There’s something about Easter time that always has me caught between two worlds: to follow Bill Bailey’s agnostic lead and celebrate “Implausible Resurrection Day” with smug intellectual detachment, or embracing the comfort of a familiar story theatrically retold.
So instead of half-heartedly subscribing to the typical Christian rituals I decided to start my own. A spiritual quest, of sorts. In the place of an elemental deity to worship, I sought out the only modern force powerful enough to deliver me a messianic muse — the top 40 charts. So, for a month, I asked myself: “What would Rihanna do?”
The Barbadian goddess, with her Fresh Prince get-up and scarlet mohawk — who better to give me my spiritual cues than the woman responsible for such lyrics as: “meet me in my boudoir/’til my body says ah ah?”. For the modern woman, full of feminist ideals and an ideologically awkward penchant for make-up, Rihanna manages to coalesce the stereotypes of raunch culture with a potent sense of s-xual independence. She may trot around in a studded body suit in the Rude Boy video clip, yes. But damn, she’s doing it on her skin-tight terms.
It’s an interesting dichotomy. Writing in The Guardian, Hannah Pool said Rihanna’s S&M video seemed hell-bent on “portraying a grotesque caricature of female s-xuality”, from the bunny ears to the suggestive ingesting of a fruit platter. Admittedly, I didn’t emulate that particular performance for my monthly experiment. But watching the clip back — with the knowledge the song is an apparent analogy for her interactions with the media — it’s hard to tell whether she’s playing a savvy commercial game, or just having fun taking s-xualised music clips to their hallucinogenic extreme.
And if in selecting her as my idol for the month seems odd, consider the trends worldwide. The most successful musical acts — think Gaga and her Monster Ball spectacular, Katy Perry and her extra-terrestrial exploits — capitalise on their widespread success by fashioning themselves as otherworldly creatures, condescending to mingle with their mortal admirers. When Lady Gaga took to the stage at an awards show last year, only to cover herself in fake blood and stumble madly around as she sang, one couldn’t help but be reminded of those voodoo ceremonies you see on the Discovery Channel.
In his fascinating Monthly essay “Sister Act”, Peter Conrad discusses how contemporary culture is ruled by global superstars such as the Minogue sisters, who transcend pedestrian, mortal existence by transforming themselves into the modern equivalent of gods. In his characteristically stylish manner, Conrad pits the “watery icon” Kylie against her seductive alter-ego Dannii, casting the Young Talent Time duo in cosmic roles of angel and siren.
Perhaps then, it’s not so strange that for Gen Y — largely indifferent to traditional religious institutions, but addicted to a diet of entertainment news and glossy magazines — our idols come with the prefix “American”, rather than welded to a crucifix.
Which raises the question — who should I worship next month?