I mean it! The new video for Rihanna's moody, mid-tempo, cursing salutation of her adopted country (a song co-written with X Ambassadors' Sam Harris) pulls the cheap yet wildly effective trick of montage juxtaposition, all in the palette of American strife and striving: a protestor throws a Molotov cocktail, a receiver catches the ball. There's Occupy pushed up against JFK, Jr. as a toddler, mid-salute—there's a train of migrant workers, an astronaut boarding the shuttle, cops pepper-spraying protestors, the boarded-up houses of the Ninth Ward, a West Point class in all white throwing caps up in the air.
The video is being called "political," but it doesn't make a straight point, other than getting you to remember the mutable delineations of the American Dream and all that: the interchangeability of gunfire and fireworks; the flag signifying on the one hand Rihanna in red lipstick, a white tee and denim—on the other, blood, supremacy, and the sky above the World Trade Center on a beautiful September day. Really makes you think.
But actually, it does. "American Oxygen" is interesting to me as another example of America's particular brand of fat stacks populism—the way everyone wants to be rich and also disavow it. 87 percent of Americans call themselves middle class in some way; Rihanna made a song and a video about The People but then blocked it off for a week on Tidal, the streaming service so obviously out of touch that a member of Mumford and Sons called its ringleaders a group of "new school fucking plutocrats." Mumford and Sons is a band comprised of young men who went to expensive British private schools. But sure, have it both ways, everybody; it's pretty easy when the masses you're (externally) siding with are making you super rich.