Sunday, February 22, 2009

Life Imitating Art

I'm breaking dishes up in here
All night (Uh-huh)
I ain't gon’ stop until I see police lights (Uh-huh)
I'm a fight a man
I'm a fight a man
I'm a fight a man
A man, a man, a ma-a-a-an
A man, a man, a ma-a-a-an
Ohhhhh

Those lyrics richoched through my head upon first hearing about Chris Brown and Rihanna.

I spent many, many, many hours listening to Good Girl Gone Bad in 2007 and 2008, and I estimated that I averaged one Rihanna song a day last year, not accounting for every time I personally played a track from the CD or on iTunes. So of course it was only natural, after gasping at the horrifying story, that my mind immediately shifted toward her music, and to one of my favorites on (the original release of) Good Girl Gone Bad, "Breaking Dishes".

Once I played the track, I was shocked at how ironic that passage was.

She’s going to fight a man until the police arrives.

Oh God.

If I was her, I'd be both laughing and crying.

Of course, the more I thought about her music, the more I realized that it works in juxtaposition with the entire incident:

Hate That I Love You”? Yeah, except it doesn’t end happily.

Take a Bow”:

Grab your clothes and get gone (get gone)
You better hurry up before the sprinklers come on
Talking' about, girl, I love you, you're the one
This just looks like a re-run
Please, what else is on (oh)

And don't tell me you're sorry 'cause you're not
Baby when I know you're only sorry you got caught

But you put on quite a show
Really had me going
But now it's time to go
Curtain's finally closing
That was quite a show
Very entertaining'
But it's over now (but it's over now)
Go on and take a bow

"Disturbia", cowritten by Brown, also could be describing a state that Rihanna is now in:

Faded pictures on the wall
It's like they talkin' to me
Disconnectin' your call
Your phone don't even ring
I gotta get out
Or figure this shit out
It's too close for comfort

[...]

Release me from this curse I'm in
Trying to maintain, but I'm struggling
You can't go, go, go
I think I'm going to oh, oh, oh

Someone somewhere must’ve made a joke in regard to "Rehab"…

Even "Live Your Life", her duet with TI, can be used in her story.

The only thing that would have made her music stand out more if she was cheated on--but that, horribly enough, is too pedestrian. Everyone sings about being cheated on.

As for Chris Brown, I didn’t bother to go through his catalog. I just hear “But they keep coming from wall-to-wall”, but instead of girls wanting to be with him, they want to tear him to shreds.

***Of course, I realize that pretty anyone can make a case, in retrospect, for music to fit a certain scene, and a song like “Hate That I Love You” is pretty generic and describes emotions that everyone experiences at some point—that’s the point, after all. Nor am I definitively making any statements about Rihanna's feelings regarding Brown or the incident. I just find stuff like this--especially any type of irony--amusing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On Rihanna and Chris Brown

I’ve been following the Chris Brown-Rihanna story, reading every MTV news article, and every “new” story that hits Google News, even though most of the information rarely changed. I always figured a photo would leak out; it’s inevitable in this day and age.

I’ve thought about reposting the image, but decided against it. It’s too harsh, and there are plenty of other sources that show it. People have said that the image will win her sympathy points (there is always a cynicism factor to any story), which seems like an obvious duh. Very rarely, if ever, images of beaten women inspire glee.

Are Rihanna’s eyes closed because she is in pain (they were “punched” close), or is she closing them out of sadness, pain, and sensitivity?

I admit to my own voyeurism in regard to this story. I would like details, a reconstruction of the fight, of their relationship troubles. Completely none of my business, and I respect Rihanna’s decision to keep as quite and private as she needs to. I cannot fathom everything she’s going through, knowing that despite just dealing with her complex feelings for Brown, the physical and emotional hardship of what just happened on the eve of what would have been a momentous night, and a police investigation and possible case, she has to think about her career, her image, and how she can react publicly. The pressure! When to speak out, what to say. Does she address it in her music? Does she become the face of domestic violence?

There are a lot of people out there who do want her to take a hard stand, to go out there and speak against domestic violence. And I applaud her and encourage her to do so—when and if she feels she can tackle it. She shouldn’t be forced to do anything; if she wants to speak out, it should be on her terms.

I have read rumors that if she goes back to Chris Brown, then people will lose respect for her. I understand this reaction, and I think that disappointment will follow as well. She’ll be under so much pressure to completely cut him out of her life—not only from anyone who didn’t like the two of them together, but for all the people who worry about her image and the effect this will have on her career. It’s awful to think so strategically about personal decisions, isn’t it? To worry about how every little thing you do will look to others, how it will be interpreted, if you’re sending an appropriate message, or if you’re cutting off your foot?

Alas, that’s how Brown’s career has been seen the past two weeks. Golden R&B star is no more. I’ve read accounts that say he’s career is forever down the toilet—eh, the right combination of circumstances can turn it around. Might not happen, might not happen for a long time, but it’s possible.

It was heartening to see both Kanye West and Jay-Z—two major hip-hop figures—speak out in horror regarding the incident and their love for Rihanna. Jay-Z was a mentor to Rihanna, and opened up “Umbrella”, her 2007 smash that kick-started Good Girl Gone Bad’s hold on America, as well as a target of nasty rumors involving the two of them.

I support whatever Rihanna decides to do. I hope that she doesn’t end her career over this, not that I believe that will happen. I’d like to see this whole crisis addressed somewhat on her next album, even if it doesn’t arrive for a few years.

