If an adult, even a young one, can be labeled by his actions, Chris Brown is a violent, narcissistic thug. The savage, lengthy beating he inflicted on his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009 earned him a felony conviction, something not particularly common in the world of intimate partner violence. I saw quite a few of those cases as a prosecutor, many of them violent and damaging, but few other than homicides that merited the possibility of a prison sentence. It’s a possibility Brown avoided, but happily so for many adoring fans who still refer to that drawn-out, bludgeoning attack as a “mistake.”
Now, for whatever reasons, Rihanna has chosen to request a relaxation of the protective order she was granted against him, and to collaborate with him musically. Collaboration may be all it is. Or, she may be entertaining a friendship or something more with her attacker, a circumstance often encountered if rarely justified. She was a blameless victim in the pummeling she endured, and since I know nothing of her personally I won’t seek to judge whatever reunification she’s navigating with Chris Brown now.
But I will judge the “Birthday Cake” remix she is releasing and on which Brown joins her, because it’s classless and crass, even by the standards of Rihanna who often objectifies herself sexually in her music. But what makes this first collaboration since Brown’s arrest and conviction far worse is the past that underscores it. What Chris Brown adds to the magic of “Birthday Cake” includes the lines “Girl, I wanna f— you right now. Been a long time, I’ve been missin’ your body.”
Bravo, Chris! This is far more than an expression of what I suspect are your creative limits or your grasp of subtlety and real sexuality (which I rather enjoy, although I find it resonates more when it isn’t reduced to the sputtering of a worked-up child). It’s also a window into how you likely viewed this woman before you viewed her as a punching bag. She’s a toy as far as you’re concerned, and that’s how you want to treat her. First sexually. Then violently. Then sexually again.
Take a wild guess, dear reader, as to whether a pattern is forming here.
Lewdness in pop music is a fact of modern life. Many would criticize Rihanna for the overt sexuality she injects into her music and speculate darkly from it on how she views herself. I won’t. Frankly, she has the right to engage her sexuality in any way she sees fit and I won’t impose my model or that of anyone else in an effort to judge her. What she does artistically and how it might affect the millions of girls who look up to her is best discussed elsewhere.
For now, what’s clear is that Rihanna, a beautiful and talented young woman, was beaten- breathtakingly- by a man who now joins her in a song in which he celebrates the idea using her like a plastic doll. That’s wrong on more than one level. Unfortunately, I doubt either of them have a clue.