Why The Chris Brown and Rihanna Collaboration Doesn't Surprise Me

Last night, Rihanna and Chris Brown dropped the long-awaited remix to the song “Birthday Cake” just in time for the singer’s 24th birthday. When news of the collaboration first hit, producers promised that it would “shock” audiences, which sort of seemed like a given. Regardless of what the lyrics actually said, the fact that Rihanna allowed her abusive ex-boyfriend to guest on a track is shocking enough. Brown could’ve just rapped, “World peace! Save the dolphins! I love The Feminine Mystique!” and people would’ve still felt perplexed by her decision to include him.

Since the song’s been released, fans and critics have expressed their disappointment in Rihanna. YouTube celeb/ porn star Chris Crocker even tweeted at her a clip from her famous interview with Diane Sawyer, in which Rihanna acknowledged that if she had stayed with Chris Brown after the attack, she would’ve sent the wrong message to her fans by saying that domestic violence is okay. Like Crocker, I too felt let down by Rihanna’s decision but I’m not surprised by it. In cases of domestic violence, the attacked often go back to their abusers and continue to stay with them for a long time, if not forever. Rihanna is just one of many battered women who have chosen to take back an abusive ex. She’s just gotten more attention for it because she’s a pop star with a giant platform.

It’s not unusual for singers to work through their relationship woes via song. (“Cry Me A River” anyone?) What makes Chris Brown and Rihanna unique, however, is that it goes way beyond “he said, she said” infidelity and into far more serious territory. When Chris Brown beat up Rihanna in 2009, it wasn’t the first time we had heard of high-profile abusive relationships (Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, Josh Brolin and Diane Lane, Charlie Sheen and everyone he’s ever dated). However, it was the first time that a young, famous couple with such an impressionable fan base had been exposed. And trust me when I say that their fan base is impressionable. Remember reading all of those disturbing pro Chris Brown tweets during The Grammys? That pretty much exemplified the power a young celebrity has over their audience. After reading all of those “HE CAN BEAT ME, DAMN!” tweets, you can’t dispute the fact that Rihanna and Chris Brown are role models and that by letting Chris Brown appear on her latest R&B jam, Rihanna is basically pulling a Whitney Houston and saying “It’s not right but it’s okay!”

All of that being said, I’m not going to vilify Rihanna for doing it. Do I think allowing Chris Brown to say on one of her songs “”Girl, I wanna f**k you right now/ Been a long time, I’ve been missing your body” after he basically tried to kill her is responsible? No. It’s totally irresponsible and crazy. But I’m not going to publicly shame her for it. If I did, it would probably only make her want to latch on to him more. By dropping this track with Brown, Rihanna seems to be giving a very clear “Screw you!” to the expectations that have been placed on her. At this point, all we can really do is hope that she develops a sense of self-worth and realizes that she shouldn’t be palling around with someone who beat her, let alone let him rap on her sexy birthday song. TC mark

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • Anonymous

    The line “I wanna make you my bitch” sticks out the most to me. It feels like maybe she’s trying to reclaim her very public victim status and trying to show she’s not fragile, but it’s just so…misguided in this context.

  • http://twitter.com/MerDiann Meredith H

    Ugh. The whole situation disgusts me.

    Though I unfortunately agree with you that many abused women go back to their abusers, many (most – all?) abused women aren’t in Rihanna’s position. They don’t have the support system that Rihanna surely has – not only “fans,” but the resources that she has at her disposal. Need therapy? I’m sure you can afford it. Need to get far away from the abuser? You can take a damn vacation wherever you want! Want a restraining order? Honey, you could have 24/7 body guards if that’s what it took. Need to find a man who can treat you better? You’re RIHANNA. Plenty of nice guys would be willing to date you. Obviously running into the arms of another guy isn’t a solution – but running back into the arms of the guy who hurt you isn’t a solution either; especially when you’re doing it in such a public forum. To be completely honest I have never been a fan of Rihanna, neither her persona nor her music, but I would never condemn anyone to suffer through an abusive relationship. But I do condemn her for making such an abusive relationship seem okay.

    • Anonymous

      It’s so so so hard to leave someone who has that kind of control on you. You’re not in your right mind, unfortunately. Only later can you see clearly all the things you’ve written here. It’s super sad.

  • Guest

    Very well-written article Ryan. Rihanna should take a look at this, I feel like this is the reaction she’s going to get from a lot of her peers and fans. I won’t vilify her but I am disgusted and disappointed.

  • Stefani S

    I love what you’ve written, Ryan O’Connell. You are right on, in every respect. Thank you, from a fan & DV survivor.

