Julie Burchill: Rihanna is the real thing


Julie Burchill
Tuesday 08 November 2011 18:14

Keeping it real. Is there any modern phrase which so immediately makes one's Phoney Alarm go off big-time, with bells on? Sincerity has become very suspect over recent years, and with good reason – the search for authenticity has ruined more lives than crack, smack and sugar rolled together.

Therefore we turn with relief to those higher beings who appear to have seen through the whole kit'n'caboodle, be they Jean Giraudoux ("The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made") or Ava Gardner ("Deep down, I'm pretty shallow"). Authenticity in pop can be particularly amusing/depressing. Who can forget the spectacle of Dexy's Midnight Runners, the JoBoxers and Big Country poncing around in overalls, believing themselves to resemble horny-handed sons of the soil while in reality coming across much more like over-enthusiastic attendees at the annual Canal Street Come As Your Favourite Gaybait Stereotype Ball?

But when we see Rihanna being thrown out of a field by a cross farmer and then bouncing on a trampoline in what looked like the back garden of someone's council house, both in Northern Ireland in the space of a week, we know we are definitely in the presence of one of the most genuine – despite all the outfits and outrage – pop talents the world has ever seen.

Last month, we were treated to the sight of the megastar rocking up at the street party which acts as the official finale to the Barbados Crop Over Festival, drinking beer from a plastic glass and grinding against lucky revellers, wearing little more than a corset and a feathered tiara. The idea of Madonna going home to Detroit to mingle with the man on the street – even for a minute, let alone a party – is hard to imagine.

And Rihanna's reaction on being unceremoniously banished from that muddy field in Bangor, when the handful of red hankies she'd stripped down to became too much for the devout farmer who had hired out his land? Quite unique. "She understood where I was coming from," said Alan Graham, displaying just a hint of new-fangled lingo himself. "We shook hands and parted company on good terms." Can we imagine Lady Gaga shaking hands with anyone foolish enough to suggest that she put her clothes on and clear off? She'd probably go to the UN, claiming abuse of her civil rights.

The Rihanna who strips at the drop of a hat and is denounced as a corrupter of children after appearing on X Factor is also the Rihanna who covers her head at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and paints murals with boy-scouts in Tel Aviv. The victim of domestic violence is also the shameless sex maniac who sings about whips and chains exciting her and talks of her proclivity for being spanked – and who then turns around and says, disarmingly, to Rolling Stone, "I do think I'm a bit of a masochist. It's not something I'm proud of, and it's not something I noticed until recently. I think it's common for people who witness abuse in their household. They can never smell how beautiful a rose is unless they get pricked by a thorn."

Like Coca Cola, which actually tastes more natural to the modern palate than milk does, Rihanna IS the Real Thing – not in some phoney, homespun, cookie-cutter way, but as bold, as brave, as bad, as confusing and inconsistent as real things have a habit of being.

A little of what you fancy stealing ...

I had to laugh when I read that Tesco have started putting alarm tags on bars of Cadbury's Dairy Milk bars: presumably thieves were eating the evidence before they got to the check-out. The surreal side of me wishes the supermarkets would follow this logic all the way to the Pick'n'Mix counter, a notorious haunt of light-fingered lunchers, so that each precious, tiny jewel-coloured bear each bore its own minute alarm. Imagine the kerfuffle when the schools get out each day!

I loved shoplifting when I was a kiddy, and had quite the lift-to-order empire by the time I was 14, but I gave it up when I started having sex. I just didn't need it any more. But I do remember to this day the sharp, stabbing, exquisitely parasexual thrill of clearing the security barrier with a brace of buckshee feather boas in one's book-bag. To this very day, when a celeb gets picked up for pilfering, I can't help thinking, "Hmm, SOMEONE Ain't Getting None!"

Thinking about the new preciousness of confectionery, though, I do recall a classic exchange between my mum and my Auntie Doll when Smints had just arrived on the market. The two working-class ladies marvelled over the artful container, then my mum asked, "How much you be paying for 'em, Doll?" "A pound." "A POUND?" "Yeah. [Beat] Won't be offering THESE around..."

Florence and the BBC machine

I've got a soft spot for both sluts and saints when it comes to sex; it's the boring bitches (of both genders) in the middle I can't be doing with. No such open-mindedness at the BBC – the Boys Broadcasting Club, which seems to think that having one token woman on any given show once a week is pushing the boat out – which now stands accused by academics of presenting Florence Nightingale as "sexually repressed".

The BBC are SUCH cowards; they would never represent Muslim women who walk about dressed up as covered parrot's cages as repressed, sexually or otherwise, though they obviously are, because that might get them into a bit of a scrap with the Islamist lobby. But because this brave, remarkable woman is white and dead, they're having a right laugh kicking the corpse around. The stinking girls-are-smelly spirit lives on. And we're funding it.

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