10th December 2022

Rhi Rhi Revolution: Rhianna’s empire built on sexualised violence

University of Southern Queensland Associate Professor, Dr Susan Hopkins joins HERstory Podcast host Ashlea Pritchard to discuss her research paper ‘Rihanna’s empire of pain: sexualised violence and the Black Madonna’. 

We discuss the rise, and rise and rise of RhiRhi, who is now a billionaire. 

In her paper, Dr Hopkins explores Rhianna’s Madonna-like ambition and how she’s exceeded Madonna in building a career on the back of eroticism and gendered violence through music and her beauty brand Fenty and lingerie brand Savage x Fenty. 

Listen to our chat here:

There’s no doubt about the height of popstar-come-businesswoman Rhianna’s fame. The way it’s come about is an interesting tale to success involving sex, violence and race in very different ways than you’d expect. 

Following the premiere of pop star Rhianna’s latest Savage x Fenty Runway Show Vol. on Amazon Prime, I talked with Dr Susan Hopkins, an academic fellow at the University of Southern Queensland to talk about her paper discussing superstar’s career success. 

Savage x Fenty Vol. 4

Even as a teenager, Rhianna was focused on ‘making it’. Her music career began at 15, taking off with the release of her third album Good Girl Gone Bad (2007). 

I want to be the black Madonna

— Rhianna, 2007

This began establishing her as a beauty icon and sex symbol in the music industry also. It also did very, VERY well: a Grammy Award, a No.2 album, and went six-times-platinum. From there she released eight albums in the next decade. 

Her modern day success seems to be highly influenced by a domestic violent crime with her then boyfriend, pop star Chris Brown in 2009. All the themes of her work moving forward are based around sexualised violence, making her literally a billionaire. 

Source: TMZ.com

Being involved in domestic violence with Brown brought unwanted attention in 2009, especially when police photos of Rhianna’s injuries were published on TMZ.com. Dr Hopkins and I kick off the conversation here, focusing on an interview with Oprah where Rhianna seems as though she almost forgave Brown. 

“It was quite controversial about whether [Rhianna] was romanticising the incident or not speaking out against him as clearly as she might have, not being the spokesperson against domestic violence she could’ve been or should’ve been at that stage. There were a lot of political and moral judgments being made at the time about how she handled the press, especially that Oprah interview after the incident,” Dr Hopkins said. 

From here on in, her various musical, acting, beauty and lingerie pursuits carry the themes of exoticism, race, eroticisation of gendered violence and sadomasochism. This is what her fame and riches have been built upon. 

Dr Hopkins and her learned friends question her force of postfeminism ‘good’, given the moral politics involved. As well as a bigger can of worms: “female pop stardom and its multiple moral-political meanings”. 

“Given the gendered violence surrounding her was literal as well as symbolic, the stakes of celebrity narrativization were much higher, however, for Rhianna, particularly when sexualised violence and pornographic symbols were later integrated into the Rhianna persona, performance and products,” Hopkins writes. 

We can now all acknowledge Queen Rhi Rhi has not only reached Madonna-like fame, but has excelled Mads to super stardom. 

There’s also now redefining what being pregnant “is” and maternity fashion

2023 has big things for the National Hero of Barbados. She will be the headliner for the Super Bowl halftime entertainment. Those hoping her years-long music hibernation was finally over are questioning what’s the tea after the Queen herself saying:

“Super Bowl is one thing. New music is another thing. Do you hear that, fans?

— Rhianna, 2022

Let’s see where the Rhi Rhi Revolution takes us now.

Ashlea Pritchard


PJ Harvey, The Lady of Dorset

PJ Harvey, The Lady of Dorset

There is no way to box the petite, avant-garde alternative goddess PJ Harvey. She even challenges herself to evolve for each album. This type of woman in a man's world who’s only accountable to herself, Polly Jean Harvey is a rare beauty who’s also been described as a...

read more
Voice Referendum X HERstory Podcast

Voice Referendum X HERstory Podcast

Music provides a sense of connection, support and understanding during the everyday, difficult and defining moments. It can heal and motivate. It provides community. It has been the soundtrack to many big moments in...

read more
Musos vocal in Voice support

Musos vocal in Voice support

Australian musicians have come out in their hundreds to support the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign in Australia’s Voice Referendum. Iconic music legends have risen up to offer their support, with John Farnham lending support and his single, ‘You’re The Voice’, to an...

read more