On Monday night, Chris Brown and Rihanna celebrated her 24th birthday by both dropping remixes: Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” from “Talk That Talk,” and Chris Brown’s “Turn Up the Music” from his album “Fortune.” Da Internz, who produced the “Birthday Cake” remix, promised that it would “shock,” and it sure did. Given that Brown assaulted Rihanna over the weekend of the Grammy Awards a mere three years ago, it is shocking indeed, disturbing to see the two coming together for a collaboration once again.
For those who might not remember the case, which seems to have evaporated from the public consciousness with disturbing ease, this snippet from the Los Angeles Police Department’s report will help you to appreciate the sheer brutality of the attack: “Brown resumed punching Robyn F. [Rihanna] 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 [an] attempt to protect her face from the barrage of punches being levied upon her by Brown.” The pictures that surfaced from that weekend were gruesome: Rihanna’s lip, left eye and nose were all swollen, she had lacerations on her face and a photo of the inside of her lip showed multiple trauma-induced cuts. The People magazine cover, “Rihanna’s Nightmare,” captured the national mood at the time. Rihanna’s fans were incensed that Brown could have visited such violence upon their idol, and even Chris Brown’s friend Usher tweeted, “Have a little bit of remorse, man. The man’s on Jet Skis? Like, just relaxing in Miami?” after photos of Brown in Florida surfaced just after reports of him beating Rihanna went public.
Certainly, given Rihanna’s previous candor about her abusive relationship with Brown, it is unfortunate to see her returning to even a close, professional working relationship with him. As a high-profile victim of domestic abuse, it would be much more powerful and meaningful in the context of victim advocacy if Rihanna were to actively maintain distance from Brown. Hearing the two of them sing, “Imma make you my bitch … Give it to her in the worst way,” hardly constitutes promoting healthy messages about dealing with the aftermath of violence.
Rihanna’s collaboration with the man who put her in the hospital sends all the wrong messages to impressionable young fans: that abuse is forgivable; that victims and abusers can have functional, healthy relationships after the fact; and that past transgressions can be ignored for the sake of mutual self-promotion.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 85 percent of women in abusive partnerships return to those relationships, often due to economic pressure. That Rihanna, whose personal success helps her avoid the financial constraints that often push women to stay in abusive relationships, is nonetheless choosing to return to Brown if only in a musical context does not make it easier for other women to justify staying away from abusive partners. One would hope that Rihanna, who has previously made public statements affirming her commitment to supporting victims of domestic abuse, would back up those statements with personal initiative. To the contrary, however, Rihanna’s legal team has steadily allowed a number of legal restraints against Brown, including a court order prohibiting the two from interacting during music industry events, to expire or otherwise go unenforced.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Rihanna and Brown’s collaboration is the lack of meaningful dialogue from the artists. While those who defend Rihanna’s decision to collaborate with Brown argue that working with him is an expression of “empowerment” or agency, there is little evidence that Brown himself is apologetic for his actions. In fact, his aggressive post-Grammy tweet, “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That’s the ultimate F*CK OFF!” indicates little, if any, understanding of why his reemergence might not be universally embraced.
While it would be impossible and unfair to expect that Rihanna and Chris Brown would avoid each other for the rest of their lives Hollywood is, after all, not that big of a place, and its inhabitants are interconnected in a myriad of ways discussing their apparent reconciliation in a public space would be a positive start.