Chris Brown, Rihanna collaborations spark controversy

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“YIKES!!!!!!!!!!!!” That’s how Chris Brown, 22, tagged his remix of “Turn Up the Music,” one of two collaborations with ex-girlfriend Rihanna, 24, that the pair intentionally leaked via Twitter on Monday.

The blogosphere has been on fire since late last week when the two dropped cryptic tweets alluding to a duet. After producers of Rihanna’s lusty track “Birthday Cake” tweeted the remix would shock the world, rumors immediately circulated that Rihanna would celebrate her birthday by releasing an extended take of the track featuring Brown’s vocals.

It was an unlikely collaboration to say the least, considering Brown is currently serving five years’ probation for brutally assaulting her three years ago on the eve of the Grammy Awards. But they are back together again, at least on the two songs.


Hip-hop blogger/tastemaker Karen Civil, who unveiled details of the collaboration on her popular, self-titled blog last week, said that given Rihanna’s knack for being provocative, the track shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

“I think that it can only help them both at this time,” Civil said. “We can’t go back and change what’s already been done, or recorded and released in this case. Will it hurt Rihanna’s career? Perhaps, in the aspect of standing up against domestic violence. However a listener or fan cannot dictate someone’s life, and she is entitled to her own decisions.”

The controversial songs, which weren’t officially released by either artist’s label, come on the heels of Brown’s performance and win at the 54th Grammy Awards last week.

He became a trending topic on Twitter that evening, as did the phrase “wife beater.” There was furor that the Recording Academy they invited the singer to perform twice and rewarded him with the trophy for R&B album. His awkward shuffling onstage demonstrated he hadn’t expected the win, and the relative hush of the audience seemed to say, “You should not be here.”

“Chris Brown twice? I don’t get it. He beat on a girl ... Not cool that we act like that didn’t happen,” tweeted country music star Miranda Lambert.

The producers were also criticized for giving the singer two performance slots as the academy struggled with how to pay tribute to pop titan Whitney Houston, who passed away on the eve of the telecast. “Congrats to Chris Brown!,” wrote a reader in response to The Times coverage of his win. “Proving that even if you’re a worthless human being who savagely beats women you can still be granted fame, fortune and professional accolades! Well done sir!”


Recording Academy President Neil Portnow defended the decision of booking Brown, remarking that evaluating artists on their personal lives is a “slippery slope that we wouldn’t want to get into.” “What he did was a personal thing — it had nothing to do with his career,” he said.

Grammy Awards executive producer Ken Ehrlich went on to say, “We’re glad to have him back. I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.”

As the blow back intensifies this week with the release of the singles (Brown can now be heard serenading her with, “Girl, I wanna … you right now, Been a long time I been missin’ your body” on “Birthday Cake”), the big question becomes whether people can forgive Brown if Rihanna has.

If the Grammys were any indication of the general consensus about Brown, the answer is a resounding no. But other artists such as James Brown, Ozzy Osbourne, Creed frontman Scott Stapp and Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee have been arrested on domestic abuse charges and the general public seems to have forgotten or at least forgiven.

So why is there still such a reaction to Chris Brown? What makes him any different from the laundry list of celebs that have rap sheets, yet continue to find success? The performer has remained compliant with the terms of his probation, and pleaded his case on the talk show circuit following his arrest.

But his subsequent missteps — including Twitter rants, a violent meltdown backstage at “Good Morning America” and the leak of a nude photo — certainly didn’t help his case. Plus, his happy-go-lucky demeanor that had served him so well as an R&B/pop heartthrob drew criticism from former fans who felt he wasn’t remorseful enough.


Last weekend Brown tried to convey those very sentiments — why me? — on Twitter. He said he found it “strange how we pick and choose who to hate! Let me ask u this. Our society is full or rappers (which I listen to) who have sold drugs (poisoning)” … “but yet we glorify them and imitate everything they do. Then right before the worlds eyes a man shows how he can make a Big mistake and Learn from it, but still has to deal with day to day hatred.”

Fans of Rihanna expressed disappointment when the pair began to follow each other on Twitter last year, and when she made a request (also last year) to reduce a restraining order against Brown to Level1, meaning the two can have contact, provided Brown doesn’t “harass, annoy or molest” her.

Rihanna defended the decision, telling Rolling Stone: “I just didn’t want to make it more difficult for him professionally. What he did was a personal thing — it had nothing to do with his career. Saying he has to be a hundred feet away from me, he can’t perform at awards shows — that definitely made it difficult for him.”

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. John Sharp, who appears on “Celebrity Rehab,” thinks the two can have a successful reunion. However, because they are in the public eye, they should address why they believe it’s healthy to have contact again. “You have to be very careful. There’s not a lot of good statistics … [The singles and their public communication are] going to draw a lot of attention, but it’s not going to answer a lot of questions,” Sharp said. “In this case, their business has been in the public eye and if they are going to get together for music, or whatever, they have to say something about it to make it clear.”

When Billboard drafted open letters to the singers expressing concern, Rihanna dismissed them both on Twitter when she wrote she was, “Chiefin’ while ppl spend hrs on letters.” She paired the tweet with a “kanyeshrug” and an expletive.

It’s an about-face from when she sat down with Diane Sawyer in 2009 and addressed why she reconciled with Brown briefly after his arrest. “When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part,” said the singer. “I couldn’t be held responsible for telling them ‘Go back.’ Even if Chris never hit me again, who’s to say that their boyfriend won’t?”


Now in “Birthday Cake,” she purrs, “Remember how you did it, if you still wanna kiss it, then come and get it.” On Brown’s track, she sings, “I love you, baby.”

“What’s the fundamental motivation?” Sharp asks of the songs. “Is it designed to be the best musical collaboration, or is it two people who have not made these necessary changes together? We just don’t know. The good news is sometimes when you have a couple that’s in the spotlight like this they can be a little more accountable. Maybe this could work to their advantage. You could hope. It’s dangerous. But accomplishable.”