Rihanna, Talks that Talk

Hank Erins hates that he loves you Belated kudos are owed to PotW’s resident physician for eviscerating the world’s sleaziest hitmaker in a fashion so spectacular, one can’t help...
By    December 7, 2011

Hank Erins hates that he loves you

Belated kudos are owed to PotW’s resident physician for eviscerating the world’s sleaziest hitmaker in a fashion so spectacular, one can’t help but lament the degradation of the word “epic.” My only qualm with the piece is that, like so many outspoken observers before him, Doc Zeus gives a pass to Chris Brown’s equally guilty conspirator. See Breezy was just muscle; look closely and you’ll find a surprising brain behind the operation. Overzealous tabloids? Hip-Hop culture? Vybz Kartel? No, no, and not this time.

Chris Brown’s partner in crime was none other than Robyn Rihanna Fenty – at least that’s what she seemingly wants us to think.

I’m not in the habit of victim-blaming. In fact, I fancy myself a progressive feminist insofar as I believe that all sexes are created equal and say things like ‘all sexes’ instead of ‘both.’ Maybe that’s why I’m inclined to believe Rihanna’s account of the story. And to process her spin on the incident, she was just asking for a black eye. This is a narrative that looks catastrophically tasteless on paper, but in reality may have boosted her career.

You may recall the public outcry when that horrific police photo surfaced. Several media outlets pointed out (rightfully) that domestic abuse victims were usually kept anonymous out of respect for their privacy. But the outcry was much more reserved when Chris Brown got off with a slap on the wrist, and virtually non-existent when Rihanna failed to publicly condemn her ex’s actions – at one point even expressing her support for him. After all, the longer the story lingered in the public consciousness, the more it would overshadow her music and turn her into a tabloid item.  Besides, Rihanna was a chart-topping musician. She could always throw the book at him on record, right?

And throw it she did,  as critics proclaimed upon the release of Rated R. Songs like “Russian Roulette” and “Cold Case Love” certainly addressed the violence, but they also suggested an alarming complicity and sense of regret – not to mention they were hopelessly forgettable compared to the fuck-n-hustle anthems “Rude Boy” and “Hard.” Coming from the same girl who owned “Take A Bow” before she had the life experience to back it up, these songs felt like a calculated disappointment, conceived to discourage the public from demanding anything like them in the future.

Then along came “Love The Way You Lie” and its jaw-dropping chorus: “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn/Well that’s alright because I like the way it hurts/Just gonna stand there and hear me cry/Well that’s alright because I love the way you lie.”

Ditching the vague equivocations of Rated R, Rihanna honed in on a simpler message: she had tempted fate. The crime that was committed on the evening of the 2009 Grammy Awards was part and parcel of her persona. She was just a freak like that. If you interpreted it literally, it meant that she not not only forgave Chris Brown, but every sick soul like him. It was an invitation to objectify her once more,  rather than pity her. For society at large, it was a tacit wave: go ahead and download our PNGs in peace. I guess.

If there was anything subtle about Rihanna’s intentions on “Love The Way You Lie,” all doubt was removed on her next studio album Loud, wherein she chanted “S and M” with the timid rigidity of a scrabble player laying the tiles for a word they’ve just made up. In a Rolling Stone cover story a few months later, she spoke about her born-again masochism: “Being submissive in the bedroom is really fun, you get to be a little lady, to have somebody be macho and in charge of your shit. That’s fun to me…I like to be spanked. Being tied up is fun.”

Rihanna’s latest effort Talk That Talk arrived last week, and though she assumes the role of dominant sadist more frequently than submissive masochist, this record couldn’t exist without the foundation laid by earlier victim-blaming singles. Very few of the album’s reviews have mentioned Chris Brown at all, and those that do are overwhelmingly negative. That’s because the moment you remember that this girl is a recent victim of domestic abuse, the album becomes revoltingly unlistenable. “Suck my cockiness/Lick my persuasion,” “I’ma make you my bitch,” “I want you to be my sex slave;” imagine how misguided these lyrics would sound had they appeared on Rihanna’s first post-Chris Brown album and you get a sense of the dexterity with which she has manipulated our collective memory of exactly what went down on that night in February of 2009.

Then again, we are talking about the implicit acceptance of sexual violence in American pop culture. And hey, what’s 200,000 more copies…

MP3: DJ Rick Geez-“Chris Brown That Trick” (Left-Click)

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