Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Sorry Rihanna, but we really have seen it all before

Rihanna's provocative posters for her Diamonds world tour have offended the sensibilities of some people, who took it upon themselves to cover her up by stapling plaid dresses to her unruly breasts.

The posters feature the image from her Unapologetic album and depict the singer fully naked from the waist up, her modesty concealed only by her elbow and the album title.

Bajan beauty Robyn Rihanna Fenty has been shaking her barely cladded booty all over the music scene for eight whole years now.

Back in 2005, when her hip-grinding debut single Pon de Replay was released, she was just 17 and the song made it into the top 10 in nine countries.

In the video, she was modestly shaking it in baggy jeans and a spangly gold crop top – the personification of innocence in the mainstream R&B world.

Fast-forward eight years and it's a very different story. Songs about the dancefloor have been scrapped for S&M, baggy jeans swapped for thongs. This little pop strumpet knows how to work a slice of bare flesh.

The video that accompanies S&M has all the features of what we've come to expect from today's music industry. Stockings and suspenders. Yes. Simulated sex. Yes. Suggestive wiping of cream from the lips. Yes. But hasn't it always been like this?

Pop music has always been sexually charged: that's kind of half its point. The entertainment industries have rarely discouraged women who want to declare their independence by breaking the rules of feminine propriety and the music industry, in particular, has actively promoted provocative female singers since the day music began.

Think Madonna. Tina Turner. Janis Joplin. Pop videos have always reflected this, ramping up the sexual aspects of songs.

Back in the 70s, as budgets sky-rocketed and musicians talked about videos being crucial to their art, it was widely believed that the three-minute promo would kill the traditional single and the quality of music would come second to the splendidness of the visuals.

The advent of MTV in the early 80s heightened the panic. And today's music videos have practically usurped the music itself.

Modesty, decorum, good taste – these are concepts that hold little sway in the bawling, sprawling arena of pop, where it is the worst behaviour and most extreme exhibitionist tendencies that earn the biggest rewards.

There will always be some backlash. Co Down farmer Alan Graham stopped filming on his land over Rihanna's "inappropriate" attire. She was stripped down to a red-and-white bikini top and jeans in a barley field when Mr Graham intervened.

Raunchy music videos are also to be given age ratings. At present, videos and DVDs primarily concerned with sport, religion, or music do not have to be classified.

But the Video Recordings Act will be changed, so that such DVDs with inappropriate content carry the 12, 15 or 18 British Board of Film Classification ratings. If a video is given a 15 or 18 rating, it will not be shown before the watershed.

So next time you sit down to watch MTV, think about how weird it is that Rihanna rarely wears any clothes, while Oasis get to wear anoraks.

Consider this: while images of Rihanna gyrating like a lap-dancer are seared into our brains, many of us would struggle to name one of her songs. Seems like pop really could eat itself.

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