By now, everyone has probably seen Rihanna’s BBHMM video. Upon its debut, the video became nearly infamous for its depictions of murder and sexualized violence. As expected, when responding to the video, most people wondered if the video should be labelled feminist.
Opinions were divided. Some felt that the video was distinctly unfeminist due to the sexualized violence subjected on the accountant’s unnamed trophy wife. Some felt that the use of a white female body as a pawn was a deliberate move, meant to reverse the too common occurrence of black female bodies used as objects of scorn or ridicule in the music videos of many white performers. Some have even cast off the video as trash, saying that its blood and nudity do nothing but make the video seem edgy– embellishments masking the song’s lack of meaning.
I personally find Rihanna’s video visually and narratively fascinating, and far too complex to disregard despite its problematic areas. The video tackles race and gender obviously, but the more I watch the video, the more I’m struck by its monetary element.
The song is called ‘Bitch Better Have my Money’, and yet I haven’t seen anyone really pay attention to that bit. The character Rihanna plays in the video is so enraged over the theft of her money that she resorts to the video’s narrative. The focus of BBHMM is the Almighty Dollar—everything else is ancillary.
Many would argue that the goal of feminism is to empower women. But there is a difference between feeling empowered and being empowered. So what is perhaps one of the quickest ways to gauge someone’s power? The answer is their bank statement. So when the Bitch (the accountant played by Mads Mikkelsen) robs Rihanna’s character throughout the video (her balance going from the cheeky $420 to $0), he is very overtly taking away her power. Our lives are built on money, by either having some, or needing some. The video asks what one is willing to do when the foundation of your life is stolen right from under you, and the persona that Rihanna plays answers it as swiftly and as cruelly as life under capitalism demands.
More than anything, I am interested in the highly individualistic, some would even say selfish, motivation behind the revenge. In so many narratives, a woman’s desire for revenge is centered on the body or on honor. The woman seeks revenge either because she has been victimized, usually by rape, or someone she loves, such as a sister or child, has been victimized or killed. The revenge in BBHMM is centered on capital. We are presented with a rage that is the result of a slight rooted in the material world. This is a revenge not often afforded to women. We can often only be Medea or Ophelia- vilified or victimized. Here though, we are shown a woman being as cold and cruel as money (and men) and she is still the protagonist.
The video also links sexuality and money in intriguing ways. There is quite a bit of nudity in the video. While the wife is nude in various scenes, her nudity is easier to comprehend. In the video, she is nameless and objectified. Strung upside down, we are eye level with breasts, their unnatural roundness and her mascara running down her cheeks now a stock image of modern pornography. Her nudity is meant to belittle and dehumanize her. However, Rihanna’s persona is also nude in two pivotal scenes in the video. Her nudity is different, however. It is not like the wife’s, meant to demean, yet it seems like a reach to say that the nudity is a means of owning her sexuality, as I have heard others say. The accountant has not betrayed her sexually, she is no slighted mistress. To fuck with someone’s bankroll seems to be a much more intimate transaction here. The aesthetic of the video does seem to glamorize a type of lascivious sadism, which is overtly linked to images of bank balances and weapons.
Visually, a correlation is made between blood, money, and sex. We are shown images of the accountant lying in bed with two women, his trousers and belt undone, while they rub money on him, his face serene in pleasure. Even Rihanna’s kill outfit is sexualized. Clear, and lingerie like, yet the sheer plastic has that yellow medical tint to it, an outfit meant to be splattered in blood, that flesh is meant to be peeled out of. Oscar Wilde was correct when he said that “everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power”. They are truly inseparable.
Throughout the narrative’s climax, where Rihanna’s character prepares for the kill, images of the crime scene and weapons flash. The weapons are especially interesting, because they are labelled. Rihanna’s latex covered fingers ghost over knives and chainsaws, that are labelled by offense: deadbeat dad, BBHMM, left the toilet seat up, ugly, fucked my credit, and cheater. (This one explicitly attached to the chainsaw, a phallic horror movie staple and castration symbol, making this one of the video’s subtlest jokes). Interestingly enough, for a video already given an explicit rating, we don’t see what actually happens to the accountant. His death is only relayed via black and white blood splatters. Perhaps this is meant to force us to use our own grisly imagination. The final shot is of Rihanna, naked covered in the accountant’s blood (and maybe even the wife’s, since we don’t learn her fate either) lying in a trunk of money smoking, a visual trope for post-coital satisfaction, again linking ruthless eroticism to the pursuit of cash. Rihanna’s persona then ends her narrative, as she has effectively reinstated herself, on her throne of blood and money.
Is it moral? I don’t know. Is it feminist? Probably not. However, I don’t think that diminishes the video. Rihanna has created a video that has sparked dialogue on gender, race, class, and how they intersect, feed off of, and brutalize each other. I think that is so much more important than arguing on whether or not the video is feminist. It is a piece of work that really challenges viewers to engage and think about it critically, and for that I applaud it, even in the multiple moments that I found hard to watch.