    Meredith, while I understand what you’re saying, I urge you not to condemn Rihanna. All the resources in the world might be available, but the ways abuse affects victims are complex. Dependency & disempowerment are REALLY hard habits to unlearn. Victims often make choices that seem ludicrous, but Ryan’s right – condemning Rihanna is just going to reinforce her bond to this abusive Chris Brown asshat. Rihanna’s choice here sets a frightening, dangerous example to her fans, yes. Indisputable. But it’s deeply important that we (the concerned public) understand the cycle of abuse, the mechanisms of WHY victims so frequently renew contact with their abusers, without judgment, if we hope to create any kind of meaningful social change.

    • http://twitter.com/MerDiann Meredith H

      Understand your point. My overarching question, then – how do understand and STOP the cycle?

  • Fuckyou

    A.) this post is absolutely vilifying both Rihanna and Chris Brown
    B.)”I’m not going to publicly shame her for it. If I did it would probably only make her want to latch onto him more” What the hell? You think that your writing has any fucking impact on Rihanna’s relationship whatsoever?

    Seriously, what the hell. I am absolutely not a fan of this article and I wish that everyone would just stop writing about Rihanna and Chris Brown.

    • anon

      Don’t think the point is to reach out to Rihanna, but to perhaps to reach out to other people in the same position as her, who have the same feelings as her.

  • KC

    Rihanna is not in the same position as many abused women. She’s self sufficient, has a huge support net around her, and can reach out to a DV counselor as often as she needs. The impact of her decision of forgiveness is detrimental to abused women every where. It is a true shame.

  • Katie

    What I don’t understand is how is this entire post not publicly shaming Rihanna? Is that not the whole purpose? 

    Believe it or not–and somehow this is really hard for everyone to realize–Rihanna is in the position to decide whether or not she forgives Chris Brown. Not everyone else in the whole world. Rihanna. The victim. 

    And it IS possible to forgive someone without condoning or excusing their actions.

    And all the shit in the comments about “Rihanna is rich so therefore it’s easy for her to handle/get out of an abusive situation” is such utter fucking bullshit.

    This woman is a human being who has a right to decide what the best decisions for her are, without having people call her irresponsible and condemning her publicly shaming her.

    • KC

      Uhhmmmm she has resources to support herself unlike women that don’t work and have children and depend on their husbands income to survive. Get it straight. 

  • Victor_W

    It really isn’t surprising at all. Rihanna and Chris Brown are both careerists (or more accurately, the industry people who are running their careers are). The publicity angle of their ‘reunion’ is just too irresistible for either party to pass on it. Both are at commercial peaks at the moment (her after ‘We Found Love’; him after the Grammys, and with a certain-hit album on the way), Rihanna has on her most recent hits established herself as a woman who is ‘in control’ (not a ‘victim’ anymore) and Brown has been mostly ‘accepted’ again by the industry (as the success of his recent hits and the Grammys demonstrate), so now is a neat moment to try this (it will most likely boost both their profiles and be a hit, and even if there is backlash, both have enough momentum to withstand it). The fact that it really is Rihanna’s birthday is just a cute twist. The next step will be a whole are-they-or-aren’t they ‘together’ again drama which will probably play out over their next few singles/remixes/videos. 

  • Slop101

    I’m sure most have seen this, but just a reminder:

     On Sunday, February 8, 2009 at 0025 hours, Brown was driving a
    vehicle with Robyn F. as the front passenger on an unknown street in Los
    Angeles. Robin F. picked up Brown’s cellular telephone and observed a
    three page text message from a woman who Brown had a previous sexual
    relationship with. A verbal argument ensued and Brown pulled the vehicle
    over on an unknown street, reached over Robyn F. with his right hand,
    opened the car door and attempted to force her out. Brown was unable to
    force Robyn F. out of the vehicle because she was wearing a seat belt.
    When he could not force her to exit he took his right hand and shoved
    her head against the passenger window of the vehicle causing an
    approximate one inch raised circular contusion. Robyn F. turned to face
    Brown and he punched her in the left eye with his right hand. He then
    drove away in the vehicle and continued to punch her in the face with
    his right hand while steering the vehicle with his left hand. The
    assault caused Robyn F’s mouth to fill with blood and blood to splatter
    all over her clothing and the interior of the vehicle.

