Have Your Cake & Beat It, Too: Chris Brown & Rihanna Duet

Chris Brown and Rihanna. Where to begin?

The troubled exes released not one but two remixes featuring each other yesterday — “Turn Up The Music” and “Birthday Cake.” (And it actually was Rihanna’s birthday — how meta!) It’s basically a big “fuck you” to all those who have been griping on Twitter and such about a possible collaboration between the two — why else “leak” both songs at once? Clearly those two, at least, are not concerned about the controversy.

In fact, they’re getting off on it.

The two new songs are, of course, aiming to be the couple’s second and third smash hit together — their first, of course, being that time back in 2009 when Chris Brown violently assaulted and stated an intent to kill Rihanna.

In a way, you can kind of see why anyone thought this was a good idea in the first place. Chris Brown’s public image had been gradually recuperating since his 2009 smackdown of Rihanna, despite shenanigans such as his window-smashing outburst at Good Morning America just last year. He continued to make music, he continued to beloved by many ardent fans, and it was all more or less fine. People were dealing. And you heard less and less about “that whole Rihanna thing.” Until he won a Grammy.

Curiously, seeing him at the Grammys set off a spark in people that had, until now, lain dormant. The one-two punch of both Brown’s performance and a win for his album F.A.M.E., I think, caused the knee-jerk reaction — one or the other might have gone by without much of an outcry, but for some of us, it was too much Chris Brown too soon for such a loaded event. If Grammy voters seriously believe that Chris Brown’s F.A.M.E. was the best R&B album of last year — since his fellow nominees, at least, were not formidable competition — I wouldn’t necessarily have them not vote for him just because they don’t like something he’s done in his personal life.

Asking him to perform, though, is another story. There are many deserving artists who would and should perform at the Grammys; why choose Chris Brown? Obviously, to attract a certain demographic of viewer. Still, I’d rather have seen the Grammys make a subtle statement by merely not inviting him to perform, and therefore, not endorsing him. But that’s just my personal preference.

However, that’s not what happened, and people freaked out. Artists like Miranda Lambert publicly stated their disapproval. Twitter was all over Chris Brown on both sides of the argument. Breezy jumped defensive as he always does, tweeting less-than-eloquently about his haters who, he estimates, should have moved on by now. “Strange how we pick and choose who to hate! Let me ask u this. Our society is full of rappers (which I listen to) who have sold drugs (poisoning). But yet we glorify them and imitate everything they do. Then right before the worlds eyes a man shows how he can make a Big mistake and learn from it, but still has to deal with day to day hatred! You guys love to hate!!! But guess what??? HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That’s the ultimate FUCK OFF!”

Classy.

Now, apart from the spelling and punctuation, I have two issues with Brown’s statement. One — does beating up your girlfriend count as a “big mistake”? I don’t think so. Assault is more than a “mistake.” But let’s ignore that for now. Two — what has Chris Brown learned?

Anyone?

I don’t think Chris Brown has learned anything. If he has, he certainly hasn’t shown it “before the worlds eyes,” as he says. He calls himself a man, but I struggle to think of another male musician so childish. Perhaps he’ll never beat up a woman again, but he clearly has some anger management issues that are far from over, and as his tweets show, he’s not exactly wiser and more humble for all the flack he’s gotten for it. If anything, it’s only made him angrier. Instead of truly owning up to his actions, Chris Brown flies off the handle at anyone who isn’t yet “over” what he did. Like we’re all just so unreasonable for making a big deal out of abuse. And any Breezy fans who think we all need to forgive and forget should first take another look at the police report of his assault on Rihanna. Then I’m willing to have that argument.

So it’s not really Chris Brown’s actions from three years ago that have me wishing he wasn’t performing at the Grammys or winning awards, but his actions ever since. I’ve never much cared for Chris Brown as a musician, so if I never heard from him again, it’d be no great loss. But I understand that he has fans (do I understand why? not so much), and of course, he has every right to keep on making music. A mere attitude adjustment and some true humility would take care of most of his critics, I bet. The public is willing to forgive celebrities for quite a lot — unless they continually act like assholes.

