Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rihanna has made some strange (dumb?) choices

Rihanna is mostly famous for two things, and not necessarily in this order: "Umbrella" and being assaulted by then-boyfriend and fellow pop-star Chris Brown.

So it's a bit baffling to reflect on some of her recent song choices:

* From the first single following her break-up with Brown, "Russian Roulette":
And you can see my heart beating
You can see it through my chest
And I’m terrified but I’m not leaving
Know that I must must pass this test
So just pull the trigger

* From her recent duet with Eminem, "Love the Way You Lie":
Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
But that's alright because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
But that's alright because I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie

At my most optimistic, I could maybe see that the first song is trying to celebrate her survival - she's stronger for having had the relationship. (But it feels more like she's rationalizing what happened, almost trying to excuse his behavior, as if in 'testing' her he was ultimately helping her. I think it's fucked up.)

And the new song? I can't see anything remotely redeemable in it. If I'm trying to be optimistic, the best I can do is suggest that she's a masochist. But there's nothing more here that's even remotely recuperable.

Rihanna, though, disagrees: "He pretty much just broke down the cycle of domestic violence and it's something that people don't have a lot of insight on. [...] The lyrics were so deep, so beautiful and intense. It's something that I understood, something I connected with."

"Broke it down"? If she means that it's a wholly uncritical stream-of-consciousness first-person account of the ways in which misogynists explain and excuse their behavior, then yes, he did a good job of showing just how an abuser can twist things to try and make their behavior sound reasonable. But to call it "deep" and imply that he shows "insight"? No. There's none of that here. I mean, for fuck's sake - the song is about a guy who hits and threatens to murder his girlfriend, a woman who is seemingly okay with it because she "likes the way it hurts". Who "connects" with that?

(The video is even worse because it a) makes the abuse sexy and b) tries even harder to implicate both of them in the violence. "Deep" and "beautiful", indeed.)

2 comments:

Ellstar said...

I thought this was a call and response, Rihanna's lyrics representing the confusion felt after the lies, abuse and manipulation from Eminem's lyrics. He tells her these things about love and passion after hurting her and in the middle of it she stops and thinks "wait, it's ok, right? Because I like it, that must be why I stay?" Which IS a common theme in abusive relationships, take the bad with the good, I must not mind the pain to get the passion.

I've seen lots of coverage of this song/video recently and I was a bit surprised that nobody really represents that take of it, that her lyrics represent the logic twisting that occurs to the psyche of the abused from the abuser.

I don't think the lyrics are beautiful, but Eminem's schtick has always been an unapologetic airing of one's own laundry.

neilshyminsky said...

I think that the "I love the way you lie" disrupts your reading of it, though. That's what makes it sound masochistic - it's not that Rihanna's saying "i guess i like/deserve it, that must be why i stay?", but that she's saying "i know i like it, give me more".

And the perspective is pretty clear, too - it's Eminem's. It's not a call and response, but a call and his imagined/ideal response. Because he *wants* her to like it, and needs to believe that she does. There's no agency for Rihanna in this song, no space for something authentic to emerge - only what Eminem wants to see there.