    Brown looked at Robyn F. and stated, “I am going to beat the shit out
    of you when we get home! You wait and see!” Robyn F. picked her
    cellular telephone and called her personal assistant, Jennifer Rosales
    at [redacted]. Rosales did not answer the telephone but while her
    voicemail greeting was playing, Robyn F. pretended to talk to her and
    stated, “I’m on my way home. Make sure the cops are there when I get
    there.” (This statement was made while the greeting was playing and was
    not captured as a message). After Robyn F. faked the call, Brown and
    looked at her and stated, “You just did the stupidest thing ever! Now
    I’m really going to kill you.” Brown resumed punching Robyn F. and she
    interlocked her fingers behind her head and brought her elbows forward
    to protect her face. She then bent over at the waist, placing her elbows
    and face near her lap in attempt to protect her face and head from the
    barrage of punches being levied upon her by Brown. Brown continued to
    punch Robyn F. on her left arm and hand causing her to suffer a
    contusion on her left triceps that was approximately two inches in
    diameter and numerous contusions on her left hand. Robyn F. then
    attempted to send a text message to her other personal assistant,
    Melissa Ford. Brown snatched the cellular telephone out of her hand and
    threw it out of the window onto an unknown street.

    Brown continued driving and Robyn F. observed his cellular phone
    sitting in his lap. She picked up the cellular telephone with her left
    hand and before she could make a call he placed her in a head lock with
    his right hand and continued to drive the vehicle with his left hand.
    Brown pulled Robyn F. close to him and bit her on her left ear. She was
    able to feel the vehicle swerving from right to left as Brown sped away.
    He stopped the vehicle in front of [redacted] and Robyn F. turned off
    the car, removed the key from the ignition and sat on it. Brown did not
    know what she did with the key and began punching her in the face and
    arms. He then placed her in a head lock positioning the front of her
    throat between his bicep and forearm. Brown began applying pressure to
    Robyn F’s. left and right carotid arteries causing her to be unable to
    breathe and she began to lose consciousness. She reached up with her
    left hand and began attempting to gauge his eyes in an attempt to free
    herself. Brown bit her left ring and middle fingers and then released
    her. While Brown continued to punch her, she turned around and placed
    her back against the passenger door. She brought her knees to her chest,
    placed her feet against Brown’s body and began pushing him away. Brown
    continued to punch her on the legs and feet causing several contusions.
    Robyn F. began screaming for help and Brown exited the vehicle and
    walked away. A resident in the neighborhood heard Robyn F.’s plea for
    help and called 911, causing a police response.

  • ella

    doing a song with him is a good strategy publicity wise, and a poor decision in relation to the fans that she claimed to be interested in sending a message to. i don’t think anyone should be forced to be a role model if they don’t want to, but when you talk about wanting to send the right message to your fans you kind of bring that type of responsibility onto yourself.

    and also, just for the record, “Its Not Right But Its Okay” wasn’t about abuse being okay…
    it was about it not being “right” for a man to cheat, but it being “okay” because she was going to be better off “alone than unhappy”.

  • Melanie

    Relax. It’s just a song. Why are the actions of Rihanna and Chris such a huge deal? They’re not back together. He has a girlfriend. You’re making it way more serious than it actually is. 

    • jsc

      because a song means much more than a song to a lot of people, a lot of children. them even being mentioned over and over in the same sentence, in the same headlines can resonate differently in different children who don’t know better. we can argue that that’s their parents’ responsibility but how about those who don’t have parents? who are lost and with no guidance? 

      that’s why it’s a big deal, because to some, a song means everything. 

  • http://twitter.com/LaurensJam Lauren

    for all those who don’t understand why this is a big deal – the issue isn’t exactly that this idiot hit a girl. and it’s not even that she’s going back to him. people can observe both of these actions as being irrational and of poor choice. the issue is that 
    “the message… they are sending is that abusive men have changed when they say they are better,” says Norman Quantz, an Alberta therapist and author of It’s All About Power and Control. “And that’s a lie believed by many women.” your partner hits you, you know to split. you go back and your partner says that they’ve changed, so you stay because you’ve seen with your own eyes a person who has broken the cycle of violence without much more than a few court-ordered counselling sessions. 

    this could have been handled so much better. if he had’ve taken time out of the spotlight, done serious therapy and counselling, apologized publicly and did some volunteer work for a woman’s shelter or something, we could have moved past this. but he’s done nothing to give anyone any reason to think he wouldn’t hurt someone again. there are so many deserving artists out there who should have his recording deal, but this waste of space has chosen to make the worst of it.

  • Sam

    she wanted it more money, fame and success!!! she does care about anything else, oh and being industry puppet, naked, grabbing her vagina every chance she gets, saying disgusting things, talking about only sex, sex sex, sex, wearing nothing in public places, using her abuse at every chance she gets!!! the girl is pure garbage!! nothing more nothing less!! she should be doing porn and leave the music to talented it people!! that what people should be telling here!!

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