It’s easy to say that Rihanna’s music video for her hit single “Pour it Up” is yet again further sexualizing the black female body – with her revealing outfit, provocative dance moves, and four, dressed equally as alluring, black female back-up pole dancers. However, we can argue that Rihanna’s video (which she co-directed) is empowering rather than being objectified. In McMillan’s Performing Objects, he speaks of the idea that female artists utilize the racist patriarchal system as a reclamation of black femininity, in which they embody the object as a critique from the subject. Objecthood in relation to female performances is a direct address to the viewer in recitation of the traditional gaze in a way that changes the meaning of their bodies on screen. What distinguishes Rihanna as a performer is that while she embodies the avatar of a hypersexualized female in the music industry, she does so in a way that when one pays attention to her physical presence, lyrics, and general mise-en-scene, it is clear that she is performing a statement of power. Broadly, the video alludes to sex workers, but Rihanna showcases this often stigmatized work by embracing the strengths of the female body. Rihanna sings about having money and “dollar bills” while throwing money up in the air in the way traditionally seen in many black male artists’ music videos. Here, it is the women who are making money – and lots of it.
There are no men who appear in the video. In fact, the only time any men were mentioned in the music video is one line about Jay-Z, and only in passing. This diminishes the male gaze and focuses on the female body as its own entity, upholding power for the women by the women. As for the women pole dancing, their poses and moves show incredible athletic strength, where they hold their bodies against the pole vertically and horizontally with agility. The video represents it as a sport that values power and poise – synchronized and artistic. The video demonstrates women owning their sexuality rather than being oppressed by it.
She has money, power, and agency. It is Rihanna who ultimately sits on the throne.