entertainment

Rihanna used to be cool. Now? She's just a diva, a bully and a moderately talented singer.

Rihanna, she used to be cool, man.

Aloof, vain, and probably always a bit of diva – but cool. Rihanna is physically strong, vocally lovely, sexually confident, and ridiculously beautiful. She has all the makings of an inspirational woman in a fickle, savage industry. Also, I really liked Umbrella.

But Rihanna blew all of that this week when she bullied a 16-year-old girl on social media.

The girl, Alexis Carter, wore a jumpsuit-dress hybrid thing to her formal (“prom” in American English) that was an exact replica of an outfit Rihanna wore in 2010. Alexis tagged Rihanna in the post because she’s her idol, and like millions of young women, Alexis wants nothing more in life than her hero’s attention.

Rihanna could have responded with a ‘like’ or a comment. She could’ve smiled and hugged that sweet feeling of being adored to herself. Instead, she lashed out at the teen, re-posted her photo with a sad face emoticon and spent the next few hours openly mocking her on Twitter.

Here’s the photo Rihanna posted, with her on the left and Alexis on the right.

“Ri-Ri” has 35 million followers on Twitter. And she had millions on Instagram, before she deleted her account following this incident. When she takes someone on publicly, she essentially calls an army of fans to action. When she bullies someone like this, it’s not Rihanna Vs. Teenager. It’s Rihanna’s 35,000,000 strong army of fans Vs. vulnerable teenager.

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The power imbalance is staggering and so is the level of Rihanna’s contempt for a fan. Any singer with a scrap of humbleness or discretion knows that fans maketh the star.

Jessie J, for instance, calls her fans “heartbeats” –  because without them she would not exist. Lady Gaga is devoted to her “little monsters”. But Rihanna appears to have no respect or even awareness that without teenage girls like Alexis, she’s just a moderately talented singer who doesn’t wear pants.

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And she’s not a child.

Rihanna is 26 years old; a full decade older than her bullying victim. She’s grown up in the spotlight and she has to know how influential she is, carrying that magnitude of fame with her everywhere she goes. Whether she likes it or not, Rihanna is in a spectacularly powerful position. The fans in her heartland are all younger than her; they’re teenagers who put her songs on repeat and dream of a ‘favourite’ on Twitter or a follow on Instagram.

Rihanna has said before that she doesn’t want to be a role model. She told Vogue:

“See, people, they want me to be a role model just because of the life I lead. The things I say in my songs, they expect it of me and [being a role model] became more of my job than I wanted it to be. But no, I just want to make music. That’s it. Look, God doesn’t give any more than you can handle. I had to get through a lot of ups and downs – big downs – and a lot of trial and error to get where I am now.”

And in part, I agree. Ri-Ri doesn’t have to be a classic role model if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t have to set a pure, well-behaved example. She can be fierce and strong and inspirational – as I said, she’s got all of that inspiration potential going on. But at the moment? She’s squandering what astounding influence she has by picking on vulnerable teenagers and throwing shade on the fans who made her who she is.

Ri-Ri. Babes. I’m trying really hard to like you, I really am. But you’re making it bloody difficult.

I wish with all my heart that you’d gather your courage, step up, be the woman who earns the admiration of millions of fans for a good reason, said a permanent farewell to your abusive ex-boyfriend, and got on with a fantastic career.

But if that’s too much to ask, start by not abusing the 16-year-old girls who adore you.

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