Two days ago the release of two collaborations between Rihanna and Chris Brown (on the remixes of the former’s “Birthday Cake” and the latter’s “Turn Up the Music”) came as a “shock” or better, as the confirmation of a long-lasting rumour that the two former lovers have made up. According to this rumor, not only they had spent time together not only in the studio, but also in more private… spaces.
For those who are not aware of the artists’ background story, a photo can speak a thousand words (warning: the image is graphic). This is Rihanna three years ago, after being brutally attacked by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown during a fight. He was charged with assault and she was – justifiably – portrayed as the victim. They saw each other shortly after the event and tried to make things work, but Rihanna’s people most likely kept her away from him to protect her well-being and career.
This event has two sides. The first one is related to the complex issues that these people are facing as private human beings. The second one is connected to their roles as public figures.
On a private level, Chris Brown deserves to move on with his life. It would be inhumane to assume that anyone ever charged with abuse should be socially isolated and marginalised, if he has already paid for his actions. Chris Brown has in fact successfully completed his community service and anger management classes, as decided by the court. So, the juridical system, which is authorised with the enforcement of the rule of law and the social justice, has decided that this man has paid his dues and he is no longer a threat to society.
However, these events show a profound lack of self-awareness from his side. A person who as a child was the victim of abuse in the hands of his step-father has two choices, to break the circle of abuse or reinforce it. Chris Brown has already reinforced it by attacking Rihanna. It also is obvious that their relationship problems didn’t start that night. By re-approaching his victim, he only hurts himself and his understanding of the gravity of his past actions. He also positions himself for the second time in a situation that could trigger violence or otherwise unpleasant feelings. Rihanna, coming from a similar background, has similar choices: she can be victimised by situations over and over again or she can away and seek healthier relationships.
On a public level, the way the whole situation was played out for the world is disturbing and mildly disgusting. From the PR stunts and Rihanna’s tweets hinting on a “shocking collaboration” for the remix of “Birthday Cake”, to the song’s actual lyrics, this story is a marketing move to promote both their jobs, while not really taking into account the possible long-term effects on both artists’ brands. The song is clearly about sex – not even love – and the lyrics are not only explicit, but mix music fantasy with real-life events. “Girl I wanna f*** you right now/ been a long time/ I’ve been missing your body” raps Chris Brown and brings chills down the spine of all people over 18. Because, for the younger crowd, these are amazing news: in the naivety of their adolescence, they seem them as a Prince and a Princess that belong together and everyone standing between their re-union is a “hater”.
So, a matter that should have been dealt in the most private way, not only becomes part of a public soap opera, but it is actually instigated and promoted by its protagonists. It should also be taken into account that Rihanna has never said that she wants to stay away from him and he never publicly embraced the fact that he was the perpetrator, not the victim. This gives a very distorted image of how to handle domestic abuse, as it mixes it with sexual fantasies, music and a fairytale storyline (i.e. love conquers adversities). For those who have followed closely the events, these developments may drive them away from both artists, as their reunion brings back disturbing images.
Furthermore, it is doubtful that there is a racial factor attached to people’s negative feelings towards Chris Brown. The difference between his actions and the actions of other (white) Hollywood players is the publication of the consequences of his actions in the form of Rihanna’s bruised and humiliated face.
Should these people be “left alone” as many fans suggest? This is a though question, but it becomes simpler when taking into account that #ChrisBrownCanBeatMe was actually a trending topic on Twitter a few days ago. It could be argued that entertainers should not be role models. However, this is merely a suggestion that does not reflect reality and should not influence our judgment of such situations. Robyn Rihanna Fenty and Christopher Maurice Brown have the right to privacy. But their public personas, which are attached to the products they sell (CDs, concert tickets, perfumes etc.) are not. Their public actions should be judged in the same way that a new advertising campaign by Benetton is judged. And despite the love they receive from the industry, right now, this provocation is causing many people to feel disturbed rather than amused.