'. Aside from the song being seriously bad ass, the video is undeniably great - big budget, full of attitude and clearly set to inspire a whole heap of imitations (yeah, we saw you Madonna, better luck next time).

Upon first watching this video, I was struck by how brilliantly simple the on-screen dynamic between Taylor and Kendrick is. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's sick of seeing male-female collaboration in music videos that see the female slut-dropping again the males leg or otherwise perpetuating the possibility that their on-screen relationship might be for both business and pleasure. It's such a tired sales trick, so I was chuffed to see neither artist fall into the old sexist trap.

Kendrick Lamar aside, this video is undeniably all about the women. Written a song about somebody who was cruel to you? What better way to show that you don't need that persons friendship by bringing together some of the most powerful and influential women in media who also happen to be your personal bezzies? Ellie Goulding, Gigi Hadid, Hayley Williams, Cara Delivigne, Selena Gomez, Lena's a great way of showing the support of a female cast, especially considering the realtive lack of female superheroes in Hollywood. It's also such a great but subtle way of showing how women are KILLING it across multiple careers at the moment, further bolstered by Taylor's continuation of the theme on her current world tour. Check out this video of her with the triumphant US women's soccer team here.

CASE STUDY 3: Rihanna 'Bitch Better Have My Money'

And so we reach Rihanna. Rightly or wrongly, as well as being a feminist I'm also a massive hip hop fan, so I'm afraid to say that a phrase like 'bitch better have my money' is tiresomely familiar, ticking both the hip-hop tropes - misogny and the endless pursuit of cash. I can't deny that when listening to the song in isolation I was intrigued - the subversion of hearing it from a woman's mouth is interesting and classically Rihanna, proving she can play the boys at their own game. The question is - can we ever achieve equality by merely following a 'you did it first, so I'll do it now' mentality?

'Bitch Better Have My Money' is a slightly more elaborate and cinematic affair than our two previous music videos. Simplified as briefly as possible, it sees Rihanna get her own back on a dodgy male accountant by kidnapping his wife, drugging her, subjecting her to torture and then letting her hang(?) while returning to kill the male accountant. It culminates in a shot of bare-breasted Rihanna writhing around in what is presumably his blood, a 'don't fuck with me' expression painted on her face. So yeah, not exactly offering to let you stand under her umbrella.

The video gets lots of things right. It's lusciously shot, reminding it's audience of the power of music videos when they are treated like a true event. Rihanna is undeniably the one in power from the very beginning, which in itself makes a chance for hip-hop videos. The power play of race is also very interesting post-Ferguson, displaying the anger of the black community against the white middle-class who are trying to obscure their own crimes (albeit in a fairly ham-fisted way).

There are however lots of problems. I think it's fair to say that torturing another women never leaves you looking particularly feminist, and the nudity often dips into the gratuitous, leaving you wondering if it's really about power and more about titilating the sexual desires of men, making murder 'sexy' and glamorous and ultimately, all to gain the male attention. I wouldn't necessarily call the video misognyist like this Guardian Writer (an interesting read whatever side of the fence you're on) , but I do think Rihanna sometimes attempts role-reversing but does it in a bit of a clumsy way, so it comes across like she's trying to pander to male fantasies rather than put forward a genuine message about equality. Nothing wrong with that and nobody should be expected to get it 100% feminist all the time, but I think there are cleverer ways to do it.

Still, when a music video is this ridiculous and over-the-top, giving it the full feminist critic can seem a little hard-hearted, 'Bitch Better Have My Money' shares clear stylistic nuances with 2012's Spring Breakers, a film I really enjoyed but still have no idea why, three years later.

One thing is for certain - big budgets are back, and despite the ever-waning popularity of music television channels, artists are beginning to see the cultural providence of the music video as important once more. It's almost gloriously ironic that the last time I can remember a music video pushing these boundaries, it involved a certain Robin Thicke - perhaps we have him to thank for more than we realise...

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