Born in Saint Michael, Barbados on 20th February 1988, and raised in Bridgetown, Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a songwriter, singer, diplomat, actress and a businesswoman who is one of the most the most successful performers in popular music. Entering into the music scene in 2003 with the album A girl like me, Rihanna has since produced numerous worldwide hits such as Take a bow, Umbrella; We found love, Diamonds, the Good girl has gone bad, Disturbia and the most recent American Oxygen. Nonetheless, Rihanna is a modern-day musician who has confronted political stereotypes still present within the 21st century through the musical and Para musical aspects within her songs. In her song American Oxygen, she centres around America and the American dream, that has been a goal for the Americans since the founding American Fathers introduced the idea (Aarstad et al. 2016). She talks about equality between races and genders, freedom, pursuing happiness and religion. Also, she talks of the youths working with all their opportunities in front of them to accomplish the goals of the American dream. As a result, Rihanna has brought her political and social stance into her music in intricate and effective ways in an attempt to achieve worldwide equality.
The American Oxygen has revealed the struggle that Americans go through and in her video, Rihanna showcases, the president Barrack Obama, Michelle Obama, war, riots, immigrants and the death of Martin Luther King Jr. which have had great impacts on the dreams of Americans throughout history. Through the song, Rihanna has been cemented into the long list of artists who have brought political issues to the forefront of various discussions. The song was aimed at hearing the plea of Americans on the rulings of Donald Trump, and through this, she has not only created a universal song but also has abled to raise the numerous political issues in an attempt to create change as well as the government. Therefore, the paper is premised on uncovering the musical and Para musical elements embedded within American Oxygen that reveal Rihanna's political beliefs and how she uses them to initiate discussion.
With Rihanna's song, different Para musical aspects have been portrayed such as her dressing code, music video, cover art and lyrics which contribute to the plea of the American dream and challenging the political beliefs. Rihanna's message of the American dream can be seen in her music video. The politically charged video features a slew of few footages and images from historical events such as President Barrack Obama's inauguration, the famous speech of Martin Luther King, a cowgirl brandishing the American flag as she rides a horse around a rodeo and erecting the flag of America after the tragic 9/11 attack (Dando, 2017). Her video uses the footage in juxtaposition with the current climate of politics in America. A sign-toting the immigration roots of America precedes footage of Immigrants moving to America and some getting poorly treated; the footage of Martin Luther King in 4:00 is compared with footage of protestors wielding, and she says "I cannot breathe, this is the new America."
Also, Rihanna staring down the camera with a flag wave in the background in 0:02, we see her sitting in front of the city hall building draped with another flag of America and decorated with shadows of soldiers marching in tandem that represents the struggle for Americans in achieving the American dream. She also uses the video of President Obama being sworn in as the first black president in 0:10 and she says, "This is the new America," with people thinking that the president will achieve the goals. Well, President Obama tried, and his presidency was one of the most historic, and his symbol has made the country progress (Taylor, C. (2016). However, some pleas of Americans were never met, and Rihanna showcases them in her with the crowd that is fighting for their rights in 0:34 and 3:31 (Appendix B). Nonetheless, all her videos show the images that one might expect from an American tribute. While Obama's image addresses the racial issues portrayed in the video, the statue of Lady liberty enhances the theme of immigration.
Another aspect showcasing Rihanna's message is in her lyrics, and she croons in the background that "we sweat for a nickel in a dime, chasing this American dream in every breath I breathe." With these lyrics, her song is more patriotic and in favor of the suffering citizens who wish for change. "We are the new America; this is the new America" also depicts what citizens should do as they are the people to build the nation but have no power. They are seen in a crowd carrying posters trying to change the political view of the country for the peace of the country (Matayoshi, 2016). Additionally, the lyrics of the song interprets the immigrants' story and is seen in the following part. Oh, say can you see?
This is the dream of America
Young girl hustling on the other side of the ocean
You can be anything at all
In America, America
I say if you cannot see
Just close your eyes and breathe (1:05-1:29)
Which meant that immigrants in America do not have a right over anything and the only thing they could do is to struggle to meet their needs. They cannot change the view of politics in America as they do not own the nation. They can only sit and watch, riot for their rights but do not have the power to stand in front of Americans to address their pain and suffering.
Rihanna's cover art of the song, American Oxygen is a picture of her staring down with a jacket that is half worn, and the same time staring up trying to remove the jacket in an American flag background (Appendix C, figure 1). The cover art represents the struggle and pain of the Americans due to the political differences of the leaders and the nation. The flag is a sign of patriotism that Rihanna has for her country even after the tragic events. Her cover art also resembles the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in the burning Twin Towers and is a strange juxtaposition of the dark historical moments (Dando, 2017).
