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A Sorry State: Pop Marketing & Rihanna's Unapologetic
Jude Rogers , November 20th, 2012 11:11

Provocation for Profit? Assault as a Marketing Accessory? Why the Rihanna PR Machine show sad signs of our times

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A week ago, I sat in a tiny red room, around a tiny table, to listen to a record. I wasn't alone. Will Hodgkinson from The Times, The Independent's Andy Gill, and The Mirror's Priya Élan were there too. Our bags and our phones had been taken away from us. In their place were four badly-photocopied pictures of a woman hiding her boobs. Her left was obscured with a strategically-placed elbow, her right with the title of her album, scratched in white letters on black.

The next day, a plane took off from Los Angeles, filled with music journalists and fans. From there, it headed to Mexico City, Toronto, Stockholm, Paris and Berlin; it spent last night in London; today it heads to New York. On-board, there's been champagne and Cognac liberally poured, and diamonds handed out in gift-bags, in case anyone's forgotten the name of Rihanna's latest single.

Welcome to the giddy, week-long circus around the release of Rihanna's Unapologetic, the singer's seventh album for Def Jam in 7 years. My first reaction to a promotional plane trip taking in seven venues in seven countries in seven nights on a Boeing 777? Now that's what we call proper rock star flamboyance, excess and glamour. In the middle of a music industry riddled with blandness and bores, what a brilliantly fuck-you thing to do. Never mind the carbon emissions, here's the Sexy Pistolette! I even understood why you'd pile four newspaper journalists into an album playback together. As a gesture to the music industry, it says, listen: this album will help a rickety ship stay afloat. This music is precious, unleakable – although it did leak, of course, over the weekend.

And as music journalists couldn't have done it, you wonder how it did – but it got Rihanna internet traffic booming, which is what everyone wanted. And then you stand back from the noise, and you look at what's there.

Rihanna is the closest figure the modern record business has got to Madonna in the 80s...

...The full version of this article is available in Point Close All Quotes: A Quietus Music Anthology. Buy it now in the Amazon Kindle store.

Sean Thomas
Nov 20, 2012 4:44pm

This is really good and a lot better way of summing up much of what I've felt about her in recent years.

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Mof Gimmers
Nov 20, 2012 5:17pm

A furiously good piece. Ostensibly, I agree with the whole thing. I'd also add that, while pop music and sex aren't new bedfellows, there's something about Rihanna's use of her sexuality that is so literal, and so omnipresent that it begins to bore.

An implied 'sexiness' has always been so titillating and one of the things that makes pop so curious and wonderful, but the threat of a bumcheek is always superior to a performer spreading their hole, y'know? Rihanna, regrettably, is about as subtle as GG Allin.

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The Butcher of Common Sense
Nov 20, 2012 5:53pm

Couldn't agree more Jude. The tedious commodification and conflation of sex and brand.

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Mars
Nov 20, 2012 8:29pm

I'd like to bloody the ass-sniffer who created the term "hater" to protect their soulless mechanicrap and dubious behavior.

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G
Nov 20, 2012 8:54pm

Tremendous article. I've been following the whole 777 plane thing on Julieanne Smolinski's excellent tumblr site. It sounds like such a clusterfuck.

It's sad to hear about that Radio 4's Woman's Hour thing too. It's a sad indictment of where media culture is going. Hiring idiots seems to be the BBC's forte now.

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Chal Ravens
Nov 20, 2012 9:07pm

Sterling work, Jude.

Everything about the Ri-Ri saga is both so literal and so ironic, and the two aspects so blurred, that it's hard to even see straight. Do you think she even likes her own music? At an album a year for seven years she can probably barely remember it all.

I can't knock her attitude to hard graft, but what is it all for? She's given up on making any artistic statement, instead just cashing in and cashing in until she can take her cash back home to Barbados and never have to strut down a plane aisle pouring vodka to infantile music hacks or pose for a blurry camera phone pic ever again.

Madonna had some tedious and facile moments but at least she seemed to be placing herself in some sort of artistic lineage, fully aware and in control of the commercial side of the pop game.

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Chal Ravens
Nov 20, 2012 9:07pm

Sterling work, Jude.

Everything about the Ri-Ri saga is both so literal and so ironic, and the two aspects so blurred, that it's hard to even see straight. Do you think she even likes her own music? At an album a year for seven years she can probably barely remember it all.

