S and M for real by the butterfly.jpg

Date Aired
May 28th, 2011
Running Time
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Todd plays "S&M" on his piano.

A pop song review

Todd: All right. Okay, I have a decent number of fans out there, and whenever I put out a new video, I get, you know, fans saying, "Wow, you've totally proved that that is a bad song. You sure know what makes a song bad."
Yeah, I hate to break it to you guys, but basically I don't know anything about what makes a song good or bad. I can listen to a song and dislike it and come up with reasons to call it bad, but seriously, though I try, I don't really have a reason why I like or hate a song besides the fact that I like it or I hate it. It's just an entirely subjective and irrational response. If my brain dictated what I liked or what I didn't, I would not be listening to this.

Video for "S&M"
Rihanna: I may be bad but I'm perfectly good at it

Todd (VO): I think I kinda like this song, but I have no idea why I...oh, for the love of God, what the hell is happening in the video?! Did Pee-Wee's Playhouse get taken over by Heidi Fleiss? And...holy...what? Ew!

Todd: Wow, this just didn't make defending this song any easier.

Rihanna: Come on!

Todd (VO): Because I do like this song...kind of. I mean I don't seek it out or anything, but I do sing along with it when it comes on the radio. I might do a stupid little car dance if I'm sure no one's watching, which is a tiny bit embarrassing because I'm pretty sure that everything about this song sucks.

Todd: I'm not saying that other people think it sucks 'cause, quite frankly, I don't care what other people think. If I happen to think...

Video for...

Todd (VO): "Jump" by Kris Kross is one of the most underrated songs of the 90s—and I do—then no one's gonna dissuade me from that opinion. But my opinion of this... ["S&M"] this right here—my unconscious opinion of it is that it is very, very bad.

Todd: Now I can already hear you saying out there that the reason I like the song is obvious—it's because I've already outed myself as a drooling Rihanna fanboy and I'll listen to anything she puts out. I'll tell you now that that's not true. I don't actually like that many of her songs, and I'll prove it to you.

Montage of Rihanna's videos, starting with "S.O.S."...
Rihanna: I'm obsessive when just one thought of you comes up

Todd (VO): Now here's a wasted sample for you. [singing along] Waste of song, oh-ohhhhhh-oh-oh, waste of song

...and continuing with "Rockstar 101" ft. Slash...
Rihanna: I'm a rockstar

Todd (VO): Rihanna dressed as Slash is really, really hot in a really confusing way, but God, I'm glad this song didn't take off. Why would you hire Slash to play one sludgy chord and no solo? Terrible.

..."Only Girl (In the World)"...
Rihanna: I want you to love me, like I'm a hot ride

Todd: Love you like you're a what?

Rihanna: I want you to love me, like I'm a hot ride (instead of ride, it says "guy")

Todd: Um...okay. But judging by my experimental days in college, it'll just end up disappointingly for everyone.

Rihanna: I don't wanna do this anymore

Todd (VO): I honestly hate this song too much to even properly make jokes at it.

...and finally, "Russian Roulette"
Rihanna: And you can see my heart beating

Todd (VO): Ah yes, Rihanna's dark, angsty song, in which she used Russian roulette as a metaphor for...

Rihanna: Take the gun and count to three.

Todd: Yeah, I'll be straight with you, I have no idea what it was a metaphor for. I listened to this song over and over, but as far as I could tell, it's about shooting yourself in the head.

Todd (VO): Actually, that last song "Russian Roulette" is fairly important to Rihanna's career. That was the first song she released after a fairly dark time in her life.

Note: The first thing she actually released was singing the hook on Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Run This Town."

Todd: She, uh... [brief clip of Chris Brown, from "I Can Transform Ya"] Yeah.

