I followed Rihanna soon after joining Instagram last year, seeing that she had 4.5 million followers, and was clearly a popular user. Very quickly I began to see that despite how many meals, outfit changes and facial expressions Jessie J chooses to share, she still doesn’t appear on my feed half as much as ‘BADGALRIRI’. Pretty soon it became clear that she never gets bored of sharing herself, and there are thousands of people who never get bored of seeing her. Most of these ardent fans are school age girls. We’re very aware that Rihanna is a beautiful, talented woman. Women want to be her, men want to sleep with her. So I’d be forgiven for implying that she holds a lot of influence over young girls, some of whom are still finding themselves. What they find on Rihanna’s Instagram profile are photos of the star which are overwhelmingly sexually provocative.
I realise that line makes me sound like an old man. I assure you I’m not. I’m 23 years old, and I consider myself as being quite liberal. But, Rihanna is an undeniable role model. Even my 18 year-old sister, who enjoys the endless outfits Rihanna shares on her page, agreed with me that some of the imagery was too much. For a woman who will happily pose topless on an album cover and wear nothing but a jacket draped on her shoulders for GQ, you can bet the standards only decline on something as free reigned as social media.
I felt particularly compelled to write this piece after seeing a series of photos she posted on January 14th. In a t-shirt that’s been cut in half, she flashes her breasts, and proceeds to photograph her own crotch. Then she’s on her laptop, working away in a position you’d only see if you were to interact with the girls on Live Jasmin. Then there’s a picture with 9 frames in it, which look like someone trapped a crazed nymphomaniac in a photo booth at Boots. Underneath it she simply captions ‘#complex’. Indeed. Because about a third of the photos Rihanna posts are snaps of scripture pages, with certain quotes and phrases highlighted. It took me a while to realise they were coming from her, and not some ‘inspire your day’ account I’d accidentally subscribed to. Aha! She’s a holy bad bitch.
I recall her appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2012 when she explained that her aversion to clothing and love of all things saucy, in spite of fervent faith, was a part of her ‘culture’ – making her sound a bit like the gyrating little girls in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (who, ironically, she also inspires). But looking at a photo she posted, in which she’s the cover girl for a Barbados tourism ad (in a bikini, bent over on a beach), I’d be inclined to believe she’s probably telling the truth. However I dare say this isn’t fully understood by many of her young female fans around the world, who wouldn’t look quite the same pulling the same pose down on Brighton pier.
I couldn’t possibly comment on every controversial photo she posts, but outside of sexual images of herself, there’s plenty of quotes about doing drugs, not giving a f*ck, and of course – being a bad bitch. There are naked women. There are drugs. There are guns. There are naked women doing drugs, holding guns. The young girls lap this up, and indulging in the tones and language she encourages. They make comments like ‘You are pure perfection’, ‘#one #bad #bitch’ and ‘I’m in love with this pic…pussy boner!’ They will attack others who criticise. One user typically sums up this noble defence, saying: ‘All you people are straight up dumb as fuck real shit! LMFAO @badgalriri does NOT .. Give a fuck about your opinions .. trust !’ Oh I trust. I trust that she doesn’t care about you either, dear. Interestingly, a quick scroll through comments will show that it’s actually young male users who regularly call Rihanna out on her ‘morals’, with all the typical language of ‘bitch’, ‘slut’ and worse.
Good company for Rihanna in the land of dubious social media profiles is Azealia Banks. We were all shocked yet humoured by the risqué lyrics of ‘212’. Sorry did I say risqué? I meant filthé. Sexual lyrics are one thing – violent lyrics are a step further. Her online persona is another that I have very little time for. Look at these three profound tweets she blessed us with last weekend within a half hour:
‘Fuck bad press, ima bad bitch.’
‘The only cure for boldness, is more boldness.’
‘You a crackhead son.’
It was the first tweet that really riled me up. What does it mean to be a bad bitch, and why should she, and her 300,000 followers, celebrate it? Perhaps it’s the homophobic rant she aimed at Perez Hilton not long before, calling him a ‘messy faggot’, ‘dick-breath’, and telling him he should kill himself. Two British journalists who suggested she retract her comments were also duly told that they should kill themselves too. Presumably this is an example of boldness curing boldness?
I suppose what really irks me is this constant need to be outrageous in an offensive sense: ‘Look at me, I’m rude! Look at me I’m bad!’ For Michael Jackson to be Bad in 1987 required nothing more than wearing a leather jacket and performing some killer ballet moves from West Side Story. Now you need to be threatening to ruin someone – reputation wise, and in the genitalia. I’m always drawn in to artists who have a bit of an edge about them, but when someone has the distinct aura of being fake, it’s obvious. I believe in Lady Gaga’s lust for popular culture stunts, but I don’t believe that wearing meat is something she would do on an ordinary day of the week. Likewise, Lana del Rey may well be a little retro, but to imply she is both vacant and profound at all times is a little far fetched. That said, I’d much rather see the kind of exaggerated personality presented by Lady Gaga and Lana del Rey than the violent and overtly sexual tones given off by Rihanna and Azealia Banks. I can see through them, but many of their young impressionable fans cannot.
This article originally appeared on SoSoGay online.