One line from Rihanna’s trippy, hypnotic, dance-house grinder “Needed Me” seems to sum up her musical attitude these days: “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?”
That was certainly the case on her brutality-drenched 2015 hit “B–ch Better Have My Money.” And it’s the case once again, as Rihanna brandishes her angry angst like a deadly weapon in the song’s lyrics … and brandishes a “real” one in the song’s shockingly explicit video.
Best not to come cryin’ or whinin’ to Rihanna if you’re one of the men she’s savagely kicked to the curb. She has neither time nor sympathy for those she’s so casually discarded and disregarded. That’s pretty much the story on “Needed Me,” when an ex apparently needs her a whole lot more than she needs him.
“I was good on my own,” Rihanna brags. As for her man, well, she was just using him for sex (“You was good on the low for a faded f— on some faded love”) while he used her for drugs (“Used to trip that s— I was kickin’ to you/ … You been rollin’ around, s—, I’m rollin’ up/Light and roll it up”).
But emotional intimacy? Earnest connection? Vulnerability? Rihanna doesn’t trade in such sappy stuff. When her former beau seems to want a bit more from her, she (obscenely) kicks him to the curb … again: “S—, what the f— you complaining for?” Then she adds, “But baby, don’t get it twisted/You was just another n-gga on the hit list/Tryna fix your inner issue with a bad b–ch/ … F— your white horse and a carriage.”
She told him she was a savage, right?
The video? You could say it takes Rihanna’s raw rebelliousness to a whole new level.
She wanders around a posh house wearing almost nothing (a thong and see-through shift) as she casually drags a pistol behind her. Then it’s off to the strip club, where topless dancers gyrate and grind for the leering men around them.
One of those men, it seems, has earned Rihanna’s mortal ire. As he receives a personal, titillating dance from a stripper, RiRi coolly walks up, aims her gun and shoots him. Three times.
The incendiary video (directed by always-controversial filmmaker Harmony Korine, who helmed the movies Spring Breakers and Kids) has sparked criticism even from cultural quarters generally inclined to give such salacious material either praise or a pass. The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon asks, “Should we be surprised by another video in which [Rihanna] glamorizes sex, drugs, and violence? Maybe not. But the graphic ‘Needed Me’ clip begs the question of whether there’s a limit.” Fallon suggests that the 28-year-old singer “just made the most explicit video in history,” one he characterizes (accurately) as a “three minute and 15 second visual orgy of nudity, drugs, violence, and blood.”
Fallon even goes so far as challenging the popular notion that Rihanna’s penchant for mingling sex and violence can be viewed as a brand of “savage” empowerment. “Do you see Rihanna as a powerful woman in charge of her destiny when you watch her lounge topless in her beachfront condo or take down a man that has wronged her with a pistol?” he writes. “Or do you see her as the latest example of a pop star baiting controversy by exploiting and eroticizing egregious behaviors?”
Meanwhile, The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber is also asking questions: “In this, does she set a bad example? Is she contributing to America’s guns obsession?” Then he answers this way: “Rihanna might find the questions offensive if she appeared to care about them at all. She’s said time and again that she’s no role model, with implication that it’s a double standard to expert her to be one.”
Or, as Rihanna more simply put it, “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.