Ahoy, Navy! I’m Sam Lansky, and you’re reading “Pop Think,” my weekly column where we talk about the important stuff that’s happening in the world, like choreographic trends in contemporary music videos. (You were hoping I’d say that, right? Right?)
Specifically, my subject this week is the flawless queen, the inimitable HBIC, the fave-slayer, the only bajillion-times-platinum recording artist who will call you the C-word on Twitter if you drag her publicly — Rihanna. If you’ve been asking yourself, “Where has she been?” you should now have your answer, since she was terribly busy shooting the video for her new single, “Where Have You Been,” which premiered last week to considerable fanfare. I mean, a new Rihanna video doesn’t come around every day, and when it’s for a song like “Where Have You Been” — an enormous, grimy dance anthem with some phenomenally sleazy dubstep breaks — you know to expect something good. RiRi never disappoints, right?
But the queen of the modern music video took a new direction with the “Where Have You Been” video — she actually danced, y’all! Remember dancing? It was that thing we all did in the ’90s? And Rihanna took to careful choreography with such enthusiasm, I can’t help but wonder whether we’re about to usher in a whole new era of music video dance moves — or if Rihanna’s new video is just a shout-out to the bygone era where dance moves reigned supreme. Jump aboard, Navy! I’m chartering this ship and sailing it to the farthest reaches of “TRL” history.
“I’ve been everywhere, man,” Rihanna sings in the opening moments of “Where Have You Been,” and looking back through her videography, it’s true: From her earliest beginnings as an R&B princess busting moves on the dance floor in the video for “Pon De Replay” to garages in “Shut Up And Drive,” New York bodegas in “What’s My Name” and the spectacular desert tableaux of “Only Girl (In the World),” Rihanna’s a true road warrior, traversing a trillion climates and always looking hot as she does it.
And the clip for “Where Have You Been” kicks off with more of a whimper than a bang, as Rihanna floats along the surface of a swamp-pond, her head half-visible above the water like a smoky-eyed sea monster. But then, her head swathed in a scarf, a cadre of muscled dudes in harem pants as her entourage, the dancing begins, and it’s real choreography: Extended shots of furious stomping and twisting, executed with more verve than I’ve seen in a Rihanna video since, well, ever.
Read more about Rihanna’s moves in her video “Where Have You Been” after the jump.
The rehearsed dancing that Rihanna shows off in “Where Have You Been” has more in common with the teen pop videos of the turn of the millennium than with the modern video, which is all about quick cuts and glamour shots taking precedence over any choreographic precision; this dancing feels like a thing of the past, a throwback to an era where backup dancers moved in uniform synchronicity. That trend fell out of vogue over the last several years, as the hyperactive, visually arresting styles of directors Anthony Mandler and Melina Matsoukas took precedence over the well-practiced choreography of auteurs like Nigel Dick and Wayne Isham.
So could Rihanna’s fly moves in “Where Have You Been” actually usher in a renaissance of Big Dance Videos? If anyone has the cultural cachet to reignite a movement like that, it would be RiRi, since the unparalleled power of her Navy (hey, Rihanna Navy!) is enough to make any incipient trend a reality. These things always come in waves, and so if major pop videos have been dance-averse for the last several years, it seems only natural that a return to form would be on the horizon — and even if the appealingly nostalgic moves of a carefully choreographed clip feels regressive, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still moving forward.
Because Rihanna’s always been something of a trendsetter, and the last year has seen her seamless integration of dubstep into the fabric of her slick urban pop in a way that few, if any, artists could rival. If she wants to dance, let’s let the girl dance.