"I want to be the black Madonna."
It's obvious why. Not only does Rihanna have every potential to be as successful as Madonna (commercially, at least), she's taking part in an industry Madonna defined: that of female pop culture. A rainmaking single plus a tour on the run, Rihanna already covered a quarter of her idol's success after the release of her third album "Good Girl Gone Bad". The title of the album is a departure itself from the last two RiRi albums, especially the second one, "A Girl Like Me". It let her shift from image to another and focus more on the celebrity rather than the music - that's exactly how Ms. Ciccone liked it.
Her blond ambition was clear with "Take a Bow". From the criminal-to-good girl of "Unfaithful", she now claims the position of the cheated girlfriend. The quality of the song was mixed as it followed the trend set by Beyonce's "Irreplaceable", itself an empowerment anthem devoted to bash cheating boyfriends. But despite its musical limitations, "Take a Bow" makes up for style. It is heavily Madonna-influenced from the title alone (the song is not a cover), and the promotional video is notable for her shift in fashion sense.
As Douglas Kellner researched, fashion is a capitalist industry aimed at defining classes in terms of dress code. It aimed a separation classes ("rich" from "poor", men from women) that mostly oppressed and limited. It dictated while it provided. And through the years, the fashion industry was challenged by some who chose to wear something else. Judging from Kellner's research and her Madonna connection, Rihanna takes the gender-bending role reminiscent of Madge's own "I'll Remember". In the video of the song, Madonna wore men's formal clothes and a short black wig. In short, she looked like a typical businessman. Cultural critics found the style of the video as feminist, continuing Madonna's early 90s provocation of sexual stereotypes.
With the "Take a Bow" video, Rihanna donned a pixie cut and a Michael Jackson jacket which made her look entirely different from her previous fashion statements."You're so ugly when you cry" she sings in the second verse, looking down at masculinity while inhibiting a macho female persona evident in the NeYo-esque gestures. It's obvious that once again, Rihanna exhibits empowerment within the video. Like Madonna's early 90s efforts, Rihanna challenged norms of style for women, though it wasn't pretty much of a stretch now as it was then. It's no surprise that this new image became one of her most popular. Around 2008 til 2009, the short black pixie cut became the new fashion phenomenon for teenage to twentysomething girls and gay men alike.
I must say Rihanna chose the right role model to follow. "Take a Bow" may not be as shocking as "Unfaithful", but it made Rihanna a trend-setter, at least within fashion. Based on what she did there, that's not a bad thing for a pseudo-feminist. - Gio Potes, March 2012