The Remix Heard Round the World

Rihanna has clearly lost her mind.

That is the only explanation I can come up with for the recent turn of events. Yesterday was Rihanna’s 24th birthday and she first set off a firestorm by receiving and responding to twitter birthday wishes from Chris Brown. Yup – THAT Chris Brown. The one who beat her senseless in an argument in 2009 and seems pretty unrepentant about the whole thing. The one that has demonstrated that his anger issues have not gone away. That exchange in and of itself is problematic. But then it got worse. Later in the day, both Rihanna and Chris Brown released remixes of the other’s song featuring their vocals (Brown’s “Turn Up The Music” and Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake”), which means that they are not only speaking to one another, but they are also working together.

And this is disturbing.

I don’t usually fall into the “famous people are role models” camp. They can be, of course, and many have chosen to do so. But I don’t think just because you can dribble a basketball or sing a song that you are automatically obligated to take on that responsibility. It gets a little murkier if you specifically cater to a younger audience, but ultimately I feel that it is the responsibility of parents and family to be role models for their children and to put the actions of celebrities in perspective. But the message that Rihanna is sending is dangerous. It is dangerous for young girls to think that this sort of behavior is acceptable and can be forgiven. It is dangerous to young boys to think that this behavior will be tolerated or eventually celebrated. And – most importantly – it is a danger to Rihanna.

Because even removing the issue of being a role model, these are the actions of a woman who needs help. She may seem to have it all together and she may seem to be confident, but clearly she isn’t. The fact that she is willing to speak to, let alone collaborate with, someone who assaulted her raises some red flags and points to some real gaps in her support system. Where are her friends and family? Why is no one telling her this is a bad idea? I get that this is “good for business” in some ways – people are talking about her and downloading the music to hear it. So I am not surprised that her agents and other people in the business are remaining silent, or are even encouraging this. But where are the people who know her as Robyn and not just by her stage name? I’ve seen the photos of what she looked like after the assault. How could anyone who loves her not want to step in and tell her that this is not OK? Jay-Z, Rihanna’s mentor, is supposedly “enraged” by this reconciliation. Why aren’t more people?

This is all especially frustrating because there is no reason she should have to interact with Chris Brown ever again. They do not have children together. She is not economically dependent on him with limited options. She does not have the obstacles to overcome like so many women who feel trapped in abusive relationships. She could walk away. She is not responsible for the abuse that she endured. She is responsible for this choice to reunite with him, whether it is professionally or personally (as has been rumored).

The music industry is littered with people who made poor decisions and who are self-destructive. Whitney Houston was just laid to rest Sunday, a victim of her own addiction. Amy Winehouse deprived us of many more years of her amazing talent. Rihanna shares a birthday with Kurt Cobain, another troubled soul that left us much too soon. Rihanna’s situation is different, but still self-destructive. Hopefully this will not have a similarly sad ending.

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