August 17, 2010

There’s More to Fantasia Barrino’s Bayer Binge Than Her People Are Letting On

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What is the issue?

Fantasia Barrino needs help. Last week, when she overdosed on aspirin and Ambien, I was hoping it was just an unfortunate accident, an innocent mix up that wouldn’t result in anything more serious than a brief hospital stay. But the incident has been classified by the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department as a suicide attempt, and I’m thinking that when someone downs an entire bottle of aspirin, chances are it involves more than being distraught over a complicated affair with a married man and the attendant media attention.

What’s really bugging Fantasia? For all her strong-black-woman posturing, I’ve always sensed a sort of fragility, a deep sadness in her big brown eyes. A suicide attempt should never be taken lightly, and I’m not buying the way her manager, Brian Dickens, is downplaying the situation. “She has been lifted up by the outpouring of love and support from her fans,” he said. “She is more committed than ever to her daughter and her work because they are her heart, her soul and inspiration.”

Committed to her daughter, Zion? Was she thinking about Zion when she popped all those pills? To add insult to Barrino’s physical and emotional injures, the spurned estranged wife of her boyfriend is threatening to sue Barrino for breaking up her marriage, and under North Carolina’s domestic laws, she’d have a good case.

The story is alarming and distressing for reasons that have nothing to do with the extra-marital affair. Suicide is serious business. A good friend of mine tried to kill herself last year by jumping off the third-floor balcony of my building in Buenos Aires, and to this day, I don’t think she understands the collateral damage that her actions caused. Fantasia’s situation is more tragic because of the 9-year-old daughter she should be putting first. Presumably, they’ll leave this incident out of her VH1 reality series, Fantasia For Real — though her return from the brink probably would make for compelling TV.

Though I’ve never been a fan of her music, it will be hard to listen to it the same way. There will always be the specter of her psychological woes hanging in the air as the music plays. On American Idol, Barrino came across as not only a supremely talent young woman, but a sturdy one, too, a single mother triumphing against incredible odds. And though I think there’s more to this incident than we’re being told (and I’m not even going to touch the publicity angle), if there isn’t, it would be tragic that a man may have been the cause of her undoing.

Maybe she should spend more time with her fellow season-three contestant Jennifer Hudson, whose mother, brother and nephew were murdered by her sister’s estranged husband in 2008. Perhaps Hudson can explain how precious life is to her one-time rival. Bayer may work wonders with physical pain, but a bottle of it is no antidote for excrutiating emotional drama. There are far more effective ways to deal with love pains.

No romance is all smooth sailing, and who knows this better than Rihanna? I admire her for the way she channeled her hurt and rage after being attacked by her former boyfriend Chris Brown into the most compelling music of her career. Her post-Chris Brown artistry has climaxed with “I Love the Way You Lie,” her current No. 1 hit with Eminem that some have misinterpreted as a glorification of domestic violence. But when Rihanna sings the hook — “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/ Well, that’s all right because I like the way it hurts/ Just gonna stand there and hear me cry/ Well, that’s all right because I love the way you lie/ I love the way you lie” — to me, she’s not endorsing domestic abuse but rather singing from the point of view of so many women who remain in vicious cycles of violence by rationalizing the actions of their abusers. How do we know that Rihanna wasn’t one of them? Singing those lines was probaby the bravest thing she’s ever done.

Now Fantasia, whose third album, Back to Me, is due on August 24, needs to be brave, too, for Zion’s sake, for her own sake. Hopefully, she’ll find a way to pull off what Rihanna did, and from her pain, create some kind of transcendant art. In the meantime, the media should be making more of this under-reported story than the tabloid aspect of it. I know Fantasia never quite realized her full Idol promise: She’s not as big a star as Carrie Underwood, or Kelly Clarkson, or Adam Lambert. But this story needs to be told not only as a cautionary tale about the dangers of getting involved with married men, but about the dangers of self-medicating. It also should serve as a reminder that love doesn’t conquer all — and it shouldn’t conquer those who fall into it either. TC mark

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