Umbrella Rihanna (feat. Jay-Z) A nine-frame analysis
Frame OneIn this medium, establishing shot that opens the video, we are introduced to the main artist Rihannasat in quite a sexually alluding pose against a smoky studio spotlight. This “underground” lighting lookshighly “stylish” and “sleek”, but also gives the shot a slightly sleazy sense of mood in my opinion; it isthe type of lighting one would expect to find in a night club. It gives off sexual connotations as the wayRihanna sits in front of it emphasises the shape of her body as if it were some sort of “prize”. This canbe linked Mulvey’s “Male Gaze” theory were a heterosexual male audience would be attracted to theskimpy, black leather outfit that reveals much skin. The fact that a hat covers the majority of Rihanna’sface and the way she is sat with her leg up, enables her to be objectified by the aforementioned maleaudience. Overall, the shots do have quite a mystical feel to them, which can be linked to Goodwin’sidea of “star image”. This song marked a change in the singer’s image and these shots may havebeen constructed as a way of allowing the audience to guess who the artist is on television, etc.However, the fact that we are introduced to Rihanna straight away brings to prominence a brandidentity that is the fulcrum for the entire video.
Frame TwoThis long shot reveals the rapper Jay-Z strategically positioned in the centre of the frame, drawing prominence to him as he rapshis verse in this part of the song. He can been seen is his typical casual costume which largely consists of baggy trousers and t-shirt, a leather jacket, and clunky trainers. He juxtaposes the three female dancers on either side of him, again aiding him tostand out and seem quite omnipotent. This is a stereotypical convention of popular music videos and performances in general,but particularly of the “rap” genre/culture where male artists have long since been associated with the sexualisation andobjectification of women (the shot is consistent with the previous). The fact that the female dancers’ legs are on display conformsto Laura Mulvey’s “Male Gaze” theory once again, and additionally the fact that all six are wearing the same clothing andsunglasses does indeed Barry Keith Grant’s idea that genre allows audiences to recognise texts by the familiar characteristics isrelevant here.It is worth noting that the sparkling raindrops in the background give the video quite a stylish attribute to the mise-en-scene andreference to Goodwin, they “amplify” the lyrics of the song, which talk about it raining in a metaphorical sense – potentially whenrelationships become difficult.
Frame ThreeThis close-up shot allows audiences to connect with Rihanna, a common feature of most musicvideos (ref. Andew Goodwin) and furthermore the fact that she is facing the camera side-on andtheoretically looking at the viewer from behind her, the notion of symbolically inviting theaudience into the “digesis” of the video (ref. Carol Vernallis) comes forth. Again the shot doeshave some sexual connotations, as would be expected to fit with the rest of the video, in that ofher heavy eye make-up, her facial expression, her stick-straight, black hair and the fact herupper back is completely exposed and on show. It is quite typical of a performance-based shotas the background has an overall quite neutral tone to it, with bright lights acting as a referenceto the art of performing.
Frame FourThis frame can be linked to Vernallis’ idea of characters and music video objects moving in timewith the music, but also, arguably, Goodwin’s “thought beats” to some extent. The shot marks aquick increase in pace as the chorus kicks in, and a result Rihanna performs a dramaticmovement where she her right leg, thrusts her head forward and punches her arms towards theground as this happens, before a cut is made. This places additional emphasis on the alreadyphonologically stressed lyric “because” to signify the imminent chorus. As such, the shot canalso be linked to Barthes’ “Action Code” as the audience will expect a chorus at this point.Simultaneously in the background of the shot, what appear to be tanks of water, or glass panels,smash to mirror the pace change. This amplifies the lyric “now that it’s raining more then ever”and makes the shot quite exiting and busy, rather than Rihanna just stood in a plain studio.
Frame FiveThis shot uses a combination of special effects and dancing to give what is quite an interesting performanceshot. Rihanna is seen in quite a feminine, white dress that in some ways juxtaposes the idea of her being inand amongst the water - a totally inappropriate outfit. Nevertheless, it contrasts against the grey backgroundwell and gives prominence to this particular image of the performing star. In this shot, and the onessurrounding it, Rihanna can be seen “dancing” in a way which reflects her trying to dance in and around andplay with the water that is being thrown around. This “dancing” is again in time to the music as so supportsVernallis’ ideas, and also Grant’s ideas of recognisable genre characteristics – dancing is a convention of popmusic videos. It is interesting to note, with reference to wearing an inappropriate outfit, that Rihanna does notget wet even though she should, theoretically, be soaked by the rain, as illustrated in this shot. However thisconcept “illustrates” (ref. Goodwin) the lyric “you can stand under my umbrella”; Rihanna possesses anumbrella that prevents her from getting wet. The fact that she does not have an actual umbrella itself suggeststhat she is referring to something more metaphorical that entices the referred lover to stay in a relationshipwith her.
