“Damn, I Love the Strippers!”: A Black Feminist Analysis of Rihanna’s “Pour It Up”

“The focus on performance, especially when contrasted with other constructions of Black exotic dancers in popular music videos, is another way in which ‘Pour It Up’ carefully attends to the ontological complexities of exotic dancers. Just as the first verse of the song begins, Williams is filmed sliding down a dance pole, hanging in mid-air using only her inner thighs and the space between her head, neck, and right shoulder to hold on. Throughout the video, Williams is filmed performing extraordinary acrobatics on the same pole, including the aforementioned ‘basic beginner spin,’ demonstrating noteworthy upper body strength—holding onto the pole with two hands and swinging her body around and posing her legs, completely still, in various positions. At another point, Williams is filmed sliding down the dance pole upside down without using her hands or any part of her upper body—holding on with the full strength of her inner thighs. Here, I want to note that (mis)readings of the video deny the possibility of Black women exotic dancers expressing their agency in the space of the music video, which ignores exotic dance labor as a way of communicating the significance of that agency. Along these lines, Emerson (2002) notes that Black women have sometimes found the music video a space in which they can exhibit the kind of control over their bodies that is necessary to negotiate “contradictory and often conflicting notions” about their sexuality (p. 128). Regarding ‘Pour It Up,’ the focus on exotic dance performance rather than exotic dance consumption allows it to function as one such subversive space in which exotic dancers to legitimize themselves through their labor.”
—Dr. Heidi R. Lewis from “‘Damn, I Love the Strippers!’: A Black Feminist Analysis of Rihanna’s ‘Pour It Up’” (Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships (Invited), vol. 4, no. 1, 2017, pp. 47-60)