Yesterday the video for “We Found Love,” the first single off Rihanna’s sixth (!) album Talk That Talk, landed online, and it’s definitely taking the ’90s revival to heretofore-unseen mainstream levels: Ri wears Docs and washed-out denim as the housey, repetitive song swirls around her; the landscape of Ireland is shot in a way that recalls both Trainspotting and The Snapper (the latter was the 1993 sort-of-a-sequel to The Commitments, about a young single woman who gets pregnant). And this being a video by Rihanna, who’s still trying to paint herself as edgy and out there, sex and drugs are present as well. There are makeout sessions in a bathtub and in a takeaway shop and in a grocery. There are also lots of references to, gasp, drugs, which will no doubt result in MTV calling for edits to the clip. Shoot, I bet they’ll even want to edit out the scene that finds Rihanna’s paramour blowing cigarette smoke into the pop star’s mouth. (Is this a thing that people find erotic?)
The online reception to this video has been almost as rhapsodic as the one that accompanied Beyoncé’s video for “Countdown” a couple of weeks back, and it’s easy to see why. The clip, directed by Melina Matsoukas, looks quite lovely, with a hazy early-morning feel that makes the reveling within seem like it can last forever; and the plot, such as it were, speeds through a morality play about how being crazy in love can tip over into being just, well, crazy. (Although this brings up a question about how the song itself relates to the video’s unfolding; surely someone might have noticed that the melody’s persistent loop, augmented here and there by a few space-warp effects, might echo the bad-love cycle played out by Rihanna and boxer/model Dudley O’Shaughnessy?)
But there’s something about the video’s devil-may-care attitude that gives it a whiff of trying too hard—witness the shots of pills and other thrills (ooh, a burning joint!) that seem designed to be quote-unquote banned by MTV’s drugs-averse standards and practice department, or the topless-but-not shots of Rihanna cavorting in a field that gave the clip some pre-premiere publicity. While the song itself isn’t as “look at me be bad” as the tiresome “S&M” or the album’s “you have something in the corner of your mouth there” cover, the clip fills in the rebel-girl gaps, what with the minor shoplifting and the public frottage and the donuts in front of gloomy apartment towers. The revelry reminds me of high school, when the more annoying punk types were more than happy to refer to themselves as the “definition of nonconformity,” without realizing the contradictions inherent in that phrase. Only there’s an added twist, because honestly, are we supposed to believe that one of the most famous pop stars in the world can’t pretty much do whatever she wants anyway? How is she rebelling against anything when she can probably buy and sell all the people from whom she’s stealing shopping carts, or to whom she’s subjecting to her public displays of affection?
Maybe “We Found Love” is a deeper metacommentary on how empty life can be in 2011, even for someone who has all the trappings that cause outsiders to think of them as successful—fame, chart-topping records, a fanbase that’s arranged itself under a single banner. Viewed through the lens of being an ode to cheap thrills giving the best kind of high even for those people who are winning at life, it makes a little more sense, although the outlook put forth by that message is still somewhat gloomy.
One thing’s for sure: That shared-smoking thing looks absolutely gross.