The just-released clip for her song “Needed Me” represents the third time that Rihanna has murdered a guy in a music video. In 2011, she tearily took a gun to a rapist for “Man Down,” triggering the Parents Television Council’s condemnation. Last year, she baited various ideologies of Internet commentators with her “Bitch Better Have My Money” video’s tale of kidnapping a woman and dismembering her husband, a shady accountant. Now, for “Needed Me,” she strides into a strip club and shoots a tattooed guy for unspecified reasons. Her apparent disinterest in the consequences to her actions within the world of the video is equal to her apparent disinterest to the consequences outside of it.
Last year, I speculated that images of female pop stars acting violent were becoming more common because of shifting gender conversations and—equally important—because music videos are now Internet sharebait rather than broadcast TV programming. There is frequently some political subtext to these clips, and Rihanna’s career is no exception. “Man Down” told a classic story about anger after sexual assault; “Bitch Better Have My Money” was a revenge fantasy with racial and gender dimensions. “Needed Me,” directed by the provocateur Harmony Korine (Kids, Gummo, Spring Breakers) initially might seem like a content-free fetishization of violence and outlaw imagery, but actually might be her purest vision of the underlying ideology of the girls-with-guns genre yet.