I can't knock her attitude to hard graft, but what is it all for? She's given up on making any artistic statement, instead just cashing in and cashing in until she can take her cash back home to Barbados and never have to strut down a plane aisle pouring vodka to infantile music hacks or pose for a blurry camera phone pic ever again.

Madonna had some tedious and facile moments but at least she seemed to be placing herself in some sort of artistic lineage, fully aware and in control of the commercial side of the pop game.

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Jeff
Nov 20, 2012 9:14pm

I'm glad that somebody is taking an even-handed look at what's happening in pop music today. I couldn't even write this kind of article if I wanted to, I'm so disgusted at the state of affairs.

It annoys me even further that a growing subset of knowledgable music fans are defending disposable, corporate products like this. You're all welcome to like whatever you want, but this is not the new underground. Not in the traditional sense, wink wink.

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Johnny Nothing
Nov 21, 2012 2:28am

Pop music is disposable. It's the cheap thrill of one jager bomb too many and your sure thing just left the party but what the hell cos that tune is exactly and oh shit it's two a.m. already. Pop music is not worthy of serious discussion.

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Pearly Spencer
Nov 21, 2012 8:03am

In reply to Johnny Nothing:

Pop music is not worthy of serious discussion? Something that soundtracks and occupies the lives of millions of people every day, and affects the way that people think about the world? OK, lets just ignore it then. And Joe Foebone - it must be lovely being you.

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Flin Flon
Nov 21, 2012 10:27am

"Rihanna - the "#1 Person On Facebook" with over 62 million Likes - has sold over 37 million albums and 146 million digital tracks worldwide, and currently holds the record as the top-selling digital artist of all time" - & yet I still can't name a single song by her.

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Mario
Nov 21, 2012 11:00am

wow. this is what twitter posts as top news on the rihanna search stream. and this is a really good article. sums up and gives alota detail on that lil raw bizness. respect.

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Estanis
Nov 21, 2012 11:35am

All I can say is congratulations on this excellent, perfectly articulated analysis.

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Stuart
Nov 21, 2012 11:42am

In reply to Mof Gimmers:

Get the hologram booted up and lets see GG and Ri- Ri sing and defecate on stage together

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Stuart
Nov 21, 2012 11:47am

In reply to Pearly Spencer:

This discussion is far from being about pop music ... it's about marketing and corporate greed ... it's disguised as pop music ... but lets not discuss that, lets hope Ri Ri hits us on the head with a HTC phone from the stage as we chant River Island from the floor after paying to watch her ... no lets leave that stuff unsaid

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Stuart
Nov 21, 2012 11:48am

In reply to Flin Flon:

I know Umbrella ... but then again my mum bought it

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G Adams
Nov 21, 2012 3:15pm

What's still very interesting about this article, which in turn proves his point, is that now I want to listen to, what I first thought as horrible, Rihanna's album.
I must say her team are genius. To take her image and build into to cult addiction. Yet by dumbing our minds. ...I will fight the urge

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Sam
Nov 21, 2012 4:01pm

Great article, I sniffed her out from the get go as a PR propagandist advertising man's dream, she was crafted for it, exemplified by the lines 'Rihanna has also been getting crowds to chant the names of the tour funders: HTC, River Island and Budweiser...' - Now that is FUCKING SICKENING! As for the Chris Brown stuff, these people have very little self respect, which is why they end up fucked in middle age, poor lambs.

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kate
Nov 21, 2012 8:10pm

Until you can do anything even close, sit down. Critique what you really know.

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kate
Nov 21, 2012 8:20pm

This girl loves what she does & considers herself a piece of art. She deserves all she is given. Ultimately we all have different ways of making money. I assume you made money off this article or are attempting to create a name for yourself with things like this. Capitalizing on her.

I am a young girl, 25 and I personally love how confident she is. She has all of these fans for a reason.

You're spreading negativity. Do your own thing.

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Apop
Nov 21, 2012 8:50pm

Me Mum's cat has a Facebook page with over 1,000 "likes".

My question is, what's she unapologetic about? That she's back to "liking" the Facebook page of the fellow who beat her up? Ok, so be it, I don't care, maybe she and Chris can run away to Antartica where they can be together forever. And maybe, if we're lucky, they'll take their "music" with them. Something tells me both of their respective production teams could replace them in a matter of minutes (there are thousands, probably like Kate here, lining up for XFactor, American Idol, the Voice, etc who just want to be plugged into ent. industry ozone).

