Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake Remix” collaboration with Chris Brown serves as a slap to her fans everywhere because of the sexually-charged nature of the song and the wrong message it sends out to her fans. Rihanna’s remix with her past abuser essentially trivializes the issue of domestic abuse. Chris Brown, who was charged with felony assaults and criminal threats, physically assaulted Rihanna in 2009, leaving Rihanna with visible face injuries and a hospital stay.
Rihanna’s decision to again partner with Brown demonstrates that she had forgiven her abuser but sends the wrong message to her fans. Given their careers, Rihanna and Brown will continually interact over the years. It’s a smart career move that generates interest in Rihanna’s music, keeping her current and relevant in her audience’s mind.
The-Dream, who helped create the remix, supported Rihanna’s decision, stating, "at the end of the day my job is to, not only as a songwriter, but as a friend with most of the people I spend time with, Rihanna being one of those friends, is having her back. Not only that, practicing what we was taught as kids, and that's to forgive. However someone chooses to forgive is entirely up to them."
Rightfully so, Rihanna should be lauded for having the courage and ability to forgive Chris Brown. However, her “Birthday Cake Remix” is not an appropriate way to go about that.
The lyrics of “Birthday Cake” make this particular collaboration particularly unfitting. The song, which has clear sexual connotations of “playing it rough,” brings forth questions on the appropriateness of Brown singing it.
Brown sings lyrics such as “I know you wanna bite this,” “I’mma make you my bitch,” and “Girl I wanna f*** you right now / Been a long time, I’ve been missing your body,” all of which not only have clear gendered roles that signify male dominance over women but also have questionable parallels to Rihanna’s and Brown’s personal relationship.
The worst of what Brown sings is: “But I wanna lick the icing off / Give it to her in the worst way.” Brown’s role in the remix is a dominant figure that wants to exert power over a woman, which is exactly what happened three years ago during the assualt. Instead of using her collaboration as a means of equalizing the role both parties play in the relationship, Rihanna is seemingly advocating for male dominance.
The implications from her choice spell disaster for the seriousness of domestic violence and its portrayal in the media. The problem is that her choice doesn’t affect just her – it affects her fans and sends out the message that it's okay to go back to your abuser and let him or her back into your life.
Though by no means is Rihanna expected to be the spokesperson for domestic violence and its prevalence, she does serve as its face due to her celebrity status. Therefore, it becomes her responsibility to consider the implications of her business and personal choice and understand that her actions have much more of a resounding impact. She should realize that she, as a celebrity, serves as a face of all women in domestic violence incidents.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25% of women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. That statistic doesn’t account for unreported cases either. Women ages 20-24 are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
That number is significant given the little attention this issue actually receives. Domestic abuse isn’t taken seriously because physical violence in general isn’t taken seriously. Domestic violence is a real problem in our society and such collaborations perpetuate the wrong idea.
Supported by the media, her fans, family, and sponsors, Rihanna can bounce back from such an incident and keep on going. However, many of her fans and others who have been in similar positions don’t have that support system. Her choice to collaborate with her abuser on such a song reinforces the wrong message with her audience and tells them that it’s ok to go back to your abuser for the love and support they couldn’t find elsewhere. Instead of cutting ties with someone who physically, mentally, and emotionally hurt her she brings him back into her life, condoning Brown’s behavior in particular with that song. It’s one thing to forgive Brown and move on, but it’s another to collaborate on a sexually charged song that seemingly makes light of such situations.
Rita Smith, the executive director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, gave her opinion, stating, "I think the message [Rihanna's] sending is that the feelings of being in love are more important than your personal safety."
Rihanna should use her ties with Brown as means of addressing the issue through song, sending out a positive message to her fans.
Smith offers a fitting solution: “I would like the message to be: People can change, and I will never be treated that way again and I will never treat anyone that way again. If they had released a song saying this is what this represents for us, that would be such a much more fabulous, powerful story than not saying a word.”
Instead, Rihanna should demonstrate her ability to forgive by singing a song that sends out a positive message – with or without Chris Brown as well.
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