Todd: Well, it flopped pretty hard. And I know I'm not the only person who noticed that every song she's released after that has been [Video for "What's My Name Ft. Drake"] raunchier and raunchier, as if she was scared that people would think Chris Brown turned her off men entirely, which, to be fair, would not be totally unjustified on her part. [Video for "Rude Boy"] At first it was just a little bit, then it got more and more, and then...

Todd: ...eventually making her own entry in the grand history of pop musicians trying too hard, she made it here.

Rihanna: Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

Todd: It's a song about S&M.

Rihanna: S S S and M M M

Todd (VO): That's where we are now.

Todd: We're listening to Rihanna sing about how she likes to be tied up and beaten. Umm... [Another brief cut to Chris Brown] ...yeah.

Rihanna: I may be bad but I'm perfectly good

Todd (VO): Okay, I can think of one thing I can say in this song's favor—I like the way Rihanna throws herself into this song.

Rihanna: Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

Todd: But whatever compliments I had about Rihanna's singing, I have to take them right down immediately when we get to the chorus, when her voice goes into full-on Cartman mode.

Rihanna: Come on, come on, come on
I like it, like it
Come on, come on, come on
I like it, like it

Todd (VO): [imitating Cartman] I like it, like it...why the hell is she singing like that?

Rihanna: S S S and M M M

Todd (VO): Is she styling her vocal technique on the Waitresses?

Video for The Waitresses - "I Know What Boys Like"
Waitresses: Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah

Todd: What the hell is she even saying?

Rihanna: S S S and M M M [reads as: Ass ass ass and ham ham ham. Pictures of ass in jeans, monkey ass, cartoon drawing of naked guy pointing at ass, &, then various cuts of ham]

Todd: And while we're on the subject...[chorus scrolls up]...this is your chorus? Um...it...it needs work. Like, so, S&M.

Todd (VO): What about it? I mean, your chorus is basically the thesis statement of the song, so what's your take on S&M?

Todd: Here's what the chorus has to say on the subject of S&M—[drawing of it] it exists. Hot?

Todd (VO): The verses aren't much better.

Rihanna: Cause I may be bad, but I'm perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don't care, I love the smell of it

Todd: [very long pause] Does anyone else smell that?

Todd (VO): So if I'm not into the lyrics or the vocals, the obvious conclusion is that I must like the beat, right? Must be.

Todd: But you know what the music from this song reminds me of more than anything else?

Clip of David Guetta ft. Akon - ...

Todd (VO): "Sexy Bitch." And as I recall, I might've mentioned in around every other I've ever released...

Todd: ...that I think that song sucks harder than the New Jersey Nets. So...[throws hands in the air] I don't know.

Todd (VO): Then again, even if everything else had been good, I still would've had problems with this song, simply because I cannot take S&M seriously. I think my opinions of it were largely influenced by the [clip of...] the laughably bad Madonna movie Body of Evidence, and a [shot of...] Let's Play of the computer game Phantasmagoria 2, done by...some guy. But together, they have ruined my ability to find S&M anything but completely ridiculous.

Todd: I'm sorry, I just cannot find leather and ball gags sexy. I mean, this is always what comes to mind.

Clip from Pulp Fiction, with Marcellus and Butch bound and gagged
Zed: Bring out the gimp. [The gimp sits down] Yeah.

Todd: And to be honest...

Todd (VO): ...how many people are there out there really that are genuinely into all that bondage stuff. I mean, think about it.

Todd: You're not into it. Actually, maybe you are into it. I have no idea what the demographics are in this. Maybe everyone's out there with whips and wall-shackles and stuff, and I'm the only weirdo who's not. Although I'll tell you this—the stuff I am into is a lot weirder than that. A trombone is involved. So yeah...

Todd (VO): ...as far as hot, this is not doing it for me. I don't think the producers expected anyone but the subset of actual S&M fetishists out there to actually get turned on by this.

