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Why Is Rihanna Singing About Violence?

Hip-Hop Media Training

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Is Rihanna sending mixed messages on domestic violence? Since her relationship with singer Chris Brown ended--after he was arrested for punching her in the face, Rihanna's lyrics have, at times, seemed to justify violence. In "Love The Way You Lie," her rap duet with Eminem, she justified staying in an abusive relationship.

In her latest video, "S&M," she uses graphic images and lyrics to make her case for retribution. The video has reportedly been banned in 11 countries.

In a November 2009 interview with 20/20, Rihanna said she was sharing her story of abuse in hopes of helping young girls. "I will say to any girl going through domestic violence, 'Come out of this. Look at it third person for what it really is,'" she said.

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But what should those girls make of the "S&M" video? In the Melina Matsoukas directed piece, Rihanna institutes payback to sensationalistic reporters, enslaving offenders in a torture chamber, tying them with rope, gagging them, and whipping another. Elsewhere, media villain Perez Hilton poses as a dog on a leash.

Rihanna is both victim and perpetrator here. But is this message empowering? Does it advocate fighting back? Or is it just titillating in the same sense of Lady Gaga's homicide-themed "Paparazzi" or Katy Perry's gratuitous "California Gurls" videos?

There is a conflict between the messages Rihanna conveys in her music and the press. It would be great if she made an uplifting song of triumph. But the angst-fueled songs appear to be a part of her healing.

Hopefully, she'll eventually move beyond this dark stage.

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