When news broke earlier this week about Chris Brown and Frank Ocean’s Sunday night parking lot brawl, social media went ablaze with people mocking Brown for fighting an openly gay artist. With the memories of last year’s blowout with Drake still fresh in many people’s minds, Brown doesn’t have the comfort of these events being seen as ”boys will be boys” incidents anymore. He now has what many consider a history or “pattern” of reckless violence and uncontrollable anger — and it appears he could care less.
But Brown appears to have met his match in pop icon Rihanna who in an interview for her February cover of Rolling Stone magazine, finally speaks publicly about her romantic reconciliation with
Brown. The two are reportedly back together after a tumultuous five year on-again-off-again relationship that was famously interrupted in 2009 after Brown physically assaulted the singer in Los Angeles. Like Brown, she is just as unrepentant about her controversial decisions.
“Even if it’s a mistake, it’s my mistake,” she tells the magazine. “After being tormented for so many years, being angry and dark, I’d rather just live my truth and take the backlash. I can handle it.”
In Rihanna, Brown has found a perfect partner with the same me-against-the-world posture. Like Brown, she is fiercely protective of her belief that her way — no matter how controversial — is the only way she will live. Minus the fame and fortune, their story of pain and violence wrapped up in youthful love is a common one.
Together, Brown and Rihanna tell us a lot about the millions of young men and women who idolize them — many of whom make up Generation “You Only Live Once.” Drake’s hit club banger “The Motto” may have popularized the “YOLO” phrase, but it was already being lived out by masses of millennials.
A recent article in Forbes magazine asks if millennials (those of us who are between 18-34) are “deluded narcissists.” The article describes widely held beliefs about us being success-obsessed navel-gazers whose self-absorbed generational make-up has largely been shaped by social media. Through our online identities, many of us have come to believe that moments are what matter most and that all mistakes have a delete option in the end. Our generation — for better or worse — will one day be remembered for our unparalleled fearlessness.
Indeed, this seems to be the way Rihanna lives her life as a whole. The singer does and says what she wants to with little regard for public opinion. As a result, she is seemingly free. Free to curse at her fans and paparazzi on a whim. Free to post revealing photos of herself on social media. Free to boast about smoking marijuana regularly. And free to love a man who once made her face unrecognizable to adoring fans.
Rihanna is not simply a popular girl; she’s a generational icon. And with that comes massive power. She has masterfully figured out how to be widely sought after without losing the common touch. In sum, she’s perfectly flawed, and her accessibility continues to reveal that. Yet, her fan base appreciates her even more for that, as she was famously identified the most “liked” person on Facebook.
Maybe it’s her team and Jay-Z’s behind the scenes influence on her career that has made her so legendary in such a short amount of time. Whatever it is — it’s awe-inspiring and makes everything she does matter a great deal. So much so that her decision to reunite with Brown because “it’s different now” has far-reaching implications.
Rihanna, like any other victim, has the right to heal as she says fit. No good can come from blaming a victim of domestic violence. But does a celebrity, whose massive power and success came out of the pockets of everyday people, have the right to seemingly not care? Does her desire to be happy and to “live [her] truth” supersede the influence she knows she has on millions of young girls and women?
In Brown’s case, many continue to wonder: Is he a ticking time bomb occasionally signaling danger with his explosive behavior? Like Rihanna he is also insistent on being free to do whatever he feels led to do. Brown’s own family history of abuse has always begged the question of whether his actions are a desperate cry for help.That once included releasing a video about the torments of loving two women at the same time, Rihanna and ex-girlfriend Karrueche. At another point it meant getting a tattoo on his neck that hauntingly resembles Rihanna’s 2009 battered face. Most recently it included posting an image on Instagram in the aftermath of the Ocean incident depicting the crucifixion of Christ.
These are their lives, right? They’re not role models unless they choose to be, right? And isn’t it the responsibility of parents to instill values in their own children without holding celebrities accountable? This is all too narrow in thinking.
If there’s anything for us to be worried about, it’s the message that nothing we do in our youth matters and that no price is so high that we shouldn’t be willing to pay it at least once. When our young women don’t love themselves enough to leave unhealthy relationships, their bodies often pay the price through ongoing abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and sometimes even death.
When our young men don’t know how to control their anger and don’t get the psychological help they so desperately need, entire communities pay the price. We’ve seen it happen so many times daily in the senseless violence that afflicts urban and rural homes throughout America. In the end, someone has to care even if Rihanna and Chris Brown don’t. Right? There has to be a higher calling for this generation than the motto “YOLO.” Right?
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post. She is the founder/editorial director of Urban Cusp ,an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Follow her on Twitter @RahielT
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