Yesterday was Rihanna’s 24th birthday, but it was her fans who received the presents -- sort of. Rihanna released her much-hyped remix to “Birthday Cake,” featuring none other than her ex, Chris Brown. He in turn dropped a remix to “Turn Up the Music” on which he collaborated with Rih-Rih. The singles arrive among fervent rumors that the pair have reunited romantically.
Given the tumultuous history of this pair -- in 2009 Brown beat Rihanna bloody the night before the Grammys -- the on-wax collaboration has raised more than just eyebrows. Some believe that by befriending Brown, her one-time abuser, Rihanna is sending mixed signals to her impressionable fans.
In her 2009 interview with Diane Sawyer, Rihanna cited those fans as the deciding factor in her decision to leave Chris. “When I realize that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part,” she told Sawyer of her decision to leave her abuser. “I just didn’t realize how much of an impact I had on these girls.”
Since the much-publicized incident, Rihanna seemed to take a hard stance against domestic violence. Her music and image have consistently made statements about violence against women. In her “Man Down” video she kills her attacker, and in the video for “We Found Love” (featuring a Chris Brown look-alike) she walks out on a dysfunctional relationship. Rihanna has even gone so far as to tattoo “Never a failure, always a lesson” on her collarbone. For someone so concerned with her influence on young fans, collaborating with Chris seems to send a different and dysfunctional message.
Surely, this is a PR stunt; it's a merger between two extraordinarily popular young artists with a history, and that will get people talking, listening, and likely buying. In a twisted, Twilight Zone sort of way, it makes sense in theory. It’s been a long three years since the night Brown beat and then abandoned Rihanna on an L.A. sidewalk, and at this juncture Chris has a Midas touch when it comes to music, plus a recent Grammy win to prove it. Frankly, he’s hot. Who wouldn’t want him on their track?
But given the history between these two, I just can’t buy it, literally and figuratively. If fans want to forgive Brown for his actions, for which he’s only seemed moderately remorseful, because he makes hot music, so be it. I’m able to separate the man from his music when it comes to R. Kelly, and I’m able geek out for Breezy’s televised performances and not feel bad about it. If Rihanna wants to forgive him? Eh… personally, I’d find it difficult, but I recognize the act of forgiveness as cathartic for the person who was wronged. But to re-establish a working relationship given the history they share? This isn’t just sending a bad message to young fans -- it’s an epic fail that leaves me wondering what lesson, if any, Rihanna actually learned.
What do you think of Rihanna and Chris Brown’s collaborations?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk