Popular artist Rihanna’s music released in recent years can be read as a response to the violent assault she experienced at the hands of Chris Brown in 2009, argued Kevin Allred, a doctoral student at Rutgers, on Thursday night.
Allred, who has taught a course at Rutgers called “Politicizing Beyoncé,” delivered a lecture entitled “Reading Rihanna’s Political Response to Personal Assault” at an event sponsored by the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, the Harvard College Women’s Center, and the Radcliffe Union of Students.
Allred showed several of Rihanna’s music videos, pointing out repeated images of violence and intense sexuality that may be a reference to her assault. He noted that Rihanna received criticism from the media for the explicit nature of the videos, just as she had following her abuse by Brown.
“It doesn’t fall into an easy narrative of what we like to hear about a woman moving beyond it and surviving,” Allred said.
Allred said that Rihanna’s song “Russian Roulette” appears to refer to the media scrutiny of her assault, an experience which he likened to being “victimized all over again.”
The music video for “Man Down,” released in 2010, similarly contains images of rape and depicts Rihanna subsequently shooting her attacker. While Rihanna was criticized for allegedly promoting violence in her video, Allred said that these critiques overlook the possibility that she intended to make a meaningful statement about her personal experience with assault.
Allred said that he also believes that the male lead in the video “We Found Love” closely—and purposefully—resembles Brown, both in looks and in his proclivity toward angry outbursts.
In particular, Allred noted that the video includes a scene in which Rihanna and the male lead are fighting in a car—a situation reminiscent of Brown’s real-life attack on Rihanna.
“It’s not really a happy resolution,” Allred said. “She’s rewriting the story of that night with this video.”
John N. Azubuike ’13 said that he appreciated the discussion because it reinterpreted Rihanna’s art “as an expression of real social issues” including violence toward women.
“I realized that it was essentially looking at art as a lens for evaluating social problems,” Azubuike said.