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Rihanna Creates Art Through Her Music

Let Rihanna Be Free To Make Art

By Nick Chiles

To create art is a curious endeavor. Artists often plumb their deepest, darkest fears and emotions to construct pieces that are then assessed by the masses. It can be a scary process, releasing your personal demons and having them judged by the rest of the world. When the art is intended as commerce, to be rejected or embraced at the cash register, the process is even more terrifying.

And that brings me to Rihanna.

She’s been getting a great deal of flack lately for creating evocative videos that clearly refer to some of the struggles she’s had in her 23 years–namely, her abusive relationship with singer Chris Brown. Her video for ‘We Found Love‘ is an exhilarating, disturbing depiction of a wild, intense, drug-fueled young relationship of needy, unstable, co-dependent lovers intent on destroying themselves. Her lover has his hair dyed blonde and bears a striking resemblance to Chris Brown, leading detractors to attack her for throwing her personal issues on film and painting such a disturbing picture of young love. In “Man Down,” we see Rihanna using a gun to exact revenge on a man who sexually assaulted her–leading some critics to accuse her of promoting violence. In “S&M,” she confronts the idea of women being derided for sexual aggressiveness and curiosity.

My first thought is worry: She’s crying out for help and somebody needs to get this girl into some kind of counseling. Then, because I’m the father of daughters, my next thought is to want to protect her, to try to keep the demons away from her.

But then I come to the realization that all these responses are wrong. Because Rihanna is an artist.

Writers are told to write what you know. We hear that all the time.

Visual artists are told to let the emotion spill out on the canvas. Make the viewer feel your pain.

And musicians are told to pour their suffering into their music, make those notes cry. It is why Mary J. Blige moves us so, why a few chords from Billie Holiday can bring us to tears, why Aretha Franklin can deliver a lyric like she has lived every single word. They have a rawness to their sound, an emotional depth that we find appealing.

So why are we so alarmed that Rihanna is actually trying to say something in her music? Is it because we don’t think there’s any room for that in black music? Or perhaps we just want our pretty girls to writhe and sing–leave the messages to somebody else?

Rihanna is pleading with us to let her be an artist. She did it quite clearly in one of her tweets:

“The music industry isn’t exactly Parents R Us! We have the freedom to make art, LET US! Its your job to make sure they dont turn out like US.”

Rihanna is a beautiful girl with a beautiful voice who could so easily give in to the industry standard, which is to put beautiful girls in revealing clothes, place them in front of a microphone and let them moan and tease the boys all the way to the bank. Certainly there’s some moaning and teasing going on in Rihanna’s music, but there is also an attempt to provoke, to challenge, to say something about the sexual exploitation and manipulation of young girls. She is a young woman who is thinking about her place in the industry, and she wants to use her platform to speak to society and more specifically, young girls, about the disturbing treatment of women.

As a father of daughters, that’s a message I could get behind.

So let’s give Rihanna some room explore her pain through her music. Let her bleed all her emotional anguish into the lyrics. Let her tell a compelling and controversial tale in her videos. That is the definition of art. It is immensely more interesting than the monotonous moans of sexual longing or sexual expertise that too often these days get passed off as music.

Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author.

What people are saying

12 thoughts on “Rihanna Creates Art Through Her Music

  1. Dai says:

    Phenomenal. I agree.

  2. Angelou Ezeilo says:

    Great story.

  3. Angelou Ezeilo says:

    Great story!

  4. byzinha says:

    Preach.

  5. Lyric Marley says:

    I agree with this article. This girl dares to be different and tell her truth and we chastise her? No wonder there is so much teen depression. I think when I was young we had movements that expressed our souls. Now all kids are driven to do is to be perfect. Alanis Morrissete in her song “Perfect” makes a good case for teens when she croons “If you’re flawless then you’ll earn my love” Kids know that life isnt a fairy tale. I have watched her videos, they do not “glorify” murder and sex and drugs” Quite , frankly they show where wrong choices can lead to and the consequences- That’s what I saw in her art. Much better than these “shake your booty” video with no real meaning!

  6. Robert says:

    Rhianna is hardly an artist. She is a manufactured pop singer who puts very little effort into her performances. Notice the effort her background dancers put into building a presence around her while virtually all she does is strut around the stage and shake her ass. She has continually milked the controversy surrounding her victimization for profit, and done so cynically by not being fully honest about her volatility within her relationship with Chris Brown. In her police reports, she acknowledged engaging in violence towards Chris Brown on two occasions before Chris Brown ever laid a hand on her, yet she lied about this on her interview with Diane Sawyer. She continues to fan the flames of her victimization nearly 3 years after it occurred. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that is art…..I believe that she is using the public backlash against her ex-boyfriend to make money. Sometimes things are not as they seem: Chris Brown is more talented, more driven, more creative, more hard working and more interesting as an artist then Rihanna has proven to be. I’m tired of seeing interview after interview and video after video that continue to rehash the same themes with little responsibility on her part for doing the hard work that is required to truly and genuinely move on from the experience of domestic violence. There is no art in her video’s….there is only a young woman who continues to exploit a tragic situation for profit.

  7. janet says:

    There’s no competition between Rihanna and Chris Brown, Mr. Robert. Rihanna is a World wide super star and not a local star and if you want to compare, compare Rihanna with her fellow WorldWide female pop super star and not an RnB American male artiste. What the writer is talking aout is quite different from what you are talking about. Rihanna is a good singer and performer, she’s good at her art and should be commended. If you don’t like her, good for you but she will continue to do her job well as she’s been doing and the results will keep showing and you can’t stop her because she doesn’t even know who you are. Rihanna keep ruling the charts and headlining those huge excellent World wide tours. Please add Africa to your tours, we can’t wait to see ya

  8. maila says:

    Good that criticism, I agree, Rihanna’re increasingly establishing itself as an artist, a pop star is different, this art is Robert, you have to know how to take “advantage”, Madonna did very well (still do) and suffered critical durars today is Queen pop! 😉

  9. Yepyep says:

    I’m sorry, but the.first person who commented on this article needs help. Anyone who clearly does NOT like an artist shouldn’t feel compelled to research them, read an entire article (not a short one either) pertaining to them, and then proceed to write an entire novel of comment about just how they dislike them. Seriously?

  10. Mrs. C says:

    I happen to agree with the person who wrote this article. Rihanna is an artist, and her canvas is music. Why is it so wrong for her to express her emotions, and life experiences in her music, but others i.e. Beyonce, Mary, Monica, Alicia… all have the liberty with the black community to express themselves in their music in the manner that they do, and all is right with the world? IMO, they including Ri are telling their own life stories, and because she is using an in your face POP approach, people want to shut her up. To the naysayers, I say keep telling your story Rihanna, just like the other female artists do. They just do it to an RnB sound. SMDH

  11. excellent job Nick, I totally agree!

  12. Excellent job Nick, I totally agree!

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