Saturday, April 3, 2010

Analysis of Rihanna's Rude Boy

Warning, explicit content to follow :)

When I bought my car in September, one of my favorite things about it was the satellite radio. On a vacation to Boston the summer before, Ronald and I became hooked on a radio station called AltNation. Indie rock to the max. Needless to say, this became the station regularly played in my car for the past 6 months. However, every now and then I do come up for some pop air and stray from my wonderful indie rock.

Lately I've been getting one of these pop fixes. The top 20 station is usually playing The Black Eyed Peas' "Imma Bee" or Lady GaGa's "Bad Romance" or her duet with Beyonce, "Telephone." Every now and then I'll also catch New Republic's "All the Right Moves." (Here's a confession: I love every one of those songs. I can't help it. Pop has the place of being like junk food for my brain. I know it's crap. But. I. Love. It.)

Anyway, another song I've heard a few times now is Rihanna's "Rude Boy" which is the subject of this blog. When I first heard it a few lyrics stood out to me and I began to think of it as an anthem for healthy, consensual, communicative sex. And after reading the full lyrics, I have some thoughts on it.

Let me back up. We all know Rihanna's history. Her abuse (inflicted by then boyfriend, Chris Brown) was made painfully public and discussed and analyzed by everyone under the sun, including yours truly. And I've been worried about her...would she go back to him? Would she go down in history as that girl who was smacked around by Chris Brown? Thankfully, we can now see the answer to both questions is no. Her latest album is doing well (it went platinum) and she's even been a critical part of one of my favorite recent SNL digital shorts, Shy Ronnie. Rihanna's not moving on without acknowledging her recent past, however. The latest album, Rated R, features an angry tone and I feel like her photograph on the album cover is no accident. (Covering the right side of her face which was most battered by Chris Brown.) I think she's moving forward in what seems to be a healthy manner...not forgetting what she's been through in her past, but making her present her own.

Ok, so on to "Rude Boy." When I was riding in the car the first time I heard it I was struck by how sexual it was. My point isn't to comment on how our society is becoming more and more sexual...I'm going to take it from the perspective that Rihanna is a 22 year old woman who is capable of expressing her sexuality through her art. My point is that, rather, I was just taken a back for a minute by just how sexual it is. (There's a reason the album is called Rated R.)

The second time I heard the song, however a few lyrics stood out to me and made me think that the song could be
an anthem for healthy, consensual, communicative sex, as I mentioned above. Specifically, Rihanna sings:

I like the way you touch me there
I like the way you pull my hair
Babe, if I don't feel it I ain't faking, no, no
I like when you tell me 'kiss you here'
I like when you tell me 'move it there'

All too often, women are not assertive in their sexual relationships and put up with...well bad sex because they're too embarrassed or afraid to say what they really want. Here, Rihanna is showing that it's ok to say what you want and to be told what to do to pleasure your partner. And if she doesn't like it, she's not going to fake it! Pretty cool, huh? I mean, what is more of a sign of a woman playing the role of a sex object and pandering to the sexual shortcomings and ego of a man more than to fake an orgasm?

But then I read the full lyrics and a few things stood out to first I was concerned about this:

Tonight I'ma let you be the captain
Tonight I'ma let you do your thing, yeah

My initial thoughts: Really? Let a man take charge in a sexual situation? How novel. No one has EVER done that before. But then I kept reading and the next verse reads:

Tonight I'ma give it to ya harder
Tonight I'ma turn ya body out
Relax; let me do it how I wanna
If you got it I need it and I'ma put it down
Buckle up; I'ma give it to ya stronger
Heads up; we could go a little longer

Ok, now we're talking...I get it. Sometimes he's in control, sometimes you are. And that's how sex lives should be, right? It's not about one person's desires, pleasures, and's about a balance between the two individuals involved.

All in all, I think that "Rude Boy" is, by comparison to most R&B/Rap songs about sex, pretty damn egalitarian. And while I still cringe slightly at the idea of younger children listening to the song, it's another reason for me to love Rihanna and not feel so bad when this song is stuck in my head.


  1. Great analysis, Ami. After reading this, I went back and actually listened to the song again (it's got that exact pop&B sound that I usually gloss over w/o thinking) and I think the hook falls right in line with the rest of your argument.

    "Come here rude boy, boy, can you get it up?
    Come here rude boy, boy, are you big enough?"

    To me, that's an incredibly awesome backlash against the testosterone-filled lyrics of (as you said) pretty much every song from the genre. Reading the lyrics, I wasn't able to find any line that made it sound like Rihanna was in anything less than total control of the situation (a lot of talk about permissions and "I'ma let you") and adding to that a question about whether he's man enough to get the job done... great stuff.

    Thanks for giving me an excuse to actually think about a song I'd already brushed under the rug!

  2. Yay! A legit comment :)

    Yeah, I totally agree that it does make her sound in total control. The sex isn't something that's happening to her, she's active in it.

    I was going to add in something about the get it up/big enough stuff...but I fear that the "big enough" part of it goes into the whole fixation w/ bigger is better, which I think treads on dangerous territory of the definition of masculinity through size and blah blah blah.

  3. i'm lucky i stumbled upon your blog. this is a great post.

  4. With all this said, do you have any comments about the video?
    I feel like even though the lyrics say one thing,
    she always objectifies and demeans herself.

    This song is my ringtone, wake up alarm, EVERYTHING.
    SO i LOVE the song, but rihanna as a person is still a bit flakey to me... So i never buy her CD's.

  5. The Hathor Legacy directed me to this blog post, and I am very glad they did! I have the exact same relationship with pop music, and I am growing a serious girlcrush on Rihanna. I was immediately struck when I first heard this song - golly, so refreshing!

  6. Paula: No, I'll have to check it out.

    Goingbydirigible: Hey cool! I was wondering why my blog was getting a little traffic :)

  7. Back up a bit there. You talk about it being "an anthem for healthy, consensual, communicative sex", but any remarks that allow for the idea that a man might take any dominant role at all - in a give and take situation - is "concerning" to you?

  8. No, you're putting words in my mouth. Not ANY remarks about the man being dominant...I was just concerned (keeping in mind those are amongst the opening lyrics) if the whole song was going to be about the stereotypical sexual roles of men and women in heterosexual relationships. As I acknowledge, (if you read on) there has to be a give and take.

    I wouldn't consider it an anthem to healthy, consensual sex if the whole song was about being dominated by a man. While many women may have enjoyable sex lives in that manner, we hardly need another song (or movie or book or whatever, for that matter) that promotes this tired trope.


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