Screen grab of Rihanna, beer in hand, dancing in her new music video for the single Work
Launched last month, the music video of Rihanna’s January-released single Work comes in two flavours: an “explicit” film of a sleazy, smoky, sepia-shaded club and a clean one staged in a small studio designed as a living room set and saturated with light so pink that it would not be out of place in a dream sequence of a Teochew opera. On music television channels of the West, you get both played back-to-back, which result in a two-in-one that lasts about seven-and-a-half minutes. MTV Asia has been broadcasting the safe and sanitised (by Rihanna’s standards, anyway) second version—no surprise there, and that was what we saw. However, a search on YouTube will quickly turn up the muck many would relegate to the heap of morally bankrupt.
Firstly, is Work even a song? The monotonous chorus with the repetition of “work” six times (followed by “dirt”, also half-a-dozen times) sounds like it’s destined to be a digital resident of a smartphone where it would forever be banished as a ringtone. Sure, one-syllable-word repeat is the preferred formula in hip-hop musical phrasing, but it’s odd that Rihanna would take this route when Taylor Swift was miles ahead with “Cause the player’s gonna play, play, play, play, play. And the hater’s gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate”. At least Ms Swift’s Shake it Off is catchy. Rihanna slur-sings in such a droning and unintelligible manner that a lyric search was necessary to determine that “der, der, der, der, der, der” is really “dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt”! (“Work, although sounded like “wer”, we could make out because of the title). Audibly clear it is that tunefulness is not a present-day requisite for successful song writing.
And the video: surely a club awash with alcohol (but oddly no bottle opener since a guy had to use his teeth!), with guests ready to roll a joint and gyrate to mimic frottage (or intercourse, you figure) —even one called, without charm, The Real Jerk—is no longer fascinating enough to serve as setting when much of what’s on Vevo these days are a lot more arousing. Okay, so few in music-video making aim for an Oscar for production design, but this MV needs, well, more than a little bit of work. Even the chemistry between Rihanna and guest rapper Drake—looking like, to paraphrase Iago in Othello, “prologue to the history of lust and foul thoughts”—can’t lift the lame choreography and weak twerking from encouraging a big loud yawn.
Rihanna and Drake posing with MV director X (between them) posted on her Snapchat
So let’s look at the clothes, an area that, Rihanna fans would enthusiastically state, does not disappoint. She arrives in a car at The Real Jerk. She emerges from the black vehicle, wearing a fur hoodie that looks like a pink part two of the Guo Pei gown that she wore to the Met Gala last year. She moves mysteriously towards the club entrance, joining no queue to be admitted. It should be stated at this point that there’s really no narrative in the video, just a mise-en-scène, which, typically, is not defined.
Inside, the coat is shed, and the camera pans from her nearly-bare right foot up to her face. It does so with just the right speed for you to take in those manicured toes in the palest pink polish, made visible by a barely-there sandal held together with spaghetti straps that spiral up her lower limp to just behind the knee, from which you see other straps—more like garter and garter belt—worn not to hold up any stocking but for femoral adornment. The view of this leg, you’ll soon realise, is made possible by the single, hip-high slit of the dress she wears—a round-neck, ankle-length T-shirt in knitted mesh that, once the camera pulls back, reveals wide vertical stripes in the colours that recall some South American flags. Under that, a set of similarly-coloured bikini covers her (concealment optional) privates.
A Rihanna look is incomplete without accessories. Apart from the said sandal and garter and kindred belt, she wears an inordinate amount of rings, and some bracelets, as well as a three-band leather choker with a huge hoop in the centre that seems to echo Givenchy’s version for keys. The sum effect, to our untrained eyes, appears Rastafarian, an aesthetic not alien to the Barbadian singer, and possibly one she’s exceeding pleased with since, in the video, she seems to be enjoying dancing before a full-length mirror in full self-admiration. What would Rastas, who mostly “live a peaceful life, needing little material possessions” (according to barbados.org), think of the Bitch (who) Better Have Money?