Have you heard Rihanna’s first single off her upcoming sixth album? Six albums by the age of 23; I envy her because there are days when I want to be her. I may be bad but I’m perfectly good at it, too, mister! "We Found Love" (click here to listen) is her first collaboration with Scottish DJ turned producer Calvin Harris, famous abroad, but viewed as more of an underground electronic artist out here. Obviously, working with Rihanna is great for him. Once this song becomes a hit on American radio (and it will), he’ll join the ranks of top producers as more American based recording artists will hear it and likely gravitate toward him when they gear up for new album cycles.
I’ve had mixed feelings about Rihanna for quite some time. After "SOS" made her the dance diva she is well known as today, I couldn’t help but love her songs. "Please Don’t Stop the Music," "Disturbia," and "Only Girl" were irresistible for a gay man like me who loves to dance in a Hanes T-shirt and undies by myself in front of my bedroom mirror. Plus, girlfriend’s got some undeniable swagger! Eventually, though, I was a bit annoyed with her. A portion of my sentiments surely sprung from my jealousy of her pop success, as I’m an aspiring pop artist myself. But other parts of my feelings were more justifiable. Her voice wasn’t great live (it’s since gotten better), and she didn’t dance up a storm. In other words, she wasn’t as magical on stage as Beyoncé, currently the best live performer in pop. Furthermore, I was a bit turned off by her sex shtick hitting the repeat button with each album. Actually, I was getting annoyed with everyone’s sex shtick to a degree. Madonna was the pioneer in that regard, but she used pop to snatch the power of female sexuality out of males’ hands and place it into females’. She used sexuality to break social barriers (and to further her career, but at least positive social change came out of it). Awesome examples of respectable, powerful, sexual women on television like Samantha in Sex and the City wouldn’t be around without Madonna’s work. Basically, I love everything Madonna’s done.
At least Lady Gaga has used sexuality to focus people’s attention on LGBT issues. Katy Perry, whose music and look I love, doesn’t have a social agenda (apart from "Firework"), but at least her sexuality has been semi-original; she’s twisted it in a tongue-in-cheek, hipster, cute, sundress, candy girl/Chiquita Banana direction and made it her own. On the other hand, Rihanna seems to copy Madonna move for move but without any political point and without revealing much of her own personality, unlike Katy who makes her personality known. In other words, she uses sexuality solely to push product, which sometimes puts a bad taste in my mouth. However, after talking to my friend Laura, a progressive bi-sexual with a buzz-cut, I’ve realized that maybe Rihanna is doing something right. Laura said that in many Rihanna songs, the pop siren is in the power position. In "Rude Boy," she tells the guy to “take it, take it.” In "S&M," she’s the one wielding the chains and whips. At the end of the day, it’s all about pointing that out to the naïve, impressionable youth who hear these songs and see these images so that they interpret them in a way that’s beneficial, as opposed to detrimental. Young boys need to comprehend that women aren’t sex objects. Young girls need to know that sex, while an important and essential part of life, is not the end all be all. They need to see the positive in what Rihanna’s doing, which is something that Rihanna may not see herself (I don’t know; I’ve never met the girl). They need to understand that when they are ready for sex, or to express themselves sexually, they can do it however they want to, as loudly (“S S S & M M M”), or softly as they want to. They need to know that they have power, just like Rihanna does in her songs. We need to highlight those points because the media system, which everyone enables, including Rihanna and ourselves, doesn’t. That system emphasizes the “sex sells” part, which isn’t empowering, so we need to push back and stress the positive messages where we can find them, in the fun, entertaining, danceable, omnipresent hits by Ms. Umbrella herself. Love you girl! Can’t wait till your album drops. Until then, I’ll be obsessively listening to "We Found Love." It’s absolutely addictive.