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.