Todd: I feel like the song's asking me to be turned on by the fact that other people are turned on by this. What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

Todd (VO): It's more than that, though; it's just so in-your-face, and I can't say I particularly respond to that. It's the kind of song that confuses being sexual with being sexy. [Clip of "What's My Name"] And I know "Rude Boy" and "What's My Name" weren't exactly shy, but there's a difference between being forward and just shouting "SEX" [flashes over "S&M" a couple of times, along with image of Rosie O'Donnell in Exit to Eden] over and over. And on top of that, it's not actually dangerous like it kind of expects to be. I mean, it's kind of safe really. I don't mean "safe" in that everyone has memorized the safe word; I mean "safe" in that it's not going to alienate anyone even if they're not into actual S&M. Maybe in the early 90s when [image of...] Madonna was singing about it, people might be legitimately scandalized, but two decades of bad erotic thrillers have kind of erased the shock value. Hell, it's practically PG-13 at this point. I might joke about being weirded out by the video, but I'm not really. I have the Internet, I've seen everything.

Todd: I've seen porn of me, for God's sake. I'm not gonna be shocked by a Rihanna song. I mean, it's not like we're dealing with anything like incest roleplaying or bestiality or urination...[clip of video with a man tied to a leash and lifting leg to a pink fire hydrant like a dog] for the most part. What I'm saying is it comes across as very...calculated. You know, it's strange, but not too strange.

Todd (VO): If Prince wrote this, I'd probably believe it because that's just who he is. But here it comes off as really, really contrived. You know, I felt the same way when [clip of "3" by...] Britney Spears was singing about three-ways, and I felt the same way about [clip of...] Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," which was basically just right upfront with how phony it was. I don't believe this was made by people who are genuinely into S&M.

Todd: There's nothing here to indicate that the writers know anything at all about the topic that didn't come from Hot Topic t-shirt slogans.

Rihanna: Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

Todd (VO): Yeah, I saw that bumper sticker too. [Bumper sticker reading the same] It was mildly clever eight years ago.

Todd: It just sounds bogus. Am I supposed to really honestly believe that Rihanna wants...um...

Rihanna: And meet me in my boudoir
Make my body say ah, ah, ah
[Brief cut to Todd]
Make my body say ah, ah, ah

Todd: [sighs] Okay, I can't ignore this anymore.

Newscast about the incident with Chris Brown

Todd (VO): In February 2009, pop star Rihanna was viciously assaulted by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown, and images of her beaten bloody face on the night of the attack were leaked to the tabloids and were very hard to avoid. And though Rihanna has stated repeatedly that that's a time in her life she would like to very much move on from and quit being reminded about, ["S&M"] I do not see how she can release a song like this and not expect people to make the connection.

Todd: I mean, even if I thought this song was good.

Rihanna: Make my body say ah, ah, ah

Todd just shudders

Todd (VO): Not only does the unavoidable fact that Rihanna's assault makes this song very, very uncomfortable to listen to, it also raises some difficult questions.

Todd: Like...is the song supposed to be entirely disconnected from that famous incident, or does it intentionally exploit and sexualize the ugliest episode in Rihanna's personal life?

Todd (VO): And if she is, by creating a scenario which implies consent, is she reclaiming the incident by denying her own victimhood and refusing to be considered as such? Or does it promote the idea that domestic abuse victims invite said abuse on themselves and that it's acceptable behavior in a relationship because...

Todd: ...the woman subconsciously desires it? And because of this, does Rihanna's personal baggage make this song irresponsible for her to perform? Does the lack of a positive message in Rihanna's music since the attack take away from and delegitimize the suffering of other non-famous abuse sufferers?

Todd (VO): Or is it unfair to view this song through the prism of Rihanna's assault, forcing her into the role of domestic abuse spokeswoman, which she did not ask for and has actively tried to distance herself from?

Todd: These are all hard questions...[pulls out a long report] which I answer thoroughly in my 30-page thesis about Rihanna's music and its affect on feminism, rape culture and domestic abuse statistics in North America. "Feminism is..."