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R.C
Nov 22, 2012 12:28pm

We've tossed aside a lot of the things that genuinely matter and we've got the culture we deserve for it. We've handed everything over to the bullying, the amoral, the cynical, the complacent, the vulgar amongst us and so we're stuck at the start of a new century at the mercy of fools. The future has arrived and it's boring.

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Johan van Slooten
Nov 22, 2012 4:37pm

This is probably the best article I've read about the current state of pop in a very long time.

Actually, I think most of Rihanna's hits (and she's had many) are very catchy and some of them represent all that's good and exciting about today's pop climate. But the things described here (the blatant commercialism of handing out free phones on stage, for instance) tell a very sobering tale.

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Tenbenson
Nov 23, 2012 8:16am

In reply to kate:

So we can't debate this because we're not pop singers? And if someone doesn't just eat the PR copy from Rihanna's people, they're "spreading negativity"? Good theory... Surprised you haven't used the word "hater" yet.

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deadair666
Nov 23, 2012 9:59am

In reply to Chal Ravens:

I couldn't agree more... you really know what you are talking about.

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deadair666
Nov 23, 2012 10:00am

In reply to Chal Ravens:

I couldn't disagree with you more, you really don't know what you are talking about...

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deadair666
Nov 23, 2012 10:06am

yes, as much as Mads was seen as the enemy years ago... there was a certain thing about here where one saw a true artiste. More pop that folks like Prionce, and well, Jacko was/is a league of his own... Mads you could see, gave two shazbots about pretty much every aspect of her career.

this seems all about the almighty dollar. mind you...Reanna is laughing all the way to the bank... and Lady Kaka?

well, as it is... the blame is truly upon us as a society. when we react to this. I might not have purchased her music or anyhting from her machine... but millions of people have. and they are the enablers.

so, who are we to say it is wrong? one million elvis fans can't be wrong, right?

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deadair
Nov 23, 2012 10:13am

and another thing...

did Hugh Grant/Eddie Murphey et al REALLY hire a tranny hooker? come on...! Did those nudie pix/sex tapes really get released by accident? riiiiiight...

did buddy really beat her?

sensationalism...

ohhh there were pictures...

yup, and i saw a million action stars get cut in half, blowed up real good etc etc...

it's sick what people do for publicity, the lies they spread and the people they fool. the public gets upset, and the idea of abuse is adressed for 5 minutes...

then, suprise, we're back together... he's got a tat of a beat up woman on his arm, coz he made millions upon kajillions from it...

shane on you for buying into it an dbelieveing it's real...

pop stars, the religion of the future. and we know where religion went... *you been played, son.

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Nov 23, 2012 12:34pm

Come on, you can't seriously argue that Madonna, Bros, Kylie, The Spice Girls or the New Kids are less manufactured and trite than Rihanna!! I get someone banging on about the fact that pop artists in the 60s and 70s had to play or sing a bit, but seriously, the stuff from my teenage years isn't any better than the current crop of pop moppets (or any worse).

One thing has changed for the worst though. Since Kirsty Wark and her ilk did those Madonna is iconic (???) type pieces, seems as if every well respected indie snob and highbrow music journalist has to publish their opinion on whatever commercial pop happens to be selling the most. While I liked the bits on the purely marketing aspects of the Rihanna record, the rest seemed pretty unnecessary to me (why waste column inches on something that has that much media coverage?).

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Sophia Johansson
Nov 24, 2012 1:13am

Well now I realize why people say "Rihanna is obsession of the year" What do you people think? http://bit.ly/XWWLtL

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Rihanna-Navy
Nov 24, 2012 11:24am

This is insane. Watch this :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck-PjBObhK4&feature=plcp

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Ryan Blaq
Nov 24, 2012 12:58pm

I find the point concerning the exploitation of polarization in modern popular culture perhaps most intriguing. Try as I might to dissect all the facets of its implications, I find myself returning to one conclusion about how it seems to permeate into every media experience and narrative in pop culture , and that is with seemingly endless niches and interests developing every second in this infinitely massive Internet experience, the fight for relevancy must become artificially dramatic to garner and then hold popular attention (reality and personal impact be damned).

