When the internet started to buzz with the rumor that Rihanna had invited Chris Brown to guest on the remix of her song “Birthday Cake,” my instant reaction was disbelief. She wouldn’t… I thought. Sure, there had been signs that Rihanna had rekindled a bit of a friendship with her ex, who famously beat her to the point of being hospitalized in 2009, but to collaborate with him? A recent video for the song “We Found Love” seemed to reference the unhealthy and abusive nature of that relationship — surely the next step wouldn’t be to make music with the guy?
Alas, it appears the rumors are true. The song is set to be released this week [UPDATE: Two songs have been released, which you can listen to here.] and it’s all but confirmed that Brown appears on the track, allegedly recorded without her label knowing about it. (Brown has also hinted that Rihanna appears on the upcoming remix of “Turn Up The Music.”) Rihanna has tweeted a number of messages that suggest she’s aware of the negative response the collaboration is garnering; “Go head talk shit…its all in da paper!!! Lemme grab my dick while ya sit on top!!!” she wrote late last week. Sigh. She can be dismissive of the criticism, but I am going to do my best not to be dismissive of her in mine.
I am a big believer in forgiveness. I think it can be an incredibly important part of recovering from something traumatic. If Rihanna has forgiven Chris Brown — and it seems that she has — more power to her. That is her business. That doesn’t mean we — the public — has to forgive him, but we cannot and should not judge her for forgiving him.
Even though, I would argue, he has done little to nothing to demonstrate that he is particularly remorseful about the injuries he inflicted upon his then-girlfriend.
Even though he has done little to demonstrate that he has acknowledged he has a problem, let alone devoted himself to overcoming them.
Even though he has done little to indicate that a similar incident won’t happen again and, in fact, has continued to behave in ways (throwing a chair and breaking a window at “Good Morning America,” for example) that suggest anger management is still an issue for him.
The truth is, forgiveness is not always earned; it is, by it’s very definition, given. For that reason, I have no opinion whatsoever on Rihanna choosing to forgive Chris Brown.
What I do have an opinion on is how that violent incident and her eventual “forgiveness” of it is being marketed to the public for their mutual monetary gain. But first, for comparison’s sake, the things I am and would be okay with:
- I am totally okay with Rihanna and Chris Brown’s violent and dysfunctional relationship inspiring the video for Rihanna’s song “We Found Love.”
- I would be totally okay with Rihanna writing as many songs as she wants to about their relationship. I may get bored of it and wish for more songs about umbrellas, but hey, it happened to her and if she finds it healing to sing about it, so be it.
- I would be totally okay with Rihanna writing a song/songs about forgiving Chris Brown. Again, forgiveness is a powerful thing, worthy of being written and sung about, in fact. However, because I think he is a terrible, awful human being, I would probably choose not to listen to this particular song.
What I am not okay with:
- Rihanna forgiving Chris Brown personally but then aiding him in his efforts to attain but not earn the forgiveness of the public while lining both of their pockets at the same time.
Perhaps I would be less upset by this latest development if Brown had gotten more than a slap on the wrist for his actions in the first place. Legally he received only community service and five years of probation. Professionally, he barely suffered at all; sure, he was “banned” from the Grammy Awards for a whopping two years, but what did that do? His fans have rallied behind him to a disturbing degree; many members of “Team Breezy” have not only blamed Rihanna for what Brown did to her, but, in recent days, have joked about the incident, tweeting, “Chris could beat me anytime.”
And Brown has done nothing to counteract the anti-Rihanna, pro-domestic violence messaging perpetuated by his incredibly vocal fan base. A truly changed man — a man the public might actually consider “forgiving” — would. I certainly don’t think that by virtue of being beaten by Chris Brown, Rihanna now has to spend the rest of her career being the de facto face of domestic violence and that her actions and words have to be vetted or vetoed based on how they’ll be viewed through that lens. But you cannot professionally align with the man who beat you and be in denial about the message that could send. While Rihanna can forgive him all she wants, collaborating with him only ultimately serves to further legitimize his behavior amongst the people who supported him all along. The real-life repercussions of that are frightening.
And to make money off of it at the same time? That makes me angry.