“I used to worry about it a lot. Then I realized the message I really want to send is not perfection – it’s individuality,” you said in the November 2011 sit-down. “Being who you really are, knowing who you really are and being just that. There’s only one of you, so just be that.” Over the past few weeks, as new murmurs linking you and Chris Brown became shouts, I kept thinking about your words, kept rolling them around in my mind and trying to make sense of the key word in your declaration, “individuality.”
No matter how many parents you tell to avoid taking their kids to your hyper-sexualized concerts, or how many times you command us to “Suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion” on your albums, you are a role model, Rihanna. Mostly because you’re cool! You’re effortlessly cool. You are Eddie Winslow, and the rest of us are Steve Urkels. When you’re shocking, it’s not off-putting. When you’re crass, it feels fresh. You’re the cool kid in school, and could top the Hot 100 by singing the phone book. And this whole Chris Brown thing could define your career, in the best and worst way possible.
I don’t care about the status of your current relationship with Breezy, or the reports about his attendance at your birthday party (happy 24th, by the way!), or how many seconds his voice will appear on the “Birthday Cake” remix. Those could be facts, or fabrications. What I do know, however, is that, in the three years and nine days since that infamous, brutal, incredibly disturbing Grammy night attack in 2009, there has never been a point where you’ve publicly proclaimed, “Go f*** yourself, Chris Brown; you will never speak to me again.” Not in the months after the attack occurred, when everything felt raw to everyone. Not when your fans freaked out when you two following each other on Twitter again last year. And not when Us Weekly ran a report that you were still harboring a romantic relationship with him – Brown’s camp denied the report, but you and your camp did not. Because that “f*** yourself” moment has never occurred, we can only deduce that, whether or not your current relationship with Brown is even slightly romantic, there is something holding you back from cursing this dude out of your life forever.
But, in all honesty… you can’t do you, Rihanna. Not here. Not with Chris Brown. Because like it or not, millions of people are paying attention to you, trying to be as cool as you, attempting to find love in a hopeless place and wondering if it’s okay to walk down the same dark alleyway twice. Young girls look up to people like you to guide them through circumstances too complex for them to tackle on their own, and by granting Chris Brown an iota of tolerance, you implicitly encourage others to consider doing the same. “With great power comes great responsibility” is a schmaltzy sentiment, but it’s fitting here — like it or not, you have a different level of power than most of us schmoes because of your pop superstardom, and a different level of responsibility in your personal life than in your music because of the tabloid-infected culture we live in. It’s a burden that is not fair to you, or anyone in pop culture, but it’s one you have to accept.
Hit the flip to read excerpts from the letter written to Chris Brown