Although Rihanna’s star was very, very high, she was heading for a vacation. Called the “queen of the summer”, Rihanna has become of the biggest stars of this decade by consistently releasing hits, summer after summer. The last four summers—yes, the last four—were dominated by, respectively, “Pon de Replay”, a cheesy dancehall song that virtually everyone, including myself, dismissed; “SOS”, the new “Crazy in Love” that borrowed “Tainted Love”’s famous hook; “Umbrella”, which took her to new heights; and “Disturbia”, the going-crazy song that was unfortunately penned by Chris Brown. Good Girl Gone Bad was rereleased last year with additional songs, including “Disturbia”, yielding eight singles, a massive number for any artist; the album is done. She would have laid low anyway, relaxing or working on her next album.

That next album, rumored to be released sometime in late 2009, was supposed to follow in the steps of “Disturbia” and her harder, edgier, kicking-ass-and-going-slightly-crazy songs, a move I am totally for and one that fits well with her and even what she is experiencing now.

But that is the subject of another post.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Rihanna

Dear Rihanna,

Happy 21st Birthday. I hope you made the best out of it that you could--surrounded by friends and family and good music and good food.

I hope when I next see you in public, and whenever you start to work on your next album, you kick ass and take some names.

No one will blame you if you sue TMZ for releasing that photo...though I feel that something was bound to leak anyway. It will probably only work in your favor.

Whenever you decide to face the public, however long that will be, just remember that many of your fans have your back, and so much of the industry is with you.

Happy birthday, Rihanna.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I Was Wrong (Thank God)

We are all programmed to believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk that means he likes you.

That’s the premise behind “He’s Just Not That Into You”, that women are conditioned to like jerks. “Come on, you like the drama,” explains Justin Long’s Alex to Ginnifer Goodwin’s Gigi, as she patters on again, wondering why a particular guy doesn’t call her back. Alex, a bar manager, knows all about relationships, you see, and schools her in the ways of human behavior.

Gigi is as insane and silly as the reviews suggest, but Goodwin is bright and perky, which balances out the craziness. Cringing at her is unavoidable, as she is such a stereotype; it’s girls like her that give the rest of us a bad name. She has the largest role in the film, and luckily is an actress that always manages to wring out sympathy for unlikeable characters, as her idiocy could overwhelm the film.

The ensemble works really well; no character is really tackily placed, although by the end of the film you realize that you didn’t see Jennifer Aniston and especially Ben Affleck as much as expected. Scarlett Johannson is quite the vixen, as she normally is (“might as well play it while you can”, said a friend), and as such, this isn’t the movie to see if you’re engaged, as it will probably upset you. Like Rachel Bilson in The Last Kiss, she is designed to be every girl’s worst nightmare.

Marriage is indeed one of the main themes, but the urgency is lost on me. Jennifer Aniston’s Beth has been with Ben Affleck’s Neil for seven years, and even though he is by all accounts the perfect boyfriend, his own flaw—that he just doesn’t care about marriage—becomes all consuming. The pressure she exerts on him!

It was the expectations of marriage that intrigued me. Bradley Cooper’s Ben says that he married Janine (Jennifer Connelly) because they had been dating since college and that he essentially felt he had to, because it looks weird if you don’t after a certain period of time. Beth practically used that same argument. But why does this hold such sway? It is that a relationship starts to smell if it hasn’t been tied up properly?

I’ve always had trouble understanding this. In the “Just Say Yes” episode of Sex and the City, Carrie turns down Aiden’s proposal, and the relationship was over. At the time, I was completely floored. Why did it have to end? I guess I interpreted that even if now wasn’t a good time, who’s to say later on it wouldn’t be?

My father, seeing my confusion, sat me down and gave me a lecture (I had watched the episode with him). “There comes a time in a person’s life,” he said, “when you want to settle down and get married. And she wasn’t ready for that.” He continued on, and I kinda got it, but kinda didn’t. It seems to me, that marriage—and the expectation of marriage—ruins a perfectly good relationship.

Of course, I say this as a person who’s as far away from marriage as one can possibly be, and I am nowhere near looking for something like that. Even as this movie tries to shatter some assumptions—starting with the opening line—it still falls into very conventional storytelling. Despite its predictable rhythms, especially at the end, I was surprised to find that I genuinely enjoyed the movie. I wasn’t angry, upset, depressed, or disappointed. Unlike so many other movies that make me rail against love, I didn’t mind that as much as women are told not to believe they are the exception to every rule, one of the last scenes ends with characters saying that she is the exception to said rule.

One thing that gets me a lot regarding fictional romantic relationships is that they are just so improbable and stupid. It’s not so much the hows and mechanics as it is how the characters relate to one another. Now, granted, "He’s Just Not That Into You" features a lot of characters, and some aren’t developed very fully. The premise worked, though, and I enjoyed how realistic the dilemmas were, even Gigi’s often ridiculous reactions. That kind of understanding worked, and because the movie was grounded in this form of realism, the notions of infidelity and other clichĂ©s didn’t bother me.

The final voiceover is very much like the end of Sex and the City, the show that spawned the book that the movie is very loosely based on. Yet no matter how much the movie wants to tell you to ignore much of what you’ve been told, girls, it still can’t resist the lure of the happy third act, of happily ever after. No wonder why we’re so messed up.

Friday, February 6, 2009

All Signs Point To "Don't Watch This Movie"

“He’s Just Not That Into You” is rated PG-13 (Women strongly cautioned). Dating is lethally depressing.


(Bold mine.) That's the impression I'm getting--and if the New York Observer's take on the movie isn't enough to scare you away, then I don't think anything will.

I can already see myself watching this movie and becoming incredibly angry and depressed. Ginnifer Goodwin's character alone will make me want to punch somebody.

Can Hollywood make uplifiting, genuine romantic comedies anymore?