Just give Rihanna what she wants. That is the on-screen lesson of her bloody video for “Bitch Better Have My Money,” which premiered in the wee hours Wednesday morning. It’s also the implicit instruction for any blogger, commentator, or civilian who imagines they can get away with not forming an opinion on a seven-minute, ultra-NSFW video that veers right into the torture-porn genre. By gleefully playing the psychopath, she means to hold our attention spans and delicate sensibilities hostage, too.
Rihanna to world: Bitch better have my moral outrage!
Good luck being part of the cultural conversation at your 4th of July barbecue if you don’t give in — in its first 16 hours online, “BBHMM” had been viewed 4.3 million times on YouTube. But if you think you can get by on a mere synopsis, here goes: Viewers are introduced to a well-heeled, buxom blonde in the sheerest of bras (soon to be removed under unpleasant circumstances). She pops into an elevator with Rihanna and exits inside a trunk, dragged by the singer to a warehouse where she can be hung and swung by her feet — upside-down naked boobs being a major trope in torture porn.
The gal is drugged, held underwater, and conked over the head with a bottle, all for comic effect, until Rihanna is able to get her hands on her real target: Mads Mikkelsen, of Hannibal fame, as “the Accountant, aka the Bitch.” She breaks out a hacksaw and chainsaw on the bound victim, and although we don’t see exactly what happens next, the video ends with her severely bloodied on top of a mountain of money, nude but for the bill demurely covering her most private parts.
Judging from some of the immediate fan reactions online, we may be past the point where a major cash reward for a Hollywood Chainsaw Massacre is seen as anything other than a fairy-tale ending. Casting Mikkelsen as the (final) victim was probably a conscious step toward blunting possible criticism: If on a show as popular as Hannibal the ends justify the human vivisection, you’re a hypocrite to object if Rihanna does it, right?
But Mikkelsen enters the proceedings so late in this seven-minute clip, it’s easier to be taken by the sheer brutality enacted on the girlfriend-or-wife character… who, so far as we know, didn’t do anything worse to deserve her fate than carry a little dog as an accessory. If a male star were doing any of this, there’d be an uproar, but because Rihanna enacts female-on-female violence, it gets a pass, because it’s empowerment, or a bitchfest — take your pick. If the Hostel genre hasn’t totally inured you to the sight of innocent women being terrorized, though, it’s hard to ignore the ick factor here.
You could suppose that Rihanna is overcompensating for having once been seen as a victim of violence against women, becoming the victimizer as the ultimate grace note in the narrative that was built around her troubles with Chris Brown. If you look back at her teary-eyed interview with Diane Sawyer, it seemed less like she was traumatized by memories of the Brown incident than upset at being made to seem as disturbed about it as the media demanded her to be. It conflicted with the chilly persona that fans understood — even if journalists didn’t — to be part of her appeal. The “BBHMM” video finally takes her beyond chilly, or cool, to downright cold-blooded.
We’re used to our female celebrities at least pretending to exude a modicum of warmth, so there may be some observers who see Rihanna embracing psychopath-level iciness as a step toward parity. Clearly no one will accuse her of being used by dudes as a puppet in this sensationalism — not when she so proudly tweets that she created the concept and co-directed the video. But if anything, the initial public acceptance of “BBHMM” suggests women get an easier pass than men when it comes to cruelty. Michael Madsen’s torturing character wasn’t the hero of Reservoir Dogs, but Rihanna expects to be viewed as a heroine for playing a gal who uses blades and blunt instruments on women and men alike to get what she wants. Never mind that Tarantino at least gives us an actual backstory when he piles on the violence: Rihanna probably expects that her fans know about her real-life lawsuit against her accountant, and that’s all they’ll need to root on the blood vengeance.
So welcome to the new pop feminism: I am Leatherface, hear me roar.