RiRi found Sanam on Instagram and flew her out to star in BBHMM – we talk to a woman with an undeniable presence
Rihanna’s blockbuster video for Bitch Better Have My Money was notable for many reasons – the cult film references, the violence and its allusion to Rhi’s IRL dispute with her accountant. But there was another thing on everybody’s mind – how fucking cool are Rihanna’s femme fatale sidekicks? One of them is Spanish model Sita Abellan, but the other is 24-year old Desi woman Sanam, a Seattle resident, child of the internet and now, star of Rihanna’s globally watched BBHMM.
Following Rihanna’s lead, we reached out to Sanam on Instagram and got in touch with her while she was in still in bed, enjoying a day off from her daily routine working in a plant shop (and starring in music videos).
What have the last few days been like since the video dropped?
Sanam: Oh my god, it’s been fucking crazy. I've been doing my normal thing, hanging out and going to work, but my phone has been blowing up and I’m all over the internet, on Instagram and Twitter – I don’t even have a Twitter (it’s no good for my self-esteem and mental health) but my friends send me stuff they’ve seen. I’m surprised at how crazy it’s actually been.
How did Rihanna find you?
Sanam: Rihanna found me on Instagram, on her Explore page. I wasn’t like a big deal on Instagram or anything, I had 2 or 3,000 followers or something but I’ve just been on the internet a long time and people seem to think I’m funny. I was freaking out when she followed me and then the next day she sent me a message the next morning while I was at work saying "I’ve got an idea that I’d like to run by you". I was hyperventilating, thinking "this is insane". I was skeptical at first, but then her team got in touch, I gave them more information about me and then at the end of the day they messaged me saying "we’re going to fly you out tomorrow to shoot the video".
What was it like working with Rihanna?
Sanam: She has the final say on pretty much everything that happens. We would spend hours working with the stylist and designer but we’d always have to go to her trailer to get the final say on hair, make up, clothes, everything. Everyone loves her, she’s so funny and down to earth. I got super sick the day before I left, but I was having the best time of my life. I felt like she really cared about me when I was sick, asking me all the time if I was OK and if I needed medicine. I mean it was so fucking cool, it’s fucking Rihanna!
What’s your favourite scene in the video?
Sanam: My favourite part was shooting the scene on the boat just cause it was so crazy to shoot and so much fun. I also loved riding shotgun with Rih!
What do your friends and family think of the video?
Sanam: My family are so fucking psyched for me. My parents are Indian, they have their Indian values and beliefs. I didn’t tell my parents there was going to be nudity in the video. The morning after the video came out my mum texted me and said "Hmmm interesting, but you look really good!" But they’ve watched it since then and they’re really proud of me, which is nice ’cause Indian parents can be funny about things like that.
Were you a big fan of Rihanna before the video?
Sanam: Yeah I’ve loved her music since "Pon De Replay" came out. She’s just really inspiring, it’s cool to see a brown woman being so in charge and not giving a fuck. That’s what I always admired the most, honestly. And then to have that person acknowledge your existence and think you’re cool is next level shit.
Who else are you listening to and inspired by?
Sanam: I listen to a lot Fetty Wap and Young Thug right now. When I saw the video for "Check" and he�s wearing a Hooters tank top, I was like "wow, you are so fucking wild!" I love Vybz Kartel – I think he’s in prison – but his new videos are really cool. I’m really inspired by a lot of my friends who do the same kind of art I do, I paint and draw just for fun. It’s something I do for me, but people seem to really like it. It’s a nice surprise.
You’re moving out of Seattle to the East Coast – how did you end up in Seattle?
Sanam: I got married when I was 18 and moved here for that reason.
Are you still married?
Sanam: Fuck no! We got a divorce and I left for a little bit, but came back ’cause at the time I liked it. But there’s just not a lot going on here, especially for a woman of colour. I’m just very very over it. I’m leaving at the end of the month, going to L.A for five days and then onto the East Coast. I get antsy staying anywhere for too long.