Last week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race featured one of the show’s most iconic and beloved challenges: the fashion ball, where the queens are challenged to present three distinct looks to the judges on the runway.
This year’s theme was the “Ball Ball,” with each of the whopping 36 looks themed around, you guessed it balls. Fashion queens like Gigi Goode and Nicky Doll naturally excelled in the challenge, with Gigi Goode snatching the win for her well-crafted and cohesive lady baller, basketball wife, and “balls to the walls” eleganza looks.
New York City’s Brita Filter and San Francisco queen Rock M. Sakura found themselves in the bottom two and having to lip sync for their lives to Rihanna’s 2011 hit “S&M.”
Ultimately, Brita triumphed with her performance, sending home lovable anime queen Rock M. Sakura in the process.
As we continue the long wait for Rihanna’s hotly-anticipated ninth album, here are a few things about “S&M” that you might not have known:
Some Drag Race queens appeared in the music video
At the turn of the decade when Rihanna’s Loud album was released, RuPaul’s Drag Race had only aired two seasons, and a Los Angeles-based queen named Morgan McMichaels had just placed eighth on the show’s second season.
McMichaels — along with future Drag Race contestants Detox and Willam — were recruited to appear in the video for “S&M” as background characters participating in Rihanna’s naughty escapades. Willam can even be seen wearing one of her future Drag Race runway looks.
The explicit video caused controversy around the world
Despite Rihanna’s insisting that “S&M”’s lyrics shouldn’t be taken literally in a sexual way, the over-the-top music video was immediately banned in 11 countries, renamed in others, and edited for daytime rotation on music channels like MTV. Rihanna wasn’t happy about the negative media frenzy around the video’s release, which is ironic given the role of paparazzi-like characters in the video. “They watched ‘Umbrella,’” she said. “I was full nude.”
The super sexy song was written on the Lord’s Day
Singer and songwriter Ester Dean has been behind some of pop music’s biggest hits like “Firework” and “Super Bass,” as well as many of Rihanna’s most successful songs. In an interview with Billboard in 2011, Dean recounted how the inspiration for “S&M”’s chorus came to her on a Sunday: “I wrote it, Father forgive me, on a Sunday… I remembered I’d seen something that said, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones.’ Then came ‘But chains and whips excite me.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I got to write that.’”
The music video was directed by one of Rihanna’s most well-respected collaborators
Prior to her more recent work with 2019’s Queen & Slim and Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure, Melina Matsoukas was a sought-after music video director who’d worked with stars like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and more since the beginnings of their careers. Matsoukas directed Rihanna’s videos for “Rude Boy” and “We Found Love,” among others, and brought the “S&M” visual to life from behind the camera.
“When I go out to make something, I kind of go out with the intention to get it banned – [well] not to get it banned … but to make something provocative,” Matsoukas told MTV News when “S&M” had been banned in several countries upon its release. “It’s making an effect and people are having a dialogue about it, so, to me, that’s successful.
Rihanna was sued by a famous photographer for the imagery in the music video
Photographer David LaChappelle has had his work appear in the pages of Vogue, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair, and, like Rihanna, his work has caused stirs in the past: he was the eyes behind Diesel Jeans’ famous “kissing sailors” ad in the mid-1990s, for example.
After the “S&M” video was released, LaChappelle sued Rihanna for a number of images and themes used in the video that resembled many photos that he’d taken in the past. “I like RiRi,” LaChapelle said at the time. “This is not personal; it’s strictly business.”