On Monday night, after a week of TMZ rumors and vague but defiant tweets from the major players, a queasy public's suspicions were confirmed: Rihanna and Chris Brown are back on singing terms. Not one but two collaborations made their way onto the Internet — an extended version of Rihanna's foul-mouthed "Birthday Cake," off Talk That Talk, and a remix of Brown's most recent single, "Turn Up The Music." The double musical pairing was a bold and unavoidable statement; not only is Rihanna very publicly accepting her former abuser back into her professional life, but she's willing to go out on a limb for him as well. And there is no getting around Rihanna's intention: It was a coordinated effort, made with the full knowledge of the outcry that would ensue (hence the "No Pain is Forever" tweets). Meanwhile, the music industry's absolution of Chris Brown — put on full display at the Grammys, where he performed twice and took home the award for Best R&B Album — coupled with Brown's own lack of regret make a complicated situation even more uncomfortable. Rihanna's fans are divided; Brown's fans, or Team Breezy, as they are known, are jubilant; and the rest of us are somewhere in the middle, feeling icky and trying to figure out exactly what to think about a personal situation that has become part of the public domain. So please, as we have before, allow us now to work through the internal argument that rages when the brain attempts to contemplate Rihanna and Chris Brown.
This is incredibly sad and unsettling. Rihanna is in an abusive relationship.
But who are we to tell this 24-year-old woman, who has been through hell, and in front of the world, how to live her life?
Doesn't this double-remix decision make it our business, at least in the context of her career? Isn't it a very calculated move to use her personal history for professional gain?
Yes, but wasn't it always a part of her career? Wasn't Rated R interpreted as a response to the assault? What about "Man Down?" And that Chris Brown look-alike in the "We Found Love" video? Her entire post-2009 career has been shaped by personal trauma; she has to answer questions about Chris Brown wherever she goes. She doesn't want to be the victim anymore.
By letting the guy who hit her croon "I wanna fuck you right now" in her song? There's a difference between taking control of the story and publicly accepting the man who brutally beat her. Especially when the forgiveness is professional, not personal, and comes off as an attempt to make money off of the resultant controversy.
How else is she supposed to end the conversation? Is there any way to escape the controversy, other than redefining it on her own terms?
As if this is going to end the conversation! The two are tied together more than ever! And if these are her terms, they shouldn't be. It's such a bum deal for her PR-wise, but such a great deal for him. He gets forgiven and certainly no more people will hate him than already do, and in forgiving him she alienates so many people who care about her and her music.
But can we blame her for wanting some kind of closure, even with him? If she has forgiven him, doesn't she get to make that public?
But what about the example that she's setting in doing so? When Rihanna originally broke up with Chris Brown, she did so in part because of her role model status, fearing that young women would stay in abusive relationships based on her example. "I just didn't realize how much of an impact I had on these girls' lives until that happened," she told Diane Swayer. "It was a wake-up call." What will those girls think now?
Well, what do they think when she's riding around on a spliff? It's not like Rihanna has been trying to be a role model.
But there's a difference between being a "bad girl" and exonerating the guy who tried to strangle you.
There are plenty of famous musicians who have done horrible things and been forgiven much more quickly than Chris Brown. And, he was 20 when he beat Rihanna. That's a horrible thing. But can he ever move beyond it? People do change.
Well, if he has, he hasn't done a good job showing it. He's unrepentant and unstable. He hasn't show much remorse and he certainly hasn't shown much growth — he's throwing tantrums on Twitter and smashing chairs at Good Morning America. Of course he wants to be forgiven, but is that because he's genuinely sorry, or because he would like "the media" and "the haters" to stop giving him such a hard time? Either way, Rihanna absolving him makes her the flashpoint, when he should still be the one whose decisions we're interrogating.
So what, you think we shouldn't listen to the songs?
I didn't say that. Maybe I should say that, but I don't want to express my concern by abdicating, like she's some lost cause. I want to understand what's going on with her.
Well, if it makes you feel better, maybe this is all a very craven, if misguided, promotional blitz. We don't know that they're together. It could just be a career decision. Either way, she sure is making money off of this.
But even if it's a cash-oriented career decision, it's not just a career decision. She's weaving in a part of personal life, a very painful part.
But maybe this is her pop star identity. We know so much about these two, but we don't know everything. It's easy to forget we're only looking in from the outside. Rihanna's managed her career pretty well up to now, maybe she knows what she's doing.
Or maybe she's a very famous, very rich, very talented 24-year-old in an abusive relationship.
But who are we...