Daily Organ: Rihanna, Chris Brown and Pop’s New Feminism

Posted on March 8, 2012

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What does Rihanna’s new partnership with Chris Brown say about the music industry and its acceptance of violence against women?

Photo credit: Flair Candy

The Rihanna-Brown saga has come to an end, in a way. What started with a shocking case of domestic abuse in a roadside Lambourgini in 2009, turned into a restraining order (later lifted), a happy birthday on Twitter, and now a new song, ‘Birthday Cake.’

But this is no cause for celebration. Chris Brown’s opening line hardly hints at all that water under the bridge:

Girl I wanna fuck you right now/ Been a long time, I been missing your body.

His later sexual prowl (“I wanna give it to her in the worst way”) comes off even worse than I think it’s intended.

The growing relationship between Rihanna and Chris Brown has sent out the worst message to their fans – largely young girls and women – just one week after the Grammys gave Brown the glossy sheen of industry legitimacy his career was deservedly missing. The message? That domestic abuse is forgivable, part of a desirable, aspirational relationship and at its worst, sexy.

After the original incident, on the night of the 2009 Grammys, a social media list made up of girls defending Brown appeared online. “Everyone shut up about Chris Brown being a woman beater,” one said. “Shiiiittt he can beat me up all night if he wants.” Another: “I don’t know why Rihanna complained. Chris Brown could beat me anytime he wanted to.” One girl simply said: “I’d let chris brown punch me in the face.”

This was in 2009. Rihanna has now legitimised the entire affair by welcoming Brown back into the studio.

In many ways this is the worst culmination of the new breed of pop diva who adopts the language of feminism, while selling sex like never before. Beyonce is the ultimate New Feminist diva in the charts, her mantra: “Who run the world? Girls! Who run this motha? Girls! Who run the world? Girls!” ‘Run The World (Girls)’ sounds like Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’ with a club sensibility. But with lyrics that dominate and then coo: “Come here baby, hope you still like me,” the feminist message is hardly clear. The fact is being anti-establishment (dictatorship, men, the high street) is a good dollar at the moment.

And Rihanna is far behind. Last year her ‘Man Down’ video saw the singer being raped, before taking vengeance on the man responsible. After the video’s release, Rihanna tweeted:

Young girls/women all over the world…we are a lot of things! We’re strong innocent fun flirtatious vulnerable, and sometimes our innocence can cause us to be naïve! We always think it could NEVER be us, but in reality, it can happen to ANY of us!

For those who don’t believe pop singers should be role models (which includes me most of the time, having grown up listening to some of the most drug-addled, arrogant human beings on the planet), Rihanna is setting the agenda: presenting abuse of women in a pop video.

By stepping in on the issue, Rihanna had a responsibility to deliver to her fans, to present an example and help end Brown’s career where the record companies, collaborators and Grammys failed us.

Revoking Brown’s restraining order might have been done out of consideration, love perhaps, but laying down a track like ‘Birthday Cake’ with the man who punched her in the face, bit off part of her ear and left her by the road leaves big questions marks over how female role models represent women worldwide, and how we forgive our popstars.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Organ.

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