The encounter begins simply enough. A handsome guy walks into a dank club and makes a beeline for the pretty girl with waist-length, red locks who's dancing by herself. He moves gently, showing only a hint of force when he grabs her wrists and pins them against the wall. But it's what happens afterward in Rihanna's new "Man Down" video that has had critics decrying the clip since it debuted last week.
Rih's onscreen character strolls out of the Jamaican nightclub with her dance-floor partner pursuing her. A terrifying struggle ensues. When it's over, his red mesh tank is torn, his cheek bruised, and the visibly shaken pop star is weeping. Rih decides to exact her own justice with a .22 caliber handgun that she calls "Peggy Sue." ("I didn't mean to end his life/ I know it wasn't right," she sings.)
While the Anthony Mandler-directed clip appears to mirror the lyrics of the dancehall-flavored tune, when MTV News caught up with Rock City, the songwriting/performing duo behind "Man Down," they said the verses were meant to be open to interpretation.
"We wanted the song to be something to where everybody had an opinion," Theron (a.k.a. Da Spokesman) revealed. "Some people felt it was literal, some people felt it was a metaphor."
U.S. Virgin Island-born Theron and his brother Timothy "Don't Talk Much" Thomas — their Free at Last album is due June 21 — along with producer Shama "Sham" Joseph (a.k.a. Sak Pase), served up the narrative track specifically to let the Barbados beauty tap her island origins in a way that sounded authentic. And in a city like Kingston, Jamaica, where guns and gangs often mar the lush landscape, what could be more authentic than a girl seeking violent retribution for a sexual assault, only to find herself overcome with regret as the singer does in the visual?
"When we wrote the song, me and my brother was trying to re-create in the best way possible, you know, like, Bob Marley 'I Shot the Sherriff,' " Timothy told us. "The female version of what that would be."
But now that the siren-laced tune's companion clip is stirring up controversy, Theron thinks some viewers are forgetting that the song, like so much Caribbean music, is about telling tales.
"It's like somebody wrote a script for a movie and she delivered it perfectly," Theron argued. "I just think sometimes people need something to talk about, and this is a thing to talk about. ... 'Cause when you listen to the song word-for-word-for-word, if she shot it theatrically how [the lyrics are], it probably would have been a little [more graphic], if you ask me," he laughed.
When we interviewed Rihanna back in November, just before Loud dropped, she defiantly described "Man Down."
"The special thing in that song is the fact that it's a female singing those lyrics," she said.
"Then you have that reggae thing and the chant; the overall energy in that song is so gangsta!"
What do you think of Rihanna's "Man Down" video? We want to hear from you in the comments below!