ARTICLE NATASHA STAGG
DUELING DIVAS? POSSIBLY. OR MAYBE THE SEXY VIDEOS FOR "WORK, B*TCH" AND "POUR IT UP" PREMIERED THE SAME DAY BY COINCIDENCE. EITHER WAY, THEY EACH DESERVE A CLOSE LOOK
So, just because the long awaited videos for “Work, B*tch” [sic] and “Pour It Up” premiered on the same day, that doesn’t mean the ladies releasing them are in a competition. But just as Katy was pitted against Lady when “Applause” and “Roar” were accidentally leaked on the same day, the media can be harsh to any two pop stars making headway in their craft simultaneously. Interestingly, these two videos mark a pinnacle in each artist’s journey above the media, meaning, clearly, from the looks of today (October 2nd, 2013), both Brit Brit and Ri Ri don’t G. a F. what the haters think now.
It took a lot for Britney to get here, and to proudly, absolutely campily exclaim, “you gotta work, bitch…” Because she’s obviously saying it to herself. She’s saying (like she did in that infamous Diane Sawyer interview 10 years ago), “Britney, be strong,” because she and the media’s tangled relationship has almost broken her many a paparazzi-captured moment in her short life. Since proclaiming in 1998 that she’s “not that innocent,” she was painted as a teen gone bad, and then a bad girl gone basic, since becoming a mom and divorcée. Spears learned the hard way that you’re either in or you’re ugly once you’ve signed on to stardom, and it looked as if she’d never be the hard-bodied dance sensation she once was again—if she couldn’t grow a hard shell. That shell, it turns out, is made of patent leather, hinged metal plates, hairspray and a sense of humor, and it’s as impressive as our first introduction to to Ms. Spears, if only because it has covered up so much hurt. We saw that shell first with Femme Fatale, and then we watched it get a little soft again (careful, there, Brit, the club doesn’t like it when the beat isn’t speeding up), but in “Work, B*tch,” it’s back, and it’s mesmerizing. Embracing her fans of all walks of life (and sexual preferences) more and more explicitly, a subtle nod to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert acts as a loose plot for what is essentially a perfect platform to show off Brit’s flawless body and signature dance moves—ones we haven’t seen in way too long.
Rihanna, on the other hand, has had a rough relationship with the media as well, but instead of telling the flashing lights to leave her alone, she’s taunted them, instagrammed enough editorial-worthy selfies to fill a magazine, and responded to trash talk publicly, on her own terms. Since a really messy breakup, Rih has tried to look the other way (and sometimes she, like all of us, ends up looking back). The video for “Pour It Up,” like Britney’s, is not necessarily groundbreaking. In fact, pair any video made today with one made when MTV started, and you’ll notice a depressing difference: new videos are cheaper, with more smoke and mirrors (literally) and that easy-way-out super-saturated lighting paired with quick, distracting edits. Videos are sponsored, with long, awkward shots of a product interrupting an established beat. No matter how well styled a shoot is, clothes can start to look tacky when they become the focus of a dance song, only for want of any other features. But with what she had to work with, Rihanna’s video for “Pour It Up” (another challenge being that the song has been in the clubs so long it isn’t, anymore) is sexier than she’s ever been (damn), and shows, as sassier fans would describe it “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent.” Never before has she worn a denim thong on camera without deleting the instagram post later. Never has she backed it up on a pole, letting the lasting bounce echo the last echoes of the song’s gentle finish. Some may say that dressing up and performing as a stripper may be the least empowering act a woman who has been brutally mistreated by a man can do. To that she’d probably say, @badgalriri does what she wants, #SorryNotSorry. In other words, when the world tries to tell you what to do, turn on the sarcasm, and amp up the camp.
Like “Work,” “Pour” is about a fem dom, surrounded by other sexy dancers in dangerous waters (the best part of “Work,” sorry, is the sharks, which actually makes the whole production look expensive, finally). Both videos are extremely, overwhelmingly sexy, but almost tongue-in-cheek, a la Barbarella. Both have little to say, but make a big statement, historically, for each performer. What would make more sense, to a performer who must guard her privacy daily, than to make a glittering, decadent show of it? And by the way, V is impartial, having featured each icon as a cover star. Remember? Britney posed for Mario Testino with a playful Persian on V70, and Rihanna, also shot by Testino, posed for V82’s cover with a playful Kate Moss. Both ladies have grown and donned shimmering layers of irony as of recent, and it’s done them nothing but good, if you’re reading the ratings. As for me, I’m partial to a more vulnerable, lovelorn pop singer… but I can see the draw, here, too.