Words by Eddie STATS Houghton
A mysterious wooden box turned up in the LargeUp/Okayplayer office today, cargo cult style, with a single bottle of coconut water in it. That’s because this is the week Vita Coco launched it’s new Rihanna-branded line of tropical fruit-flavored coconut water. Rihanna has been the company’s spokesgal for a minute and the combination makes perfect sense from a branding perspective (although from a personal perspective; too fruity.)
Not quite so sweet, from a celebrity endorsement perspective, this also happened to be the week that numerous pictures surfaced of Ri-Ri stepping into Carnival Queen mode for the Kadooment Day parade that marks the peak of Crop Over–the annual sugar cane harvest festival–in her native Barbados. The online reaction to these pictures–which included quite a bit of gal-on-gal daggering (sheathing? above) and downward-dog wuk up (below)–have mostly ranged from “SLUTTY” to “That dude that’s hitting thee (sic) dougie on her & ready for a touchdown? I would never be seen in public like that.” In other words it illustrates exactly the kind of pitfall that Rihanna’s team were probably dreading as they carefully steered her away from a strong Caribbean identification in interviews, marketing and song selection–a situation that’s really only changed significantly in the past year or so.
The question is not so much whether this incident will create a teachable moment for Carnival culture–the pics shocked some prudes even in Barbados, and we can expect debates about community standards and acceptable displays of sexuality to continue roughly forever–but how Rihanna, her team and maybe most importantly Vita Coco will react. Will the Rihanna machine clamp down and try to restore the all-American pop idol image they worked so hard to create by removing all traces of ethnic difference from her public image? Will VC decide that Carnival is after all, the ultimate signifier of Pan-Caribbean identity and view all the wining as compatible with the image they’re trying to project? Or will the comfort with overt female sexuality that these pics embody ultimately provide too much ammunition for family values types–ever-ready to jump on a soapbox when it comes to black music–for either to weather the storm?
The short answer: too soon to tell. It’s not until the morning after, that you find out whether the lime and coconut don’t mix after all.