Week 6: Female: economic impact

Rihanna: ANTI/”Consideration” (featuring SZA)

Rihanna is many things: a fashion icon, an entrepreneur, and a record-breaking artist; however, Rihanna was also a domestic abuse victim (see domestic abuse by Chris Brown), a part of her story which has largely gone unsung in recent years. After 2016, Rihanna’s lyrics became strenuously feminist, substantially focusing the scope of her sound and accompanying her dazzling musical success with commercial success (she later launched Fenty Beauty, quickly followed by Fenty x Savage, an ‘inclusive’ lingerie company designed for women of all colors and sizes). True to her brand name, she became known as the ultimate ‘savage’, a woman who went from longing for male attention to shunting undeserving men away.

ANTI is a revolution, and “Consideration” is its fight song. As an abuse survivor, Rihanna’s ANTI is as much a rebellion against her past as it is about the patriarchy in general. Rihanna makes numerous references to her newfound empowerment throughout "Consideration" with lyrics like “I got to do things my own way darling. Will you ever let me? Will you ever respect me? No!” If male attention is synonymous with sacrificing this newfound independence, this song proves that Rihanna is wholesale rejecting the offer. While ANTI itself generated considerable critical acclaim, perhaps an equal triumph could be considered the rapid ascendance of Rihanna as a fashion and cosmetics entrepreneur. Propelled by aggressive confidence and an uncompromising self-realization, Rihanna’s identity as a ‘savage’ made her transition into confidence building cosmetics and lingerie all the more seamless. Do the lyrics in Rihanna’s “Consideration” reinforce the brand image of her entrepreneurial ventures? Do you find that Rihanna’s confidence as an artist reinforced her position as an entrepreneur, or could these ventures have survived on their own in the absence of her musical revolution?

Beyonce: LEMONADE/”Sorry”

Inspired by the revelation that her father had cheated on her mother, and her own husband had cheated on her, Beyonce released Lemonade as the ultimate revenge track in 2016. Like Rihanna, the songs were more ‘activism-oriented’, including hit tracks like “Daddy Lessons” (promoting gun rights?!) and contributing a great deal of energy and attention into full length, artistic music videos with an emphasis on storytelling far beyond her previous efforts. Beyonce then similarly launched a clothing line (Ivy Park) following the birth of her daughter. Notably, much of her success is built on her previous reputation in music as being an independent woman (see: “Independent Woman”, “Me, Myself, & I”, "Sorry"), with a long-running tenure for being an empowering female artist that greatly outstrips Rihanna and SZA; thus, her statement album was less of a breakout and more of a continued ascendance to icon status.

Beyonce released Lemonade as the ultimate revenge album, with “Sorry” as its masthead. This tune also introduced Beyonce as a rapper, utilizing graphic and sexually aggressive lyrics to emphasize her latest edition of an oft-sung tune: that she doesn’t need a husband to be successful on her own. Just as Rihanna’s artistic success was rapidly followed by a monster commercial venture, Beyonce’s Lemonade in general and “Sorry” in particular was the obvious predecessor to her own fashion venture, Ivy Park (if you’re not sure what this is, Google it). However, where Rihanna’s ANTI marked a distinct change in her artistic style and Fenty x Savage coupled this demonstration, Lemonade is more a continuation of Beyonce’s historically popular themes of female independence, and Ivy Park reflects a natural extension of her capabilities. Do some research and reflect on your own: is there a difference in public perception between Beyonce and Rihanna’s ventures based on their histories as musical artists? Does the consistency of Beyonce’s artistic persona lend itself more credibly to success in the business world, or is the integrity of the artist persona more flexible, capable of evolving in concert with their commercial agenda?

SZA: CTRL/”Normal Girl” 

Sza’s breakout album, CTRL, was not her first; it was, however, her most famous for songs like Love Galore and Broken Clocks. CTRL features clips of running conversations with the women in her family, suggesting a strongly female-centric focus; yet the songs themselves place great emphasis on feelings of womanly fears: body insecurity, social insecurity, pregnancy, shame, regret, longing, and use of drugs, alcohol, and rebound relationships to cope with these feelings of powerlessness. Why was SZA’s album such a roiling success, given the current trend of music as leaning toward female empowerment?

Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy “I Do”

Cardi B’s music intentionally is vulgar, aggressive, and egoistic. The music in her album “Invasion of Privacy” seeks to showcase this persona, most potently in her hit song “I Do”. Cardi’s bombastic, mega-loud displays of sexual overconfidence and financial swagger historically touted unapologetically by male rappers (including many of the male trio listed above) have enjoyed great critical acclaim. Her success with lyrics like “I’m provocative, it’s my prerogative/ 80K just to know what time is it / Cardi rockin’ it, go buy stock in it” suggests that she stands as a worthy teammate to Beyonce and Rihanna, whose music similarly celebrate female independence and feminine sexuality. Yet, despite being only the latest in a long line of skillful female rappers, Cardi’s arrival on the rap scene was generally treated with surprise. Her displays of sexual prowess and financial independence are nothing new in the world of female rap (as any one of Lil Kim’s songs can aptly demonstrate), yet her success seems to have reached the ear of mainstream listeners with greater success than most female rappers preceding her. Reflect on Cardi B’s success in being a female rapper rapping about sex, money, power, and independence in the historical context we find ourselves in today. Does Cardi B’s aggressive tone and vulgar lyrics evoke the same sentiment of financial power and economic mobility as those of Drake? And does her feminist statement fit in with those of Beyonce and Rihanna, despite being packaged in a different art form?

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