Private scars made public
Pop singer Rihanna just dropped a new single, “Russian Roulette,” and the track quickly landed in the Billboard Top 40 and iTunes top 10.
The world, it seems, wants to hear her side of the story.
The story, of course, is this: On February 8, Rihanna’s then-boyfriend, singer Chris Brown, was arrested for attacking her so brutally it left horrific bruises and cuts on her face and body. In March, Brown was charged with felony assault and making criminal threats. In June, he reached a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to one felony with an agreement to perform community service and serve five years probation.
In the nearly nine months since the attack, the couple split up, reconciled and finally split again. Along the way, Brown also embarked on the standard media walk of shame, issuing a statement of apology and appearing on Larry King Live.
Rihanna, in contrast, was resolutely silent on the subject.
In the last week, she’s turned up on the cover of Glamour magazine and in a lengthy, sit-down talk with ABC’s Diane Sawyer. In both interviews, the singer finally discussed the attack.
Rihanna’s sudden willingness to talk seems perfectly orchestrated, of course—her new album, Rated R, hits stores November 23.
But the question looms: Should Rihanna talk about the assault as part of a record-promoting tour? Should she talk about it at all?
Yes. And no.
I commend Rihanna, 100 percent, for talking honestly about the attack, the short-lived reconciliation and all the emotional upheaval it caused her. I commend her for speaking out so that other women, particularly teen girls, will learn from her experiences.
Still, I can’t shake the queasy feeling that, in some ways, we’re demanding that she discuss it.
I was once in an abusive relationship, the victim of domestic violence, but I’ve had more than a decade to come to terms with it—privately. I had the luxury of dealing with it on my own terms, on my own timeline.
It wasn’t easy; it’s still difficult for me to talk about. And I know it can’t be easy for Rihanna, which is why it makes it hard to hear her talk so soon about the experience, including the realization that what transpired between her and Brown became fodder for idle, global gossip.
“I felt completely taken advantage of. I felt like people were making it into a fun topic on the Internet, and it’s my life,” she told Glamour.
As I listen to “Russian Roulette,” a grim ballad that stands in stark contrast to the singer’s earlier, fun and sexy ’80s-inspired dance songs, it’s obvious the world has forced her to comment—both in interview and in song.
It’s as though we expect this, that we’d feel robbed without it.
And so she talks.
“You can see it through my chest that I’m terrified,” Rihanna sings in “Russian Roulette.” “But I’m not leaving, I know that I must pass this test. So just pull the trigger.”
The message is clear: Rihanna is tough, the type who picks herself up fast, regardless of who is watching.
Still, at only 21 years of age, she’s still so, so young. It’s unfortunate that Rihanna can’t indulge in time and privacy—at least not if she wants to keep her career on a forward momentum.
There is no shame in being the victim of domestic abuse. What’s a shame is that Rihanna must put her private scars on display.