The artwork for Rihanna’s hit single “Diamonds” features a black-and-white image of the singer’s manicured hands rolling a joint made of diamonds. For the song’s music video, she takes a bedazzled puff.
In “Get It Over With,” a track off her just-released album “Unapologetic” (her seventh album in seven years, but her first Billboard No. 1), she is more direct as she sings: “It’s all right, we can roll in the clouds/ Getting high, we can float in the clouds.”
While performing in Berlin as part of her “777” promotional tour, she wore a mesh tank top from the label Love Leather with a jumbo marijuana leaf emblazoned across her chest.
Become one of the pop star’s millions of followers on Instagram or Twitter (she habitually posts self-pics suggestively exhaling strings of thick smoke, homages to her hero Bob Marley and humorous stoner memes) and risk a contact high.
At the Coachella music festival in April, paparazzi snapped Rihanna perched on her security guard’s shoulders rolling a spliff — on top of his bald head. When MTV’s official Twitter handle tweeted “Yikes” at the singer, she shot back at the network that she felt no shame about the incident.
Rihanna, 24, is perhaps the most visible marijuana devotee among a number of young female pop stars, but she is not alone. Lady Gaga, 26, is becoming increasingly vocal in her praise of the green stuff to her Little Monsters, smoking it onstage in Amsterdam at a stop of her “Born This Way Ball” tour in September, and promising concertgoers that she would try to persuade Oprah and President Barack Obama on the “medical wonders of marijuana.” On Halloween, she dressed up as Princess High, the Cannabis Queen. (Rihanna was the Bride of Mary Jane.)
Then there is the throwback singer Lana Del Rey, who passes a marijuana cigarette back and forth to a tattooed love interest in the video for her song “Born to Die” while she raspily coos, “Keep making me laugh/Let’s go get high.” And there is the nasally rapper Kreayshawn, 23, whose rise to Internet fame last year was largely because of her bratty frankness about her smoking habits.
Glorifying marijuana has arguably turned out to be shrewd public relations moves for these women, in light of the decriminalization measures that passed in Colorado and Washington state last month. That they’re all women, all under the age of 30, is also nothing to cough at.
“When you look at what went down in Colorado, the dramatic rise in the public’s support of marijuana-law reform is being driven by a large part by an increase in support among women,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which supports marijuana legalization. “Are there parallels between women being open and honest about cannabis use at the polls on a grass-roots level and some of the most visible women in music today being open and honest about their use in the news? Absolutely.”
Pop precedent goes all the way back to Billie Holiday. In magazine interviews, Barbra Streisand and Alanis Morissette have admitted to recreational use of the drug. Missy Elliott released a stoner anthem, “Pass That Dutch,” in 2003. Melissa Etheridge spoke openly about using medical marijuana after her breast cancer was diagnosed in 2004. Amy Winehouse mentioned her love of “puff” throughout her Grammy-award winning album “Back to Black” in 2006. Last September, Fiona Apple made headlines when she was held in jail in Sierra Blanca, Texas, after local authorities found hashish and marijuana on her tour bus.
Social media has put such revelations front and center.
Last November a video circulated on the Web showing Miley Cyrus, the former Disney star, enthusiastically receiving a Bob Marley birthday cake from her friend Kelly Osbourne for her 19th birthday party.
“You know you’re a stoner when friends make you a Bob Marley cake,” Cyrus exclaims in the clip. After a number of accusations labeling Cyrus a bad influence, her publicist said the singer was being “sarcastic.”
Osbourne, on the other hand, took to Twitter to explain clumsily that the whole thing was totally implausible anyway: “If Miley Cyrus is not recording/filming/touring, she works every day. How could she possibly do all that if she was stoner?”
Maybe this kind of spin was unnecessary. Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Del Rey might be joining a marijuana-culture tradition that formerly only men like Jerry Garcia, Willie Nelson, Snoop Lion (formerly known as Snoop Dogg) and Wiz Khalifa could get away with.
But taking it a step further than those men, they’re seamlessly integrating it into their endorsement deals. In an advertisement for her Pink Friday fragrance, Nicki Minaj can be heard singing the phrase “burn a L,” which is slang for smoking a cigar filled with marijuana, also called a blunt.
A recent picture that Rihanna uploaded to her Instagram shows her wearing a jacket from Chanel, a brand she is often associated with, with her hair flawlessly coifed and an enormous blunt in her hand. In just four days, the image had more than 205,000 likes and 7,000 comments and counting, nearly all in adoration.
And while marijuana remains an illegal substance that can result in serious criminal charges in most states, there hasn’t been much public outcry.
“During the Reagan era, this sort of stuff would get you banned from radio,” said Will Hermes, a senior critic for Rolling Stone and author of “Love Goes to Buildings on Fire,” a book about New York City’s pop music history.
Now marijuana “is about as normalized as beer or cocktails, but still enough of an issue politically that it feels like uncharted territory for these women to explore,” he said. “Being a pop star, transgression is good for business. And at this particular moment in American culture, saying you smoke weed is a pretty safe way to transgress.”
Vita Coco, a brand of coconut water that Rihanna has been the face of since 2011, is not just unfazed by its spokeswoman’s transformation into one of her generation’s most famous marijuana users, it actually appreciates the singer’s ability to tap into the movement.
“We knew exactly what we’re getting into when our partnership with Rihanna began,” said Arthur Gallego, a spokesman for the beverage. “We are looking for someone who is dynamic and evolving with culture, whether it’s a sound or a look or a viewpoint. Does her association with marijuana affect our brand? No, no, it does not. There has been no fallout.”
If decriminalization measures continue to pass state by state, could Del Rey, the current face of H&M, be the next face of THC? How long will it take for a star like Rihanna to land a major cannabis campaign, similar to a partnership between P. Diddy and Ciroc vodka?
“If marijuana gets legalized to the point where it can actually be marketed,” Hermes said, “then these ladies are really in a good position be on the front line of endorsement deals.”
Someone better put Terry Richardson on hold.