Who Killed It: Why Did Rihanna and Chris Brown Collaborate?

Who Killed It: Why Did Rihanna and Chris Brown Collaborate?

What kind of message did Rihanna send by hopping on songs with Chris Brown only three years after he assaulted her?

Written by Touré (@Toure)

The egg on my face is hot and runny. I feel gross. I'm not wrong but I feel like I am. I'm embarrassed that I angrily defended Rihanna from many people—many of them young Black women—who judged that she was to blame for what happened with Chris Brown. "You know those island girls are feisty," many said, giving us racist, sexist, and xenophobic over-generalizations in one neat phrase, while invoking a hoary stereotype of Black female violent tendencies that if said by someone from another demographic would be met by, well, violent anger.

I couldn't believe so many young Black women were so certain she'd brought this on herself that they wanted to see his face, to see the damage she had wrought. I couldn't believe so many were so quick to forgive him. Now I see some of them tweeting: "He's so fine he could beat me." They're not mad. They're jealous.

 

I'm sure that's not what she intended, but then what did she intend? Why would she make these songs and what does she get out of this transaction? Who made this decision? Rihanna or "Rihanna"?

 

Now Rihanna has very publicly returned to to the man who abused her by collaborating with him on two songs. This doesn't prove Brown apologists right, but for all those who stood by Rihanna it feels like the chair has been pulled out from under us.

I'm sure that's not what she intended, but then what did she intend? Why would she make these songs and what does she get out of this transaction? Who made this decision? Rihanna or "Rihanna"?

Fans easily forget that stars have a public persona they see and a private self that may inform the public persona—but is not the same. Fans outside Whitney Houston's funeral complained that they deserved to be inside because they had made her, but they're wrong.

They made "Whitney" the icon but they did not make Whitney the person, the woman many called Nippy. Inside the church, family and friends were mourning a real person—Nippy, not "Whitney." There's a difference, just as there is with Rihanna and "Rihanna." So which of them decided to do these songs with Chris?

"Rihanna" the icon sees in him a star whose career is hot, and collaborating with heat is good business. There's no collabo that she could do right now that would net her more attention. Sure "Rihanna" is getting a lot of attention, but being a pop star is like running for elective office: no amount of press is ever enough.

You've always got to find a new reason to get people talking about you. If they're not talking about you then they're talking about someone else and you're losing ground to that person. Rihanna's fanbase overlaps with Chris's so they won't abandon or punish her for redeeming him. They'll probably be intrigued.

But maybe all this is equally about Rihanna the real person. Maybe she still has feelings for him and feels bad for what happened to him. Maybe this isn't strategic but is a real emotional, empathetic reaction. She's just one of many domestic violence victims who go back to their abuser. But the public nature of this relationship and reconciliation makes this a dangerous and tragic moment. It's not just music.

Pop culture matters tremendously in the lives of young people and both of these stars are idolized by young people. For the story of this relationship to take this redemptive turn, for it to almost normalize relationship violence as a bump in the road, tells millions of kids that it's acceptable to abuse and to return to your abuser. Scary. And the message being sent to young boys is just as frightening as the one being sent to young girls.

 

Maybe she still has feelings for him and feels bad for what happened to him. Maybe this isn't strategic but is a real emotional, empathetic reaction. She's just one of many domestic violence victims who go back to their abuser.

 

It's obvious why doing songs with Rihanna is hugely beneficial for Chris. It's redemptive. It all but washes away his sins and shuts the door on all that. If Rihanna has moved on, then who are you to cling to it? After his 2009 pre-Grammy assault on Rihanna—and the pictures of her that emerged—I thought that Brown's career would be crippled if not effectively over.

I thought this couldn't happen under the media microscope in the social media era when things are endlessly replayed and ubiquitously dissected so that the collective memory is endless. Surely the boy-next-door type whose violent actions forced us to radically rethink who he is would not be able to recover. But I was so wrong.

I underestimated the palliative power of good music, great dancing and a really cute face. Make no mistake: Brown's career has barely suffered and now he's all the way back. The fans, the industry, and Rihanna are all affirming him. His last album sold over 700,000 copies, a very healthy sum nowadays. He got to perform twice on the Grammys this year, he won a big Grammy and now he's done two songs with Rihanna.

If the rest of it was Chris fighting his way down the field to score a touchdown, then the Rihanna songs are like an elaborate touchdown dance. He's the boy so bad, so slick, so smooth he can get away with whatever. The message his story sends to boys is if you're charming and desirable enough, you can do anything you want to her body. Anything.

Tags: who-killed-it, rihanna, chris-brown
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