Rihanna’s New Video is About Disillusionment with the American Dream

The video for “American Oxygen” features footage from Ferguson and Occupy Wall Street.

Just last week, GOOD columnist Kasai Rex wrote a moving piece about why loving America is a complicated process for some Americans, particularly those who find themselves in the margins of mainstream American narratives. Should Kasai’s points be synthesized into a song and a music video, the endeavor might birth something akin to Rihanna’s new video for “American Oxygen,” a politically charged ode to the U.S. that features footage from Occupy Wall Street, Ferguson and 9/11.

Cast alongside images of Martin Luther King Jr.’s body in the casket and undocumented immigrants getting arrested by border police, Rihanna’s lyrics heralding the “American Dream” are colored with a special poignancy, an irony that is not present in the song itself. At one point, she splices archival video of the Civil Rights movement and new footage of Ferguson protesters, presenting them alongside one another. When she sings, “This is the new America,” the images tell a contradictory story: maybe things aren’t all that different.