Moreover, the dress code is another para musical aspect depicted in the song. Rihanna dresses in the military attire at some points in the video to show the violent military intervention. How the military struggle in defending the country but the government ignores their families and their needs. However, this does not show patriotism as it opposes the views of the citizens with that of the nation or government (Taylor, C. (2016). The military tortures immigrants and other homeless Americans and burns the homes of innocent citizens. Also, she dresses in rugged jeans and a short blouse, braless to compare herself with the homeless veterans who are wounded in the streets trying to look for ways of getting food and one attire that they possess (Aarstad et al. 2016). This activity shows Rihanna's concern of many Americans in achieving the American dream, but she has no power of helping them as their needs supersede her needs.
Electronic instruments and percussion make up American Oxygen's instrumental track. The prominent driving force behind the pop beat of the song is a heavy, persistent bass drum. The steady 4/4 beat gives predictability and a sense of security to the song, which is played at a moderate tempo of 110 bpm. The strong, steady pacing and beat give a sense of hypnotic movement to the song, which infers the activities of struggle and perseverance of Americans in achieving the American dream. This action is reflected in the song's music video where Rihanna showcases immigrants and Americans walking on the streets, trying to fight for their rights. The electronic instruments and music video used captures the attention of the viewers as Rihanna has portrayed the real America and her political differences (Matayoshi, 2016). Additionally, the warm, rich texture of the percussion and electronic instruments overlay the drumbeat, following the rhythmic repetition of "this is the new America," as Rihanna tries to showcase the change in combination with the public environment where the video is shot.
Also, for the actual vocals, Rihanna combines melodic singing, spoken voice and singular sound bites of heavy, gasped panting to imply the military struggle in America. The torture that they have been giving innocent citizens and burning their houses as a way of repaying the nation. She uses slow, weak and trembling voice because she is touched by the lives of immigrants and the poor Americans at the middle of the song, and says "close your eyes and breathe (1:29, 2:58), this is the new America (3:35). All said, all done this is the American dream (2:24)" (Appendix B). Additionally, the spoken voice used in announcing the death of Martin Luther King Jr, and the chaos caused by Americans in crying for his death portrays the reality in the video. Rihanna has used the actual vocals to include the ordinary citizens in her video as a sign of love to them and patriotism. The spoken vocals also reduce the monotony of the song in using one voice, making the song more attractive and logical (Dando, 2017).
It is often rare for popular musicians to include the voice of struggling people in their video due to the class they assume they are in, but Rihanna has contradicted the case. The video was based on America and her citizens and therefore, to make more sense in her video, actual vocals without introducing effects and edition had to be used to make it natural. Moreover, through the strong dynamic vocals embedded within the chorus, Rihanna can enhance her lyrics while producing a celebratory atmosphere (Scribner, 2016). The atmosphere begins to feel increasingly inclusive due to the layering of loud instruments in conjunction with the vocals of Rihanna, filled with confidence and reassurance to Americans that their dream will one day be achieved. It can, therefore, be seen that Rihanna uses her vocals to portray the confidence within herself further as well as encouraging her fans to find the confidence in fighting for their freedom and rights when they are being violated (Aarstad et al. 2016).
Nonetheless, harmony, which is a combination of two or more pitches, has been used in American Oxygen as the track grows from an emotional piano-chord opening to a pounder of heavy-chant of track that evolves to incorporate the dark, unexpected synthesizers that are whooshing and an electronica production that is fuzzy. The piano and tribal chants elements are epic, but the electronic embellishments sound may be out of place and feel like the last-minute additions to make the video and song more unique but still, leaves the song feeling slightly sloppy (Dando, 2017). This is seen in the point where Rihanna says "we chase for a nickel in a dime, turn it into an empire," where a low pitch has been used. In her statement, she portrays that she wants to change the nation and it is the Americans to change it. However, hard it may be in fighting for their rights, they should persevere and be consistent in what they are looking for. Moreover, as the song progresses, a different pitch is used especially in "breathe out, breathe in" which is high and used to stress on the American dream. Americans should stay focused on making things right through changing the nation's political differences. Rihanna has used the pitch also for the viewers and listeners to see the struggle that Americans should put in defending their rights (Matayoshi, 2016).
Also, a high pitch is used when the actual vocal is used in announcing the death of Martin Luther King Jr. to stress on the nature of the song and Americans. This attracts the attention of the listeners in having the urge to finish the song and expect the best out of Americans. People...
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