As a major fan to Rihanna, I have become somewhat immune to her promiscuous music videos, outfits, and lyrics. Whether she's nearly nude on the cover of her album Unapologetic, taking drugs in her We Found Love music video, or belting out to her latest risqué lyrics--I am never revolted or turned off. That is simply Rihanna. And as a fan, I am also all too aware of Rihanna's incredible chameleon qualities. One minute she is the sweet, emerging star on her first album Music of the Sun, and the next she has become the Good Girl Gone Bad. Just look at when she showed up to the 2009 Met Gala in a man's suit. If that's not a chameleon, I don't know what is.
Yet even with the keen awareness of Rihanna's ability to constantly transform, the latest music video for her newest single American Oxygen took me by surprise.
As the first opening notes play, Rihanna is seen walking up the stairs of City Hall with a star spangled banner hanging from the arch. The next image is, quite strikingly, Barack Obama being sworn into oath. The video continues to switch between clips of Rihanna singing--with that old red and blue continuing to wave behind her--and rather engaging shots of what most Americans would define as "America."
There is a heavy focus on Martin Luther King Jr., notably his funeral at the end of the video, and the struggles of African Americans throughout the United States' history. But it does not single out this sole piece of America's past. There is a shot of hundreds of immigrants riding the top of a train; images of proud astronauts and rockets launching into space; there are bull riders, the Beatles excitedly exiting from a plane; the stock market in the midst of the day and mobs with signs clamoring to "occupy Wall Street"; there are shots of homeless men on the streets and football players snagging a touchdown in the end zone. Clips of the Twin Towers smoking on September eleventh is even dotted throughout the video.
Basically, any major ideas or events that are associated with America are seen in Rihanna's video. Meanwhile, she croons in the background that "Every breath I breathe / Chasin' this American Dream / We sweat for a nickel and a dime".
With these lyrics, it may seem like the typical patriotic song. Yet, at the end of the video, the words "This is the new America, we are the new America" repeats over and over again. Though I had been wondering throughout the whole video, these end lyrics really drove the question home: is Rihanna's latest hit another patriotic classic, or is she actually questioning the America we have become? Is she glad to be in a land where she can chase the American dream, or is she bringing into question the many problems now facing our country?
The strange juxtaposition of dark historical moments--the Twin Towers burning, Martin Luther King Jr.'s death--coupled with the many hot topics currently infesting American--illegal immigration, wounded veterans homeless on the streets, violent military intervention--certainly does not have patriotism written all over it. The almost unsettling imagery is, however, soothed by fans cheering during baseball games, the always patriotic image of astronauts heading into space, and fireworks blooming behind the Statue of Liberty. So is Rihanna really targeting our country's pressing state? Or is she simply acknowledging the struggle in our current world of achieving the American dream and meanwhile praising the freedom to pursue just that?
Beyond the ongoing roll of captivating shots, what also had me thinking on Rihanna's purpose in making this song was her own role in the video. In-between snippets of fireworks and the military, Rihanna is seen struggling to crawl forward on pavement with a parachute attached to her back. The image is startling in that parachutes help us stay afloat, not drag us down and hinder us.
But the importance of Rihanna's video does not lay in how she feels about the current state of America. Rather, if Rihanna does in fact feel the growing changes in the US, we must ask ourselves a greater question: if a celebrity--a citizen that is very removed from the face of danger or misdeed--is feeling distraught over America's current state, what does that mean for our country?