We divide our interests into likes and dislikes based on a need to first define who we are and who we are not.
Even if the product or idea is of no consequence to our moral, personal or extra-personal conditions, it is the expectation of an opinion that drives these industries of polarization. If we are prodded enough, inevitably we will react. It's a battle for relevancy where the 'next big thing' can literally emerge from any Internet connection. For industries that desperately crave a semblance of security this illusion is critical.
You saw it during the election cycle. The hyped horse race. The illusion of division as a means of relevancy rather than what actually might interests individuals.
This was not a calculated change but one predicated on a need to survive. The individual is becoming exceedingly hard to define let alone stimulate. There are too many outlets to choose, so we are given only two options.
By creating and then controlling their own outlets, the industries have sustained themselves, for now.
But as this mass of information (our beloved Internet) continues to accumulate and captivate, this grasp will prove harder to maintain and the industries will have to adapt or phase into different forms entirely.

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sex
Nov 24, 2012 6:17pm

In reply to Stuart :

sex
sex
sex
sex
sex

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whyohwhy
Nov 24, 2012 9:46pm

Bravo!!! I thought I was the only one who thought this.. Rihanna has become famous along with the Kardashians based on sex, no talent! just sex!! Rihanna today is our yesterday Millie Vanille (spelled wrong)but you get it. This article should be placed on every site on the internet. Rihanna's marketing team should win an award for putting that mess of an artist in the world.

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W
Nov 25, 2012 1:00am

In reply to kate:

Instead of assuming that she's a grubby-fingered, money-hungry capitalist, you could more reasonably assume that she's sincerely concerned about the subject, and therefore expressing her honest opinion. One that I'm inclined to agree with. If you admire the courage necessary to sell oneself on sexuality as subtle as that album cover and meaningful as a night at the titty bar, be my guest, but do us a favor and do it civilly, lest you incite equally uncivil responses (See what I did there?). Don't condemn those like Jude, myself, and the clear majority of others in the comments list for expressing discontent in the face of what we see as an egregious dehumanization and deterioration of music. And honestly.. "You're spreading negativity"? "Until you can do anything close..."? First of all, take a look at the tone of your comment and compare it to Jude's article. You should get something like "offensively aggressive" as opposed to "genuinely perturbed," respectively. Let's ask ourselves once again who's spreading negativity. Also, though I somehow doubt that bashing a writer for lack of vocal talent is relevant or even the least bit mature, I am convinced that if Jude possessed vocal talent comparable to Rihanna's, she would use it to the same effect as this article. If she happened to amass a fan base as large as Rihanna's, I am sure that it would be founded upon more admirable personal values than those you side yourself with. Hypothetically speaking of course. In the future, dear friend, and for both of our sakes, be careful what you assume. I fear it's already too late to avoid making an ass of both you and me.

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frank
Nov 25, 2012 7:53pm

Though the labels think they are saving themselves by being so edgy, what they're really doing is making sure no decent musicians ever try to sign with them again. I'm speaking from personal experience here.

A few years ago I was sitting in a room waiting to be filmed for American Idol. I ended up having a panic attack because I realized that if I ended up being a pop star, these people would turn me inside out and make me a flashy marketing tool. (And yes I realize that the past idol winners aren't forced to be as insane as Rihanna; however, the amount of control that I signed to them in the contract scared the shit out of me)

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Ephraim Zimbalist
Nov 26, 2012 2:45am

This is probably the best piece of muso journalism I have read in decades, and it had to be said. I am not a Rihanna fan or her target audience, but I fear for the future of popular music if this is what the industry has become. It doesn't have to be this way.

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Carrie Pryor
Nov 26, 2012 6:12am

Great article on Rihanna. She seems soul-free.

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DeeWriteful
Nov 26, 2012 3:54pm

In reply to Mars:

This, a million times. cos they don't mean "you hate me", they mean "you're jealous of me". Egotistical bullshit. I love that others hate the word as much as I.

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James Wilson
Nov 26, 2012 4:26pm

This twisted, provocative logic, where extreme positions and statements are everything, is festering within our culture, and infecting it, too. It's even driving pop songs, and the debates around them.
Elvis, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Manson, Madonna, the Sex Pistols. You sound like my dad in the '60s.

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equityxx
Nov 28, 2012 1:26pm

A provocative analysis about the morally corrupt…and an ode to a time gone by. However, it is fair to pose whether those oft-fondly-reminisced times held integrity, not only to the craft, but for its hungry stakeholders. Did those times not have its equally sad-shallow, drugged-up intoxicated and extremely deplorable moments?

The bottom line is the issue of power. Who is manipulating whom? Are there any real winners in the equation? Has this discipline of music more victims and puppets than any other? Is it all fleeting, superficial, and momentary? And is this sad state fairly prevalent across all music art-forms? The heart of the matter is the impact of this power on the vulnerable, gullible, asinine, young and future generations. For me (and reserved for another chat), it is about the cultural myths that are perpetuated that continue to feed blind ignorance, debilitating racism and “sexploitative” sexism.

