Is Rihanna benefiting from being banned for ‘S&M’?

There are no accidents in entertainment. That Rihanna’s new video for her single “S&M” is being banned from TV networks across the world shouldn’t be a surprise to many — fact is, we’re all playing into a well-thought out move on behalf of team Rihanna.

It’s a competitive market for female artists, and the risqué factor is high — if you want recognition, you need to have lots of exposed skin, preferably covered by meat or with a furry muppet at your side. After Rihanna’s demure debut album, the sweet little Bajan girl has been steady corroding her good girl image in exchange for the tough, give ‘em hell, take no prisoners femme fatale persona that has coincidentally marked her as a paparazzi favorite.

Click here to view a slideshow of the top 10 most controversial black music videos

So having earned her “excessive tattoos” and “crazy fashion” merit badges, Rihanna’s finally getting another coveted badge to add to her sash — video banning. The music video for “S&M” features nothing other than lots of sadomasochism, surprise surprise. There are people being tied up, ball gags, lots of latex and rope, simulated sex acts… pretty much everything that you would expect from a song in which the chorus extols “Sex in the air/ I don’t care/ I love the smell of it/ Sticks and stones may break my bones/ But chains and whips excite me.”


The imagery definitely goes heavy on the shock value, so it’s understandable that eleven countries have banned what feels like a soft-core fetish flick. It’s meant to reflect Rihanna’s sadomasochistic relationship with the press — in one scene she tortures reporters, in another she walks gossip blogger Perez Hilton on a leash. The video spins the tired celebrity-as-victim-of-the-press storyline into the true symbiotic nature of the relationship: the same “evil” blogs that aggressively patrol the private lives of celebrities also help keep those celebrities relevant.

Video director Melina Matsoukas seemed a bit pleased by the ban. “When I go out to make something, I kind of go out with the intention to get it banned — [well] not to get it banned, I always want my stuff played — but to make something provocative,” she told MTV News.

Mission accomplished. Thus far the video has racked up nearly eight million views on Youtube, and the single is number one on the iTunes charts. Per usual, sex sells.

The imagery is arresting, but it makes you wonder — how far is Rihanna going to push the envelope for relevancy? She’s always been an interesting artist, though somewhat consistently a half-step behind in the trends: she mirrored Beyoncé on her second and third albums, and seems to take some inspiration from Lady Gaga for her fourth and fifth.

However, Rihanna is no Lady Gaga. Where one could believe Lady Gaga would always been strange regardless of her profession, Rihanna’s career is weighted with more calculated and strategic planning. And it’s that lack of impulse that makes this ban borderline boring. Though visually jarring, it’s not altogether surprising that the “rebelle fleur” is now flaunting sexual fetishes — she’s walked the line before, and this video is just the next logical step in her rebel girl image.

But it’s strategy that has given Rihanna a career where others have faltered — though this video is sure to piss off a lot of parents and conservative fans, it certainly will not spell the end of her career. If she’s lucky, and surely what she’s hoping for, this will just continue to broaden her fan base and keep her competitive in the market. This time she’s taking notes from Madonna and Janet Jackson’s book of success — sing about some sexual fetishes, and watch your celebrity rise.