Rihanna’s VMA triumph has nothing to do with her love life
Twitter reactions to Drake's award presentation suggest that a woman is still nothing without the right man
By Erin Coulehan

“It’s easy to get caught up in the potential fairytale of it all, and the show’s saccharine-soaked build-up was designed to encourage it. From Drake’s billboard congratulating Rihanna in L.A. to him missing accepting his own award and yet arriving in the nick of time (looking dapper in a tux, no less) to present the award to his speech. Ah, that speech.

“She’s someone I’ve been in love with since I was 22 years old,” Drake confessed to the crowd and viewing audiences with the earnestness of a designed-to-go-viral prom-posal. Sigh. Then it was time to deliver the award — and he went in for the kiss.

If the VMAs were a scene in a Hollywood romantic comedy, Rihanna’s and Drake’s lips would have met as fans cheered — not for winning a major industry award, but for winning the audience-approved suitor. Thankfully Rihanna is a badass who wanted none of that, at least publicly. She dodged the kiss, leaving Drake’s face nestled awkwardly near the crook of her neck, gracefully brushing off his move before accepting the award with aplomb.

Rihanna’s speech celebrated the honor as a win for Barbados and for her fans, too. “This is the first Vanguard to land anywhere close to my country. My success started as my dream, but now my success is not my own,” she said. “It’s my family’s. It’s my fan’s. It’s my country’s. It’s the Caribbean as a whole. It’s women. It’s black women.” While the world is still high on the rush of national pride from the Olympics, we find ourselves thinking about what defines a victory. For some it’s earning the gold, for others it’s being recognized as a leader. Unfortunately for women, the old “you’re nobody until somebody loves you” adage is still attached to our successes.

I’m all for romance, grand gestures, and the expression of affection that lets a person know how highly they’re valued — I actually think our society would do well to have more of that in everyday life. But redirecting public attention to a romantic context, like Chinese diver Qin Ki receving a marriage proposal during her Olympic medal ceremony, makes about as much sense as being offered a work promotion at your wedding. To be certain, both can be amazing and can reflect a certain celebration of accomplishment. But women’s successes should not be underscored or buttressed by the status of their relationships.” 

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