Does Rihanna know what she’s doing?
She had to know her musical reconciliation with R&B singer Chris Brown, who infamously and brutally assaulted her in a rented Lamborghini hours before they were to appear at the 2009 Grammy Awards, would bring critical attention. Indeed, the decision to re-mix two songs with Brown has drawn headlines.
“This is music many people wish did not exist,” wrote NPR Music critic Ann Powers, of the remixes of her song “Birthday Cake” and his song “Turn Up the Music.”
“Sure, there’s forgiveness, redemption and people can change, but there’s something about this kind of abuse that is impossible to forget,” wrote Lucy Jones of The Telegraph.
Washington Post music critic Chris Richards had previously written that Rihanna “remains enigmatic to the point of inscrutability.”
What seems clear to me is she does not care enough about the message her actions send girls and young women. By not making a clean break with Brown, she could be making it harder for others to break out of domestic violence situations.
Rihanna herself told Elle Magazine, in excerpts of an interview that will be released next week, essentially that she doesn’t care.
“The bottom line is that everyone thinks differently,” the Grammy award winning singer told Elle. “It’s very hard for me to accept, but I get it. People end up wasting their time on the blogs or whatever, ranting away, and that’s all right. Because tomorrow I’m still going to be the same person. I’m still going to do what I want to do.”
After Brown never seemed publicly contrite in light of the assault, I put him on the short list of artists I refuse to listen to. From afar, Rihanna seemed confused by the whole thing. She was the victim, after all. Watching her broken relationship play out in the public eye, with photos of her bloodied, beaten face circulated, made me feel for her. I still do.
But it turns out Rihanna herself says she was little more than embarrassed by the episode. Now, she feels free.
“I was like, well, ... They know more about me than I want them to know,” she told Elle, which put her on its cover. “It’s embarrassing. But that was my opening. That was my liberation, my moment of bring it. […] Now you know that, so you can say what you want about it. I don’t have anything to hide.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence each year. Those between the ages of 20 and 24 — like Rihanna — are at the greatest risk.
By exercising her freedom as an artist to collaborate with a former-beau who was convicted of badly beating her, I worry that she may put others at risk. While making music (heavy with sexual overtones) with Brown does not equate to dating him, it still sends a powerful message.
I have to believe Rihanna knows what she’s doing.
Back in 2009, the singer told Diane Sawyer on “20/20” that she left Brown because she was worried about her fans. “When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn’t be held responsible for going back,” she said.
Has she forgotten that so soon?
From now on, I’m turning her music off too.
Krissah Thompson is a reporter on the Post’s National Desk. Follow her on Twitter at @Krissah30.