Somewhere, buried deep in the constantly growing piles of old, abandoned blogs on the internet, I wrote a piece on Rihanna’s video for ‘Love The Way You Lie’ way back when it first came out. Coming not too long after Rihanna’s whole abuse scandal with Chris Brown, and considering Eminem’s well-known history of being an asshole, their own stories were supposed to add weight to the message in a video that was supposed to act as a ‘warning.’
Instead what you got was a video that simply seemed to glamorise domestic abuse. Rather than highlighting the cycle that domestic violence works in and how and where it needs to end, the video said “Hey, you can beat the shit out of one another, but it’ll be grand, the make-up sex will be amazing. It’s all because he loves you, duh.” or “Oh look, you can be in a horribly toxic relationship but at the end of the day, a bit of spooning is nice. That definitely makes up for everything else. Stick around for that.”
The lyrics don’t help, with Eminem rapping about how he loves that she hates him, before saying he’ll tie her to the bed and set the house on fire if she ever tries to leave again. He easily admits that while he feels bad about his actions, his apologies are all lies, and he’s totally aware of that. Meanwhile, Rihanna’s singing a chorus that constantly reiterates that she, as the title of the track suggests, loves the way he lies and that “that’s all right because [she likes] the way it hurts.”
No Rihanna, none of that is all right. From the scenes of violence transitioning into ones of varying degrees of angered intimacy, to the frankly fucked up lyrics, it’s not all right. I do get it, it’s supposed to show the cycle. He abuses her and then feels guilty. They both try to rationalise it, and suddenly he’s all charming and loving again, and he’s sorry for everything, until he beats the shit out of her again. Then he feels guilty and it goes on and on until the cycle is broken, until someone walks away.
Except here, no one walks away. They fall into bed together again at the end, spooning and being cosy. If Eminem and Rihanna were trying to send a positive message or a warning about toxic relationships, it got lost. Rather than warning you to get out, it tells you to be a more understanding girlfriend and it’ll be grand. I mean, he’ll have no reason to slap you around then, right? No. It won’t be grand. You can’t fix it – the only way is out.
The video drew attention to the issue and got people talking but pop culture to a large extent defines social norms and sexing up violence makes abusive relationships seem desirable, and that is what Rihanna’s eleven-year-old impressionable teenage girl fans took from it, not that love shouldn’t hurt like that. The only vaguely positive message in the whole thing was that stealing vodka is probably bad.
Why’s it relevant now? Because Rihanna still doesn’t really get it. The video for her latest single ‘We Found Love,’ while not so specifically targeted at domestic abuse, is supposed to send a message about toxic relationships, but again, it’s a little half-assed. At least at the end of this one, she leaves the relationship, despite his vague protests. However, there are still elements of the video that just don’t sit quite right.
It depicts the highs and lows of a toxic relationship, taking it from the two being completely infatuated with one another, running around skate-parks and drinking under fireworks, until the chorus kicks in along with some slightly aggressive sexy times and a shit ton of pills, until we’re having an impromptu rave in a field with Calvin Harris. As you do. It all looks like mad craic. Things get a little nastier around the second chorus, when they have a bit of a violent tiff in the car, but less than five seconds later they’re kissing and cuddling again and Rihanna’s declaring she’s ‘his’ as she writes “Yours” in glitter or some shit across the screen. She lights an entire packet of cigarettes at once for him, and he blows the smoke into her mouth, because that’s sexy now, apparently, and then we hit the come-down as she passes out on a road. Next he’s slapping her on the ass before tattooing “MINE” on it, and she does not look like she’s enjoying it or consenting to it, in the slightest. Back in the car for some more abuse, and then Rihanna’s vomiting ribbons. Of course she is. When you’re Rihanna, even vomiting is glamorous. She finally goes back to his house, where he’s passed out on the floor and grabs her shit and gets out.
While it’s definitely an improvement on ‘Love The Way You Lie,’ it still makes me uneasy. Sure, there’s a come-down, but from the opening monologue which states “And when it’s over and it’s gone, you almost wish that you could have all that bad stuff back so you could have the good,” there’s a feeling that she doesn’t really want to let go, she just has to.
It’s all portrayed in such a way that while it’s good, it’s all very lovely, even if everything is a bit grey so we all know we’re in a ‘hopeless place’, but while it’s bad, it’s still sort of feels like it’s exciting, or at the very least, not entirely undesirable. But mostly, I have a problem with Rihanna depicting herself as an object, or a possession. She is not his, and that sort of mindset is a characteristic of victims of abuse. It’s not a thing to glamorise, or to just allow. Even if the violence isn’t as obvious or as vicious as it was in ‘Love The Way You Lie,’ it’s still not acceptable, and neither is just going along with someone being so possessive. Younger girls tend to think possessiveness is kind of sweet because it means he likes them so much or whatever, but it’s not. That’s not how relationships are supposed to work.
Rihanna has said she doesn’t want to be considered a role model for children, and that the parents are responsible, but it’s not really a case of choice. When you’re in a position such as Rihanna’s, whether you like it or not, you become a role model for young girls and they’ll look up to you whether you say you’re not the perfect example of how to live life or not. That isn’t to say that all her videos have to be completely PG, or all about meeting Prince Charming or whatever ludicrous fairytale bullshit they’re selling now, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to be mindful of the end message she’s sending out, because they will accept it and they will emulate it, and while glamourising violence, drugs and sex may just be a way to sell records for Rihanna, her younger fans will simply decide it’s cool.