See, that’s why we hate you, Chris Brown. It’s not because you hit Rihanna.

Forget the “Birthday Cake.” If you ask me, Chris Brown could use a big ol’ piece of humble pie instead.

As for her part in all this — well, I almost admire the way she doesn’t ever seem to care what people think of her. She makes no apologies and does what she wants, and that’s probably why she’s so successful. It’s not that she’s much of a risk-taker, but being generic seems to suit her. Rihanna lets it all hang out, seemingly with nothing to hide. Compare her to the fragile, guarded Britney Spears, or the blank, people-pleasing Beyonce, and there’s something very authentic about her despite the fact that she’s so processed. Her music may be synthetic, but Rihanna herself isn’t. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s the most confident pop star out there.

So a collaboration or two with her bad-boy ex fits right in with her image, which has never been about placating anyone. Will reuniting with Chris Brown (musically, that is — though who knows what’s going on between them otherwise?) hurt her career? I doubt it. But I’d kind of like it to.

The less offensive of the two new tracks is Rihanna’s feature on Chris Brown’s “Turn Up The Music,” if only because the song itself is so banal, it’s practically nonexistent. “Turn Up The Music” — really? We needed another song about that old chestnut?

Notice how the first verse rhymes “down” with “down.” Because it’s incredibly difficult to think up another rhyme for “down,” right? Then Chris Brown repeatedly requests, “If you’re sexy and you know it, put your hands up in the air.” How novel. My hands are up in the air — because I give up on these two.

Then there’s “Birthday Cake,” a song I already had a beef with because it appeared on Rihanna’s Talk That Talk as a snippet. Who puts half a song on an album? What’s the point? Was Chris Brown always on the track, and someone just decided to fade out at 78 seconds to avoid the inevitable backlash? If so, smart move — and it should have stayed that way.

Instead, we now have a full “Birthday Cake,” complete with its black-and-blue frosting, which is about a man who once beat up his girlfriend now wanting to fuck her again. It’s a bit revolting. Chris Brown and Rihanna might have gotten away with a duet that was a little less sexual — say, along the lines of Drake’s feature in “What’s My Name.” But the fact that Brown says he wants to “give it to her in the worst way” — which, you’ll recall, he did in 2009 — means that no one was thinking about the repercussions this particular collaboration might inspire. Lyrics like “I know you want to bite this” or “Can’t wait to blow her candles out” can’t help but be taken the wrong way in light of their history. Right? It’s horrendously inappropriate, and the way Chris Brown and Rihanna are dismissing those who question this decision is equally alarming.

Like it or not, the baggage of an artist’s past does become part of the text of their music. They should know that. In the near future, there might have been a “right” way to usher in a Rihanna/Chris Brown collaboration, if they were really so gung-ho about making this happen — maybe a song about trying to forgive someone who hurt you, eh? — but the in-your-face “Birthday Cake” isn’t it. There’s no real reason for either of these remixes to exist except to piss people off. It’s a hastily-made poor choice on everyone’s part. Like most birthday cakes, this one is tacky and tasteless.

Truth be told, I wouldn’t care for “Birthday Cake” no matter who was featured on it. I like it less because it’s Chris Brown. I won’t say I’ve lost respect for Rihanna, because that would imply I had much in the first place. But this feels like a severely dumb move for a woman who’s pretty much at the top of her game, and even in my pop music, I’m not a fan of stupidity.

I can’t promise I’ll stop listening to Rihanna’s music from here on — that’s extreme, and an overreaction. But I will refrain from paying for it. Maybe others will, too. And if that puts even the slight squeeze on her bank account? Well, too bad. She clearly doesn’t want anybody feeling sorry for her anymore.

Thoughts?

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