Photo Credit: Michael Caulfield/wireimage
My twin 8-year-old girls know who Rihanna is -- truth is, I might have been the one to identify her while we were listening to the radio. I always considered the 22-year-old R&B hitmaker on the safe side of sexual expression, like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, shrouding provocative images and ideas in cute, colorful, sometimes cryptic metaphors.
But during Sunday's Grammy performance of "What's My Name" with rapper Drake, Rihanna crossed a line into behavior pointlessly inappropriate not just for free TV, but also for the Grammys, and for the millions of kids tuning in to see -- if not Rihanna and Drake -- then definitely Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jaden Smith and Selena Gomez.
In tiny, barely-there underwear, Rihanna gyrated and grinded -- and occasionally danced -- in a way only Tony Soprano could appreciate with a straight face. Her routine was so sexually provocative that it made Miley Cyrus' 2009 pole-dancing incident look like the hokey pokey. We're definitely in Lil' Kim country now.
The counterpoints are obvious, so let's get them out of the way:
Elvis did the same thing. If Elvis were wearing a speedo at the time, that case could be made.
This isn't the Kids' Choice Awards. True, but the air was so thick with Biebermania that it was obvious children would be tuning in en masse.
There was also plenty of foul language. I'm not saying Rihanna was the only discretion-challenged performer out there, but you can't bleep an outfit.
Just change the channel. You're telling me I can't watch the Grammy Awards -- with its big pitch for Grammy in the Schools -- and simply expect it to be semi-appropriate for kids? Because of Rihanna's gratuitous self-exposure, my kids can't be exposed to an inspiring artist like Esperanza Spalding?
No one expects modern R&B stars to behave like Mousketeers, but Rihanna went further than Gaga, Perry, and the rest of her peers. And worse than the image of Rihanna practically re-enacting scenes from Showgirls is the message it sends: Here's one of the biggest stars in the world, a domestic violence survivor, a young woman with millions of girl admirers, clearly feeling that her talent -- and even her natural beauty -- are just not strong enough hooks on which to rest her own self-esteem.
That's not a message kids should need to process.