So Rihanna has reunited in song with her ex-boyfriend - and America's most celebrated girlfriend-beater - Chris Brown. Needless to say, there are many, many things wrong with the former lovers' collaboration. Vast numbers of column inches and twitter characters have already been dedicated to how irresponsible it is for a high profile victim of domestic abuse to endorse her abuser (especially an abuser who doesn't appear to have the decency to be apologetic or remorseful).
Those protestations will no doubt be joined by objections to how these two tracks - Birthday Cake (remix) and Turn Up the Music (remix) - are shameless exploitations in the name of profit and publicity by both artists' record companies. Just and accurate arguments, but clearly not logic that appeals to the only person who can end this horrible tabloid feedback loop once and for all: Rihanna.
Telling Rihanna she should embrace her status as a famous survivor of domestic abuse is clearly falling on willfully deaf ears. If she gave a toss about what the public thought of her values she wouldn't argue so adamantly about not being a role model, nor reference her famous history of domestic abuse in a video about love, nor sing about how whips and chains excite her, nor get so many commercially unfriendly tattoos, nor continue to turn-up nearly naked everywhere she goes.
It would be absolutely fantastic if Rihanna woke up one morning soon and decided to be all that the feminists among us want her to be. I think it is time for us to stop hoping it will happen and appeal instead to something she actually and obviously does care about.
So here it goes, here is my pitch for why my formerly beloved RiRi needs to get a grip and get rid of Brown for good:
Rihanna cares about one thing and one thing only, being impossibly cool and edgy. Somehow she has convinced herself that working with Brown is the most hardass, dangerous thing she can do, but the truth is buddying up with him is very, very old fashioned and quite honestly, boring.
There is nothing feisty and hip about playing a modern day version of Ike and Tina Turner, only with the pathetic twist of Tina going back and helping Ike salvage his career. It is not edgy to record the new millennium's equivalent of the Crystals' jaw-dropping 1962 ode to wife-beating He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss). That song, written by husband-and-wife-team Carole King and Gerry Goffin and produced - with the creepy ambiguity only a future woman killer could muster - by Phil Spector, was inspired by the real life plight of Little Eva, a 19-year-old pop starlet who claimed her boyfriends' punches were the stuff of romantic gesture.
Now, it's not for us to travel back in time to tell the Crystals they shouldn't have leant their sweet harmonies to such grimly misogynist lyrics, nor retrospectively lecture the teenage originator of The Loco-Motion that her boyfriend was, in fact, bad, bad news. But is it too much to expect that our RiRi - fashion-forward queen of the deconstructed tuxedo, post-feminist investigator of whether boys is big enough - might have moved on a bit from all that?
Rihanna makes videos that would make the Crystals and Little Eva blush, and claims an ownership of her image that would blow their cotton socks off, not to mention giving a notorious control freak like Phil Spector a much deserved migraine. So why is she pulling a stunt that takes us back to the dull old days of women in matching dresses cooing un-ironic platitudes after abusive men?
Because, make no mistake about it, that is exactly what letting Chris Brown - the man who beat her so badly her mouth filled with blood and her eyes swelled shut, who bit, punched, kicked and slammed her head into the door of a car - creepily groan 'Girl I wanna f*ck you right now... I've been missing your body' on her song does.
A very bad thing happened to Rihanna. She didn't choose it and we have no right to demand she respond the way we think she should. But we do have the right, as fans, to demand she keeps making interesting music. And, right now, it feels like the only thing less interesting than a quick cash-in remix with a chorus that goes 'Cake, cake, cake, cake, cake, cake, cake' is a supposedly cutting-edge pop star promoting sexual politics that pre-date the miniskirt.
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