Rihanna's 'S&M' Video: A Pop-Culture Cheat Sheet

Clip, which premiered Tuesday, features Perez Hilton and nods to Madonna.

[artist id="1940303"]Rihanna[/artist] is undoubtedly one of this generation's greatest, most-fascinating pop stars, and a lot of that interest has been inspired by her music videos. She seems to deal exclusively in striking visual imagery that is colorful, racy and pushes boundaries. Her latest clip, for [article id="1657024"]"S&M," which premiered Tuesday (February 1)[/article], is no exception.

In the video, Rihanna puts herself in a number of suggestive situations, both as the dominated and the dominatrix. But rather than simply titillate, the clip is attempting to say something meaningful about Rihanna's sometimes-contentious relationship with the media, a topic that many pop stars have addressed in their videos over the years.

While "S&M" doesn't make a whole lot of explicit references to images of the past, the roots of the clip run deep and are extremely eclectic.

Perez Hilton

The celebrity blogger appears in two different places in the clip, but the one that leaves the biggest impression puts Hilton on the end of a leash held by Rihanna. Dressed as a glamorous housewife and walking across a perfectly manicured lawn, Rihanna leads Hilton to a fire hydrant, where he mimes urinating, then lowers to the ground to have his belly rubbed. Hilton is a perfect example of Rihanna's complicated relationship with the media, as he has said some negative things about the singer on his blog but will still appear in the video (and in a submissive role, no less).

The Newspaper Dress

In the press conference scene (which finds Rihanna bound behind a wall of plastic wrap), the star is wearing a dress made of newspapers that looks an awful lot like the John Galliano creation Sarah Jessica Parker wore on an episode of "Sex and the City." Is it a comment on the limited usefulness of the press or simply a fashion statement?

The Circle of Microphones

In the same scene, Rihanna is surrounded by a circle of microphones -- an image that keeps popping up in recent music videos. R. Kelly used it in his clip for "When a Woman Loves," and Britney Spears recently tweeted a similar image that will be appearing in her upcoming clip for [article id="1656493"]"Hold It Against Me."[/article] Interestingly, both of those artists have had extremely volatile public lives and have been both boosted up and burned by the press -- as has Rihanna herself.

The Pig's Head

One of the background actors is wearing a pig's head -- an image that often appears in Pink Floyd's imagery and also showed up in the video for Silverchair's "Tomorrow."

John Waters

The visual elements of "S&M" owe a lot to the suburban Technicolor wonderlands of John Waters' films. The Baltimore native has spent a career pushing the boundaries of good taste while destroying the notion of suburban ennui. Both the appearance of pink popcorn and the entire "Perez Hilton as a dog" sequence owe a debt to Waters' oeuvre (especially "Pink Flamingos" and "Serial Mom").


The Material Girl didn't invent the idea of bringing S&M imagery into music videos, but she certainly perfected it. Anytime Rihanna introduces ball gags, whips or riding crops, it's hard not to think about the "Erotica" and "Human Nature" videos.


Plenty of artists have crafted videos showing their relationship with the press and have featured images of themselves being chased by headlines, but nobody did it better than Michael Jackson, whose "Leave Me Alone" remains a definitive statement on how he felt about the people writing about him.

The Rolling Stones Tongue Logo

In the clip's final image, Rihanna is wearing a smiley face over her eye and the Rolling Stones tongue logo over her mouth. Created for the band by graphic designer John Pasche in 1971, it first appeared on the Sticky Fingers album and has become synonymous with the group's grittiest, raunchiest work.

What other references did you catch in Rihanna's "S&M" video? Let us know in the comments!

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