Angel Cake writes a letter to his Barbadian sweetheart.
Oh dear. Rihanna. Rihanna. My sin, my soul. Superstar and Instagram deity, you are ubiquitous and seminal and altogether accidental. Rihanna! Light of my life, fire of my loins; or at least until recently.
We always knew Anne Hathaway would sooner or later walk out on Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. We always knew Britney would sooner or later leave K-Fed. So I guess I always knew, that one day I’d leave you behind too. Although my iTunes library would be skeletal without you, it’s time to share my grievances and congratulations with the culture that surrounds you. It’s been mottling and purpling like algae in my subconscious the whole time I was thrusting about to Te Amo in suburban nightclubs.
It was only in 2007 that I gave you the attention you deserved. I was fifteen turning sixteen, and your drawl of Umbrella-ella-ey-ey peppered the height of my adolescent overspill. I came out. I finished school. I lost my virginity and got drunk in car parks. And you were everywhere – your inimitable refrains of songs like Disturbia and Shut Up and Drive pulsing through shopping malls and fast food outlets, both of which I frequented with shocking regularity. You seemed brave, outlandish, powerful: everything I wanted to be back in the days when I thought a departing first love was the height of misery.
But I didn’t like your boyfriend that much despite spending a fair portion of 2008 listening to No Air on repeat, miming all his verses while I tidied my bedroom. I might as well have been advocating Heidi Montag as a great role model or E! News as the pinnacle of celebrity journalism.
Around the same time Chris Brown assaulted you an ex-boyfriend cornered me in a nightclub and punched me in the face. I was eighteen and furious with the whole world. I remember falling to the floor and running out the building, down one of neon-lit tunneled hallways you get in small town nightclubs. He chased after me shouting and swearing and just as I began to cry he kicked me to the ground again.
So in November 2009 when Rated R was released, I fell in love with you all over again. It felt like I understood the biting anger that swung through songs like Russian Roulette and Fire Bomb. I spent that winter in my Dad’s city in the west country, booming Cold Case Love out into the cold air as I got ready for work. You were singing about things that most pop stars didn’t sing about and I liked that.
I made my way to university and you followed me there too. Only Girl In The World came out as I poured the first of many drinks in a south London hall of residence. You were running the world and I was feeling more alive (not to mention drunk) than I’d ever felt before. We were both acting pretty decadently. I drank two-bottles-for-a-fiver white wine and gorged on frozen potato products. I had a dalliance with Class Cs and Bs and you sold out ten nights at the O2 Arena. Out of the two of us I guess you won in the success stakes but I’d never felt so successful in my life.
For once I wasn’t worried about being gay and I wasn’t worried about my ex-boyfriend. Even my hair started looking good. A clichéd morality rose within me like a buoy: I wouldn’t settle for anything less than feeling like the only girl in the world regardless of how much chains and whips excited me. And you were an indelible icon, posturing your way into the history books.
What happened? Chris Brown resurged circa Talk That Talk and I started to lose faith. It felt bad enough that he’d featured on a song (Next To You) with teen heartthrob and “Christian role model” Justin Bieber. Way to sanitize domestic violence and redistribute it to a young audience, right? But Rihanna, on top of that you’ve gotta date him again? Jeez, Rihanna.
I read a lot of comment on the whole Rihanna-and-Breezy-reunite saga on Jezebel and the Guardian and the Mail Online and reconfigured my opinion on it about a hundred times. But it began to feel as if having any liberal queer feminist opinion on it was by default an affront to you as a person. Any discussion on what you should or shouldn’t say or do felt at best unhelpful and at worst reactionary.
The trouble is we’re all aficionados of yours now. If millions of people feel invested in you as a character, performer and spokesperson, it’s hard not to respond to your personal decisions like unwanted surrogate family members. Blame the internet and the paparazzi for that.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that everybody should shut the hell up and let you get on with your life already. Because regardless of whether I personally feel that your artistic collaborations with Chris Brown are essentially collusions with male violence, you’ve got the right to do whatever you want. Regardless of whether I personally feel your cryptic tweets and Instagram posts are transmitting an ugly and dangerous message to your young fans, keep doing whatever you want to do. Regardless of whether if I were you I’d find stuff like this simply harrowing, it is – as you say on your track with Chris Brown – Nobody’s Business.
And regardless of whether I find it kind of totally abhorrent that so many people around you and above you are making money out of your choice to sell music that features Chris Brown, feel free to do whatever you want for whoever you want however you want.
I guess it just seems strange to me, Rihanna, that we live in a society that’s happier to admonish women for gaining weight than penalise a violent and abusive man. Chris Brown had to sit on the naughty step for a year or so but nowadays you’d think the whole media’s forgotten everything that happened.
Sex sells and violence sells more. Domestic violence and its aftermath isn’t a desirable or glamorous lifestyle, despite the way everyone seems intent on depicting it as so. This isn’t your problem and I get it – you don’t want to be cast as a role model. But who does want to be cast as a role model besides those naive, cheerful kids at school who thought the NUS was the height of activism?
You are totally amazing. You may be bad but you’re perfectly good at it. As a survivor of domestic violence you clearly deserve autonomy over your body, your choices and your actions. So I guess we should all shut up about you and Chris Brown. C’est la Vie. It’s your prerogative, RiRi.
Let me know if you can slide me any free tickets to your next tour.
Love and respect,