Hey so did you guys hear Chris Brown and Rihanna did a pair of songs together?
When news that Brown would appear on Rihanna’s remix of “Birthday Cake” — a track from her latest album “Talk That Talk” — surfaced last week, it seemed, at best, like a really bad idea. Then on Monday, Brown and Rihanna doubled down and revealed not only the pair’s “Birthday Cake” remix, but a second collaboration, on a remix of Brown’s “Turn Up the Music.”
Everybody together now: Ugh.
As of this writing, I haven’t heard either song. I don’t want to. I imagine I’ll hear them eventually, but I’m not going to seek either of them out, or support them with anything so much as a click.
The history of Brown and Rihanna doesn’t need to be rehashed. Rihanna’s reaction to it, however, is worth revisiting: Check out this 2009 clip of her from “Good Morning America,” talking about her responsibility to her fans, and other victims of domestic abuse, in the wake of the incident (go to the 3:25 mark):
The story of Brown and Rihanna is fascinating on many levels. It touches on issues of modern celebrity and the celebrity shock index — Rihanna promised the remix would shock the world, and it did — as well as domestic abuse, pop superstardom, what it means to be a role model and whether pop stars should be role models, and more. It’s a complicated, tangled mess, and three years after the initial incident it has never really gone away. It continues to morph and change and take on new dimensions.
Rihanna has trafficked in the currency of shock for some time; her near-constant grind — she’s released three albums since the 2009 incident — has caused her to constantly one-up herself in the titillation department, from 2010′s ode to whips and chains (“S&M”) to last year’s “suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion” come ons (on “Talk That Talk’s” “Cockiness (Love It)”). The problem with that kind of arc is you can only take it so far, and eventually the shock runs dry — or, in the case of her reuniting with Brown, it turns people off.
Moreover, Rihanna’s decision sends a bad message to young people about domestic abuse. I don’t think pop stars should be role models, but I don’t deny that they are, and they should realize their actions have far-reaching consequences. Rihanna never asked to become the face of domestic abuse, but she ended up as one, and she let down fans and people who looked at her — however unfairly — as a symbol of strength in the wake of the horrific crime of which she was a victim.
Additionally, and much less importantly, she let down fans that supported her and drew battle lines in the sands of fandom between her and Brown. From 2009 on, she made it easy to like her, dropping a string of chart-topping hits while owning her individuality and her sexuality, while Brown time and again made himself out to be a contemptible fool. Perhaps the media made Rihanna out to be the hero because it better fit the narrative it was spinning, when in reality she’s just a young girl thrust into a situation far outside of her control. There’s no telling what went on between Brown and Rihanna behind closed doors, nor is it any of our business, but because of what they two of them symbolized the news of their collaboration is disheartening. She has every right to forgive him, work with him and even turn her back on him again, but at the same time, fans have every right to lament her decision.