Art & Culture / Music / Fashion

Rihanna versus the world: Can women ever truly be polymaths?

As Rihanna graces us with a preview of her debut Fenty collection, fans remain relentless with the, "Where's the new music?" tweets.

For far too long, society has  positioned public figures in a realm far removed from the rest of civilisation. Expectedly so, as super stardom reached heights completely uncontrollable to contain, “celebrity” became defined by what the individual did, as opposed to how they self identified. Actors, athletes and musicians alike were confined to engaging solely on the social discourse of their field and not engage with the socio-political discourse of cross-continental issues. Though, there have been strides made towards encouraging a more conscious public figure with musicians: Akala and Stormzy, for instance,  heralded as voices of a generation for their activism, dismissing the fact that distinctions for what is acceptable exist- a more liberal worldview over conservatism, or, spirituality over religious affiliation. In spite of these constraints, what is evident are the qualifiers of who can and can’t branch out from their respective fields: from delving into activism, or transitioning from one field to another.

Upon the release of the campaign for Fenty under the LVMH group, one notable criticism that has preceded since the release of her acclaimed Anti album in 2016. Since then, Fenty X Puma dropped their much anticipated collaboration, which lasted two seasons, then Rihanna went on to launch Fenty Beauty in 2017 that showcased a diverse shade range of foundations and copious amounts of product after, leading the discourse surrounding inclusion within the beauty industry. The songstress has maintained that music remains a passion of hers, yet, fans haven’t seemed to accept the fact that, she too, like many contemporaries who have gone on to explore various different ventures can embark on both beauty, fashion and release the summer bops that we’ve all come to love from her.

Comparatively, label boss and mentor Jay Z, hasn’t shied away from divulging information on the necessity for black musicians in particular, to reinvest in their communities, as expressed in his Grammy nominated album, 4:44. He owns 40/40 club, a chain of sports bars across the states, he launched Tidal – the music streaming service that set out to rival Apple Music and Spotify – collects art and more. Unlike Rihanna, however, Jay Z has managed to completely carve himself a lane separate from the music to which fans have adopted a knowing interaction- appreciating music when it comes, but equally respecting the business.

Of course Rihanna fans and Jay Z fans may overlap, however the disproportional expectation boils down to two main factors. The first being age. Both fans differ greatly in age, and perhaps there’s something to say about the implications that technology has had on Generation Z’s entitlement to information, to content. From a group who’s genetic mockup, now, is so deeply intertwined with technology- social media being a mode of communication as well as entertainment. Where Jay Z’s fans waited 6 years between ‘Reasonable Doubt (1996) and ‘The Blueprint’ (2001), today, you could assume that the artist has probably flopped. At this Year Met gala, the unofficial Queen of the affair was noticeably absent which led many fans to wondering why.

She has gone on to hit back at fans’ demands in the past, but RiRi seems largely unbothered – just the way we like it!

Secondly, gender. There is no secret that gender roles have been put in place to distinguish clear roles expected by men and women within society. From character traits to interests, the domestication of women has ensued before time. As these gender norms broaden it’s an easy mistake to suggest that expectations between them have become more lax, yet, think critically and you’ll find that, individuals’ values are conflicted. We would love to believe society is equal and tolerant, but tolerance is simply endurance without total acceptance. Women face a harsher fate in shifting power structures. You would think that someone as influential as Bad Gal RiRi, in both the fashion and beauty industry would find this an easy transition to navigate, but, the inherent biases from fans to confine someone as capable and qualified seems largely problematic.

Rihanna has teased new music with a reggae feel coming eerily soon, so until then, we too will play in the makeup and clothes and live vicariously through her nonchalance. Do you RiRi.

21 May 2019