Music

In Defense of Hoping Chris Brown and Rihanna Don't Work Out, Again

The recent news of the reconciliation between pop stars Chris Brown and Rihanna highlights how upsetting it is that no lessons were learned from that fateful night in 2009.

Doesn't it seem like just yesterday that Chris Brown was smoothly singing the following innocent refrain from his second single off his debut record?

"Yo, I don't know your name but excuse me miss

I saw you from across the room

And I got to admit that you got my attention

You're making me want to say yo

I know you're trying to leave but excuse me miss

I saved the last dance for you

How I love to keep you here with me."

But that wasn't just yesterday -- that was 2005. And that refrain wasn't nearly as innocent as it seemed. We've since seen how brutal Brown's wrath can be when confronted with his own anger. And the silk that once painted his crooning is almost entirely moot -- he's all about vocal attitude, now. And the things that made him a fringe contender to be a generation's Michael Jackson (yes, those conversations did exist at one point) now seem long dead -- it's impossible to be labeled the King of Pop if you destroy a Good Morning America dressing room on a whim because of your dissatisfaction with the questions lobbed your way.

My, how things have changed.

The daily soap opera that has become The Saga of Rihanna and Chris Brown is one of the most disturbing tales in popular culture. For those who may be unaware of the story, let's run through a brief recap: In February of 2009, Brown beat up his then-girlfriend Rihanna right around the time the Grammy Awards were to be handed out. Photos of the "Umbrella" singer's face released after Brown was arrested zoomed past the world of Startling and wound up residing at a city named Disturbing. He was rightfully labeled a woman-beater and a hot head, and if anyone around him had any brains, they would have told him to go away for a lot longer than he did before taking his shot at a comeback. (See also the Flashpoints essay, "Body Image".)

Naturally, the two stars called it quits on their romantic involvement with each other at the time, and Brown released Graffiti later that year to little acclaim. Rihanna found other boys to which she was romantically linked. Brown floated along, devolving into this monster of a person who somehow ended up wearing his unspeakable faults as a badge of honor, and -- maybe even more amazingly -- became lauded for what some argue is his "realness". There was the Good Morning America spat and a bar fight with the rapper/singer Drake that is still being written about as we speak. Other flare-ups happened, too, but it became increasingly easier to ignore the tabloid fodder that constantly surrounded Brown's public perception if only for how annoying he became. 

But then something odd happened: Brown's fan base became angry at the backlash. And like some disgustingly unhealthy partnership, the artist and his admirers became increasingly confrontational in their defense of not only the artist's musical output, but also the man himself. Before anyone could yell the words "Run it!" the world was divided into two people: Those who adored Brown and enabled him to act like a child in public, and those who despised Brown and took every opportunity to insult and discount him as both an artist and a person. 

The saga took yet another turn in recent weeks as Brown has been rumored to be dating Rihanna again. One of the more celebrated comedic Twitter personalities, Jenny Johnson, reacted to the news by murdering him with 140 characters in tiny spurts. Brown saw the tweet and reacted exactly the way you would think he would react, "Take them teeth out when u sucking my d--- HOE." and "I should fart while ur giving me top," among other very vulgar and very nasty witticisms. Consequently, not only is he the subject of ridicule and criticism, but Rihanna is also feeling the brunt of the legions of people who consider her either idiotic or irresponsible for agreeing to even be seen with him in public again.

Here's the thing: There's a difference between being forgiving and being weak, and there's a difference between being committed and being spiteful. Both of these differences are at the forefront of why it seems so troubling to see what is going on in the lives of both Brown and Rihanna, and both of these differences illustrate precisely how wrong-minded our celebrities can be, and how ignorant our popular culture die-hards can appear.

We'll start with the former. There's nothing wrong with letting forgiveness into your heart, of course. Without the ability to move forward, our lives would be one gigantic collection of misery that would forever be impossible to change. Accepting apologies and allowing love back in to a place that was once occupied by so many horrible feelings is essential to our existence as a species. But that's not news to anybody.

What makes this particular case unique, however, is the amount of relevance and influence that surrounds the two main characters at hand. While it may be safe to presume that Rihanna's argument against her detractors in this instance would be heavy on the absolution component to the narrative, in doing so, she is refusing to take into account a much-needed amount of perspective that is essential when considering the issues this situation confronts. Rihanna's reaction to the Johnson/Brown Twitter spat was a tweet of her own last week, mocking the comedian for calling out her boo, saying “How does one find the time? We gotta do better than this!!" Alas, her piss-poor, childishly defiant response to those who question her recent personal decisions only paints her as an enabler to Brown's detriments and not the victim she very clearly was. 

One of the hardest things to reconcile in this kind of scenario is the difference between the amount of advocative responsibility that the sufferer wants to take on, and the amount of advocative responsibility that on-lookers believe the sufferer should take on. That difference is stark and deep. While we may believe Rihanna should stand up and use her celebrity status to raise awareness of domestic abuse, she might not feel it's her duty. The consequence of such a push-and-pull between popular thinking and a stubborn personality is hostility. 

