It goes like this. Intrepid investigative bros notice that Rihanna, who is 24, acts like someone who is 24, and they shout "You're not a role model!" Rihanna, noticing that someone has pointed out she is not a role model, agrees: "I'm not a role model!" They concur: YOU'RE NOT A ROLE MODEL! And so does Rihanna: I'M NOT A FUCKING ROLE MODEL! And so it goes, until there's a steady rhythm to it, almost like a beat, maybe like the beat to a Jason Derulo song: ROLE MODEL! NOT A ROLE MODEL! ROLE MODEL! NOT A ROLE MODEL! MARCO! REPETE!
This is not new. It's essentially the same reaction that Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera received. Rihanna, in this analogy, isn't Britney Spears, because she's neither choosing nor being "subtly encouraged" to act like a valedictorian, pageant winner, Southern belle and collectible Swarovski crystal angel at once. She's more like Xtina circa Stripped, except Rihanna's career since Good Girl Gone Bad is kind of what you'd get if you stretched every single from Stripped into an album. (OK, that if she replaced "Beautiful" and "The Voice Within" with "Still Dirrty" and then just "Dirrty" again.) This is neither new or surprising. Every step along the primrose path makes perfect sense--including, sadly, the step where the major bit of fallout from her Chris Brown collaborations is everyone talking about Rihanna is once again not a role model. It's the same story as with "S&M," except with the extra complicating factor of few people simultaneously questioning Brown's role-model credentials. (Some people have questioned teens choosing him as a role model, but that's not quite the same.)
But yes--the two lasting effects of "Birthday Cake" and "Turn Up the Music" seem to be chart success and an uptick in Rihanna role-model comments. Hooray! Sigh. Instead of doing a separate post for each instance, we'll just do a roundup.
"I don't think Rihanna is a massively great role model for women, her lyrics aren't empowering. She's a brilliant pop star and recording artist but her lyrics are not empowering - young girls have to listen to those lyrics.
Before we go further, it's perfectly OK to have personal issues with Rihanna's lyrics, or issues with your children hearing Rihanna's music, or any of that. But the thing is, Young's alternatives fall into awfully familiar patterns. There's Adele, because there's always Adele; comparing others unfavorably to her is beyond cliche at this point. (When "S&M" received its outcry, one of the major detractors was Richard Russell of Adele's label XL.) There's Lady Gaga, who doesn't make much sense as an alternative to dressing skimpily or not singing about sex. (Example lyrics, one for every album: "Let's have some fun, this beat is sick, I wanna take a ride on your disco stick," "take a bite of my bad-girl meat," "I want your whiskey mouth all over my blonde south.") Then there are Grace Jones, M.I.A. and Annie Lennox, all fantastic musicians but also non-sequiturs after two mainstream pop artists. It sort of stops being about Rihanna, you know? If you're criticizing sexualized music, you really can't single her out.
Annie Lennox: Speaking of Annie Lennox. She also had words about sexualized music, but only in general terms. Then she had words about Rihanna--specifically, all the headlines lately about Annie Lennox saying Rihanna should speak out against domestic violence, or urging her to do so, in The Telegraph.
As it turns out, it wasn't quite like that. First, the interview is with The Guardian, not The Telegraph. And Lennox's stance is significantly more tempered than those headlines suggest, closer to "could" than "should," and a lot less sensationalistic:
"Here is a young woman who has been through domestic violence and she could become a tremendous spokesperson for that issue but the choice is hers. It's not up to anybody else to do that. Of course if she did choose to do that it would be so fucking powerful but it's her personal right to choose it or not. We all have our issues and we have to deal with them in our own way.
Essentially. And Rihanna's been quite clear about how she feels about being a role model. She knows she's not one. Talk That Talk is essentially a huge campaign for her not being one. And it'll probably be less than a month before Rihanna reiterates this. Until then.