Rob Walker: Hey...Todd.

Todd: Oh, hey. It's my producer, Rob Walker. Say hi, everybody.

Rob Walker: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Did you get the notes I sent you about the script?

Todd: Huh. No, I guess I forgot to. Hold on.

Reaches down and pulls up the script, all scribbled and crossed out with "NO" on every page, ending with "Todd, are you trying to be fired?"

Rob Walker: Yeah, it just seemed like a little much. Also, these are touchy subjects, and we want them handled by somebody who's, you know, smart. Not the guy who basically spends all of his time thinking about Justin Bieber songs.

Todd: But, I had all these insights? And I was...

Rob Walker: Todd, Todd, Todd, Todd, Todd. Look, if we need somebody to talk about this stuff, we'll hand it off to somebody more...intellectually capable.

90s Kid: Dude, what the heck is a "Ri-Hanna"?

Rob Walker: So don't worry about it.

Todd: Yes, sir. [Drops papers on the floor] God, that was gonna be the whole rest of the review too. Time to do more research. [Gets up and goes to computer, pulling up the "S&M" page] Wikipedia, please give me some material and rescue this video. Rihanna said people should not take the lyrics too literally. "I don't think of it in a sexual way, I'm thinking metaphorically ... It's more of a thing to say that people can talk... about you. You just have to be that strong person..."

Oh, I'm not even gonna dignify that. Yeah, and "Let's Get It On" is actually a protest song about the Vietnam War. Pffft, let's see what else is there. "The song samples Depeche Mode's 1984 song "Master and Servant", which is also about S&M."

Throws his hands in the air and goes back to the piano.

Well, there you have it!

Todd (VO): When I find myself inexplicably dancing to this song, I'm actually responded to my love of [video of...] 80s synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode! What a relief!

Todd: Oh, God, Depeche Mode is such a good band.

Clip of  Depeche Mode- "People are People"
Depeche Mode: People are people, so why should it be...

Todd (VO): Yep, sure love that Depeche Mode.

Todd: [Gritting his teeth] Yay, Depeche Mode. I cannot do this. I hate Depeche Mode.

Video for "Never Let Me Down Again"

Todd (VO): Okay, look, I was just trying to save face because Depeche Mode is such a hipper thing to say you listen to, but I can't even pretend on this one. I have never liked this band, I think they're intolerably tedious, I hate Dave Gahan's voice, I don't know why anyone would listen to them when they could be listening to the Cure, the Smiths, or New Order. Yeah, yeah, yeah, save the hate mail. There's a reason I usually bash teeny-bopper pop and not beloved cult bands. God.

Todd: Ugh, I can't even use Depeche Mode as an escape route. I got nothing, I give up.

[Back to "S&M"]

Todd (VO): So, yeah, despite everything I just said, I still like and still listen to this song. I've tried and tried and I cannot come up with any real justification or excuse. Am I some kind of freak of nature or what? What's wrong with me? This song is so bad, it hurts. Why am I choosing to undergo something this agonizing?

Todd: What kind of person seeks out and derives enjoyment from an experience which is so obviously painful? Oh, whoever heard of a concept like that?

Rihanna: Come on, come on, come on
I like it, like it
Come on, come on

Todd (VO): [moaning in lust] Oh, God, it sucks so much, it hurts. Oh...more, more, mmmmm.

Rihanna: Come on, come on, come on
I like it, like it

Todd (VO): Oh, it's so bad, ohhh. Thank you. May I have another? Aaahhhh.

Rihanna: S S S and M M M

Todd: Yep, one more reason why I don't show my face in my videos. Good night, everybody.

Closing tag song: John Cougar Mellencamp - "Hurts So Good"

"S&M" is owned by Island Def Jam Music
This video is owned by me
Special thanks to Linkara and Rob Walker

Todd: [playing a few notes on trombone] Oh, yeah.

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