The Record
12:01 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Rihanna And Chris Brown: The Saga Continues

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 9:49 am

Just about three years after he violently assaulted her, R&B singer Chris Brown is back with pop star Rihanna — musically, at least. On Monday night, each released a new version of a previously released song. Both remixes feature the other party, and both are causing quite the stir.

The speculation built for days. Last week there were rumors Rihanna might release a remix to one of her songs and that Chris Brown would guest on it. Then right on cue, the day of her 24th birthday, Rihanna did it. She tweeted a remix to "Birthday Cake." Featuring a still-on-probation Brown.

But wait — there's more. That same day, Chris Brown tweeted a remix to the lead single from his upcoming album, a track called "Turn Up the Music." And yep, you guessed it. Rihanna sings the hook.

The Internet's jaw dropped.

"Something is not right with them," says Natalie Hopkinson, a contributing editor at The Root. "These are two deeply disturbed individuals that probably need to get off Twitter and spend some time on someone's couch, working it out."

Like many other writers online, Hopkinson wasn't happy with Rihanna and Brown's musical reunion. Headlines called the songs "stomach-turning" and "unbelievable." They critiqued Rihanna's song in particular, for its lyrics that blurred the line between pleasure and pain, and could be interpreted as alluding to Brown's assault of her.

For Hopkinson, it wasn't just the explicit nature of the lyrics, or the message a reconciliation might send about domestic abuse.

"They're normalizing this incredibly abnormal and deviant behavior," she says. "And then on top of that, they're doing it for their own personal gain, their record company's personal gain, the bloggers' personal gain, the clicks, the page views."

But Maura Johnston of the Village Voice says we shouldn't rush to judge the singers. "I always am wary of attributing motives to people in pop," she says. "Especially now when you have ways that you can disseminate a persona that aren't necessarily your persona."

And disseminating personae is something Brown and Rihanna are extremely good at. Both are staples of the blogosphere, and each has millions of Twitter followers, who took to the duo's new music this past Monday with almost universal support.

One of those Twitter followers is Cherice McGlone, a sophomore at Howard University in Washington, D.C. For her, the duets were a sign of something more. "I feel like they've been back together for a while, but they're just now letting the public know. I'm cool with it," McGlone says. "I love black love."

But, she says, the remixes aren't only about love.

"The main goals of the songs were money, publicity. 'Why not draw attention to my song, generate more revenue?' I would do it," she says. "Makes more money, you know? The public is gonna eat that up. Whether good or bad, the public is gonna be talking about it."

Howard sophomore Earl King agreed. "They did it for love, cause they do love each other," he says. "They're gonna make money off it too — good money. And it might cause some backlash, but their fans are gonna support them."

Whether the songs are a wink, a kiss or a money grab, Johnston says she knows one thing is clear: "I don't think either of the songs is good at all."

Not that that will quiet the storm.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two pop stars generated an intense reaction when they collaborated on two new songs. Almost three years after singer Chris Brown was convicted of assaulting his then-girlfriend, singer Rihanna, they're back together - at least, musically. The singers intentionally leaked remixes of two songs; both are Rihanna-Chris Brown duets. NPR's Sam Sanders reports on a collaboration that includes some X-rated lyrics.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: The speculation built for days. Rihanna might release a remix to one of her songs, and feature Chris Brown. On Monday, her 24th birthday, Rihanna did it. She tweeted the remix to a track aptly titled "Birthday Cake." And it featured the man who violently assaulted her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRTHDAY CAKE REMIX")

CHRIS BROWN, RIHANNA: (Singing) And it's not even my birthday, my birthday, my birthday. And he trying to put his name on it. Make out. Girl, I want to (bleep) you right now. Right now. Been a long time, I been missing your body.

SANDERS: That same day, Chris Brown tweeted a remix to the lead single from his upcoming album. And yep, you guessed it - Rihanna was the featured guest on "Turn Up The Music."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN UP THE MUSIC REMIX")

BROWN, RIHANNA: (Singing) Just turn it up. Just turn it up. Just turn it up. Just turn it up. Turn it up. Just turn it up. Just turn it up. I love you baby, yeah...

SANDERS: The jaws of the Internet collectively dropped.

NATALIE HOPKINSON: Something is not right with them. These are two deeply disturbed individuals that probably need to get off Twitter and spend some time on someone's couch, working it out.

SANDERS: Natalie Hopkinson is a contributing editor at The Root.com. Like many other writers online, Hopkinson was repulsed by the musical reunion. Headlines called the songs stomach-turning and unbelievable. They critiqued the Rihanna song in particular, for lyrics that blur the line between pleasure and pain, and seem to almost allude to the assault.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRTHDAY CAKE TWO")

BROWN, RIHANNA: Give it to her in the worst way. Can't wait to blow her candles out. I want that cake, cake, cake, cake, cake... yeah.

SANDERS: For Hopkinson, it wasn't just the explicit nature of the lyrics, or the message the pair's reunion might send about domestic abuse.

HOPKINSON: They're normalizing this incredibly abnormal and deviant behavior. And then on top of that, they're doing it for their own personal gain, their own - the record company's personal gain, the bloggers' personal gain, the clicks, the page views.

SANDERS: But Maura Johnston, of the Village Voice, says wait.

MAURA JOHNSTON: I always am wary of attributing motives to people in pop - especially now, when you have so many ways that you can disseminate a persona that - aren't necessarily your persona.

SANDERS: And disseminating persona is something Brown and Rihanna are very good at. Both are staples of the blogosphere, and each has millions of Twitter followers - who greeted the duo's new music with almost universal support.

One of those Twitter followers was Cherice McGlone, a sophomore at Howard University in Washington, D.C. And for her, the duets were a sign of something more.

CHERICE MCGLONE: I feel like they've been back together for a while. They're just now letting like, the public know.

SANDERS: And you're cool with it?

MCGLONE: I'm cool with it. Like, I love black love.

SANDERS: Yeah, but it wasn't just about love.

MCGLONE: The main goal of both songs - were probably money, publicity. Why not draw attention to my song, generate more revenue? I would do it. Like, make some more money, you know? The public is going to eat that up.

SANDERS: Howard sophomore Earl King, a huge fan, agreed.

HOWARD KING: They're going to make money off it, too - good money. Good money. And it might cause some backlash, but her - their fans are going to support them.

SANDERS: Whether the songs were a wink, a kiss or a money grab, Maura Johnston says she knows one thing about both remixes...

JOHNSTON: I don't think either of the songs is very good at all.

SANDERS: Not that that really matters, at this point.

Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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