I appreciate your clever journalism; you are proficient at what you do and perhaps you did not set out to denigrate the artists in question, but you have done so with finality, “slayed” them as it were. I would offer that it is also subtly biased and emotively nuanced, so that the pop artists will not have a soap-box to stand on in their own defense. Character assassination is unfair and unworthy anytime; and there are bits and parts where the line should be drawn.

Often the breach of privacy (both welcomed and uninvited) serves to affirm convictions held by the prying “thirsty” fan-base who know no fear, no respect and no boundaries (case in point: avid respondents to this article). Inadvertently, it provides license to attack and vilify. In the case of the young male icon in question, it engenders an incessant hunger to cyber-stalk, bully and manipulate (refer recent case of producer-comediac writer - no space to dissect male artist's unwise reaction).

The boundary lines between the entertainer and the entertained have been written on sand for time immemorial, so unclear. A self-fulfilling prophecy really; on the one hand, we are informed ‘tis not our “bidness” then just as smoothly is the barrage of personal-private postings and instagrams that we should not be privy to.

Such a complex case due to the vested interests of all icons, leaders, parties, followers, monies, investments and relationships ferociously defended. The authoritative writer allows a glimpse into a machinery that does not necessarily grind well but inevitably, increases units. And sales, anywhere in the world, are consistently acquired at the expense of real people, protected relationships, admired qualities and sacred values.

However, having said the previous and in the final analysis, it must also be balanced that the issues at hand are a lot more complex, albeit compelling. Unpeeling layers would perhaps provide more insight into a much more startling, defective and poverty-stricken landscape than any reader can fathom and handle in one reading… in tweet-speak, “@jude #fanx”.

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Chad
Nov 28, 2012 5:55pm

One of the best opinion pieces on this site.

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Sekretnoi
Nov 30, 2012 12:43am

lady gaga fan critisies rihanna. Stop the presses

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OJ
Nov 30, 2012 12:53pm

A piece really worth commenting on, if only to say thanks to the writer. Depressing (the content) and uplifting (the quality of the journalism) in equal measures.

'"A big deal" – peel it back, and it's such a gloriously literal phrase.' Indeedy.

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Taras
Dec 1, 2012 11:09am

Really like her voice. Perhaps she had come in our city with their concert Санатории Трускавца

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Rawa
Dec 4, 2012 12:02pm

Excellent article. Its refreshing to see other people notice when music artists are being controlled in every way. many are controlled vigorously by their management...or a much more sinister organisation that they have sold themselves to.

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Rawa
Dec 4, 2012 12:02pm

Excellent article. Its refreshing to see other people notice when music artists are being controlled in every way. many are controlled vigorously by their management...or a much more sinister organisation that they have sold themselves to.

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C. Alexander Brown
Dec 9, 2012 10:26pm

Another title for this album could have been "So What Did Yous Expect From Me?"

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AJB
Dec 13, 2012 4:23pm

Think this is Rhianna showing her 'youngness'. At 29 she'll have her Opus Magnum, at about the same time as those obsessed with the shallow depths of PR have theirs; it's the only thing any of us watching this can hope for. Even Bowie eventually told Mainman to FO.

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Ted G
Jan 12, 2013 1:08am

Tremendous article this and tough to know where to begin. To me the thing that intrigues me the most is what goes on in Rihanna's brain given what she's endured in the past and how she sings about it now in this seemingly blasé fashion. Catharsis? Subservience? What?

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E cig
Feb 26, 2013 12:24pm

In reply to Ted G:

make the world a less fucked up place in which to exist because of gender and patriarchal guff. It should especially be sympathetic to those given the hardest hand to play of them all. E cig

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fringe bikini
Apr 11, 2013 12:15pm

In reply to E cig:

Her left was obscured with a strategically-placed elbow, her right with the title of her album, scratched in white letters on black. fringe bikini

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memory foam mattresses
Apr 13, 2013 5:01am

In reply to OJ:

Toronto, Stockholm, Paris and Berlin; it spent last night in London; today it heads to New York. On-board, there's been champagne and Cognac liberally poured, and diamonds handed out in gift-bags http://mattressmemoryfoam.weebly.com/1/post/2013/01/cheap-memory-foam-mattress-for-your-bed-room.html

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