And that's where Rihanna's misstep truly lies. 

It's one thing to paint a picture of redemption and true love. It's another to paint something smothered in contempt for your detractors. In a way, everybody loses. Those who suffered through similar episodes may convince themselves that behavior akin to Brown's is acceptable, while other, younger people may view such treatment as normal or just another indicator of so-called true or honest love. Rihanna's tweets of Brown laying shirtless on a bed don't emphasize anything remotely close to a healthy relationship. Rather, all they do is serve as self-fulfilling moments aimed at proving to the world (and more importantly, herself) that she doesn't care about what people think of her personal choices. It goes far beyond the nose, face and spite adage. 

But what about Brown? If Rihanna is the woman empowering the monster, essentially suggesting that his temper-tantrums and despicable actions are acceptable ways for a 20-something pop star to act, then what lesson could Brown possibly learn? 

The answer, of course, is none. What seems to be missing from all these public displays of affection and leaked tales of getaway nights out togetehr is the look beyond whatever kind of fun these two love birds want to have on a Friday night in Munich. There will be very serious ramifications for these two individuals as people, moving forward, regardless of if they end up getting married some day or a sex tape leaks by next Wednesday. What happens when that urge to reunite for a quick 48 hours of pretty people fun is forced to expand into something more serious, or something more conventional? His problems are still going to be there, and it remains unclear if she understands exactly how much blame she might be carrying if another story about his reckless behavior appears due to her desire to keep him around. 

Blame is actually a fairly tricky thing when examining this saga, and the affects it has had on television sets and tweeters alike. Gawker's Cord Jefferson wrote an excellent piece on the latest chapter in Brown's ever-troubling tale last week aimed at the element of race and its impact on the perception of the R&B singer.

"If, after beating Rihanna, Brown had accepted the court's punishment and behaved like a decent and kind human being in future public appearances, chances are people would be more inclined to forgive him his crimes," Jefferson wrote. "Bill Murray, for example, has been charged with hitting his now ex-wife, Jennifer, in the face and telling her she was 'lucky he didn't kill her.' But people don't constantly link Murray with those violent allegations because Murray doesn't constantly behave violently. Brown, on the other hand, goes into chair-throwing whirlwinds at a moment's notice, tears apart nightclubs during stupid fistfights, and behaves like a racist goon to have fun. And then, when anyone dares criticize him, Brown doesn't engage with those critiques and learn from them; he lashes out and calls his critics 'haters,' as if anyone who disagrees with him is just jealous.

"Where racism (and classism) does seem to creep into the equation, however, is in how Jenny Johnson and others apparently can't get enough of condescending to Brown and his fans," Jefferson continued. "Consider the way that Johnson points and laughs at Team Breezy's slang, or how she believes calling Brown a 'worthless piece of shit' is a high-minded 'difference of opinion,' while Team Breezy's insults are the crude work of idiots and losers. Then there's the tweet in which Johnson, after sending Brown into a rage, begs of him to 'get some help. Seriously,' as if calling an obviously troubled and violent man a 'worthless piece of shit' was just her way of trying to compel him to get the in-depth and intense professional therapy he so obviously needs...

Reporting on Chris Brown's brutality tour as if he's the totem for all domestic abusers is hard not to do when, for a variety of reasons, Chris Brown is almost certainly the most famous domestic abuser of all time. It is not insidious or racist to acknowledge his crimes, nor is it racist to talk about Brown's abuses more often than we talk about those of less famous white men accused of the same thing. But looking at the relish with which some people seem to hurl abuse at Brown, or at his fans' lack of educations and use of street slang, it's hard not to see at least some prejudice there. There are a lot of people in this world who deserve to be called dumb assholes; why does everyone get such a kick out of doing it to Brown?" ("Hating Chris Brown Isn’t Racist Until You Make It Racist", by Cord Jefferson, Gawker, 26 November 2012)

The answer to that question is simple: The real response his actions have solicited are always truly sitting behind a thick veil of supposed comedy or supposed morality. Everyone knows that there could be dire consequences from the awful actions he so clearly hasn't yet considered seriously, though everyone also knows that it is almost impossible to rationally confront such an irrational man. The subsequent approach is then mired by unfunny attempts at humor or preposterous stances that are so extreme, Brown becomes the very martyr figure in which his fans believe so passionately. 

But what has increasingly become lost in all the hateful speech and over-the-top proclamations is the following simple truth: The relationship between Brown and Rihanna is toxic. It's wrong. It's disturbing. It's juvenile. It's scary. It's irresponsible. And most of all, it's sad. 

It's sad that there seems to be no end to it. And it's sad that yesterday now seems so damn far from the innocence and promise of where two pop-stars-in-the-making once came.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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