Why Would Rihanna Do a Song With Chris Brown?

Yesterday, Rihanna and Chris Brown released two new collaborations: the remix to her song “Birthday Cake” and the remix to his song “Turn Up the Music.” Brown had previously appeared on her song “Bad Girl” and also has a songwriting credit on “Disturbia.” But this is, of course, the first time the two have collaborated since he assaulted her.

On the already raunchy “Birthday Cake,” Brown jumps right into the deep end: “Girl I wanna fuck you right now,” he lets us know, because it’s “been a long time” and he’s “been missing your body.” He then goes on for a little while, describing sex via cake-accoutrement-based metaphor.

Rihanna’s guest appearance on “Turn Up the Music” isn’t nearly as scandalous: She mostly repeats the song’s title, and thereby comes off somewhat like a young Fisticuffs. She does, however, at one point, croon the words “I love you, baby.”

So, seriously: Why? The blunt answer is that Rihanna knew doing so would lead to a publicity shitstorm, and would therefore lead her to make loads more money. And while it’s not like she’s necessarily rich enough where you can completely disavow this interpretation — as Nicolas Cage will readily tell you, there are always more dinosaur skulls to buy — it’s hard to believe this was the only, or even the primary, motivation. Not to COMPLETELY SPECULATE BASED ON NO PARTICULAR INFORMATION or anything, but you could imagine a scenario in which Chris Brown and/or his handlers have been pressing Rihanna for a while now to make this happen, to implicitly and very publicly forgive him, and that she finally relented.

Now: Did she forgive him because she wanted to forgive him, or because she’s sick and tired of talking about it? Hey, here comes more baseless speculation! Rihanna has been cooling her criticisms of Brown for a while now; in October she told Esquire that she was a fan of his music, and that she was rooting for him to succeed. So in the least cynical interpretation, Rihanna has legitimately and completely forgiven her ex-boyfriend for beating her, and now wants to help mend his reputation in the most dramatic way possible. Whatever has been going on behind the scenes with these two, this optimistic interpretation posits, it’s been enough to make Rihanna believe that Brown has truly changed and has fully repented, even as he continues to seem like a huge asshole to everyone else.

In the most cynical interpretation, Chris Brown is and always will be evil, but the ugly truths of the way some abused women respond to their abusers has brought us these unsettling remixes.

Don’t rush to judgment or anything, of course. We’re probably all going to be talking these out for a while.

Filed Under: Chris Brown, Music, Rihanna

Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

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