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What’s going on with Rihanna and Chris Brown?

In 2009 hip-hop artist Chris Brown pled guilty to felony charges of assault against his then-girlfriend Rihanna (Robyn Fenty).  The police report revealed shockingly brutal details of the attack (read here for more information).

Three years later, following a court-imposed restraining order and five years of supervised probation, Brown and Fenty are publically reconciling, as evidenced by two collaborative remixes from the prominent artists released on Monday night.

“Birthday Cake,” a track from Rihanna’s most recent release, Talk that Talk, features a decidedly vulgar verse from Brown on the new remix.  The song certainly wasn’t PG to begin with, and the addition of “Girl I wanna f*ck you right now/Been a long time, I been missin’ your body,” doesn’t seem to be breaking new ground in the lyrics department.  Producers of the track Da Internz and The-Dream had suggested to MTV news sources earlier this month that the collaboration on the new release would be controversial, amid rumors that the couple would be getting back together.

Rihanna returns the favor on Brown’s recent single “Turn Up The Music,” a remix of which was also released last night.  Nothing special before Ri Ri added a little something, this track is a pretty generic, however catchy, club song.  Perhaps the most notable aspect of Rihanna’s contribution is the somewhat random “I love you, baby” proclamation towards the end of the song.

While reps for Chris Brown deny that the couple has reunited romantically, several tweets have confirmed publically that they are on good terms.  Brown wished Rihanna a happy birthday via Twitter on Monday and later both artists promoted each other’s new remixes.  They were both featured performers at the 54th Grammy Awards just last week.

The media response has been overwhelming, and it is difficult to ignore the implications of Rihanna’s public acknowledgement of a man who abused her.  Regardless of whether they are back together, the mutual collaboration and social media communication between Brown and Fenty is enough to stir up controversy.

The media frenzy has been wholly critical, but a few fans on Twitter have praised the recent releases and congratulated Rihanna for “living for herself and not her fans” and putting her music first.

Country singer Miranda Lambert has staged a public critique of Chris Brown, holding up a sign telling the hip-hop star to “take notes” before she performed a song about domestic violence.  Brown responded via Twitter, “Using my name to get publicity? I love it! Perform your heart out!”  Billboard.com released an open letter to both Rihanna and Chris Brown criticizing their collaboration.  Jason Lipshutz of Billboard said, “Young girls look up to people like you to guide them through circumstances too complex for them to tackle on their own, and by granting Chris Brown an iota of tolerance, you implicitly encourage others to consider doing the same… It’s a burden that is not fair to you, or anyone in pop culture, but it’s one you have to accept.”

Rihanna’s role in the media as a public figure gives her a certain degree of social responsibility.  The decision to collaborate with Chris Brown after the assault charge is a bold one, implying that Rihanna has found it acceptable to extend a nod of forgiveness to Brown, at least in some sense.  While she is not the only person struggling with domestic abuse, her actions are public, and are not sending the message that Rihanna has a zero tolerance policy towards violence, a social responsibility she has taken on whether she likes it or not.

To refer back to the music, which is what their stardom is originally supposed to be about, the remixes are not noteworthy enough to warrant a ‘get out of jail free card’ for the warped message they send about domestic violence.  While these are just lyrics, they are downright unacceptable in their implication that the couple has maintained a sexual relationship and still love each other (see “Girl I wanna f*ck you right now” and “I love you, baby”).  Brown’s career, though apparently on the mend, was “badly bruised” by the 2009 incident, to put it lightly.  It’s certainly not far fetched, given the nature of the lyrics, to speculate that Rihanna and Chris Brown have managed to cook up a media frenzy and further their own careers with just a few tweets and a tasteless mutual collaboration.

While there are some fans that feel Chris Brown’s sexually explicit rant on Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake” is representative of them putting their differences aside to create great music, it is clear given the overall media response that the music industry would be just fine if Rihanna and Chris Brown never publically acknowledged each other at all.  Since their interaction has much more serious implications concerning the public perception of domestic violence, this looks like two big steps back for Rihanna’s career and females in the media spotlight in general.

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