Frame SixAccording to Goodwin, record companies demand lots of close of the artist(s) in music videos in order topromote their “star image” and overall appearance to sell records. This concept is true of the Rihanna video,and is exemplified by this shot particularly which shows the singer in a much “softer” light than most of thevideo. Her makeup seems to be less heavy, her hair curly in contrast to the otherwise “stick straightness” andher facial expressions more “cheeky” than sexual. In addition, the lighting is a little brighter and focuseddirectly on her face, giving a better contrast with the black background (which is aided by the shallow depth offield). This can be linked to the fact that the shot is taken from the bridge of the song which follows a change inkey and pace, and arguably more personal, emotional and direct lyrics. Thus, Rihanna needs to be presentedin a more vulnerable way and focusing on her face gives a more intimate experience for the viewer whichmatches these lyrics. Because the shot is largely different from others, it could be interpreted as anintertextual reference (again a reference to Goodwin) to Rihanna’s earlier music videos where her “star image”was linked to that of her perceived innocence and vulnerability. This will provide audiences with gratificationand a link to the “old Rihanna”, this being a change in musical and visual direction. It is worth noting that thissupports Gauntlett’s ideas of artists playing around with identity.
Frame SevenRihanna uses the iconography of an umbrella in this shot, to “illustrate” (ref. Goodwin) the songtitle in quite a humorous way, serving as a dancing cane. This may provide gratification foraudiences in the form of entertainment (ref. McQuail’s Uses and Gratifications Theory). With it,she performs quite a provocative dance routine, a convention of pop music videos, againstquite a “fancy” background depicting a wood-paneled wall. The orange-toned shiny floor aids indepicting quite a sophisticated “digesis” (ref. Vernallis), which ironically, complements her outfitof fish-net tights, a leotard, and black gloves which yet again have sexual connotations. The factthat this a long shot, together with her fish net tights, allow the singer to showcase hernotoriously idolised legs for both a male and female audience. In the case of a male audiencethis again conforms to Mulvey’s “Male Gaze” theory.
Frame EightThis simple long shot sees Rihanna nude, squatting after having been covered in metallic paint. Blackand white has also been used here, not only emphasising this metallic nature (this is also helped by aspotlight being focused on her figure), but giving a pleasing aesthetic result to this part of the video; itis quite “arty” and somewhat glamorous, standing out from other shots in this and other videos. Assuch, it has arguably become iconic imagery associated with Rihanna’s ever-evolving “star image”(ref. Goodwin). The intention to cover Rihanna in this way could be routed in the idea of signifying astatue of some description. Statues are usually made of celebrated people who are consideredimportant, which links into Mulvey’s “Male Gaze” theory once again - she is showcasing her“celebrated” body to the viewer. The fact that she is covering her breasts, besides from making thevideos “decent”, could symbolise her femininity in that of vulnerability.
Frame NineIn many respects this shot reverses frame one as Rihanna is centrally placed in Jay-Z’s position, withan array of male backing dancers behind her. Again, this is a typical convention of music videos andin this shot it brings prominence to Rihanna and her “star image” (ref. Goodwin) as the song draws toa close. Although the video does not have a narrative as such, being a performance-based video, theshot has a slight celebratory and “fun” sense of mood where everything has been “brought together”.The rest of the video does not have this, and it is due to the heavily choreographed dancing, thenumber of people and the sparkling “rain” falling, which is appears much heavier than at the beginningof the song, that this shot does. All of this can indeed be linked to the fact the song has reached itsclimax; the video at this point embraces the pure “fun” nature of a pop song, and asymbolic/metaphorical rather than physical state of new equilibrium (ref. Todorov). The bottom third ofthe shot where Rihanna and her dancers are performing is quite dark. This gives emphasis to thefalling rain, creating what could be described as somewhat of a magical “digesis” (ref. Vernallis) thatadds to the celebratory element.