The Grammys were last night, and I watched because I love music. And musicians.
Within the first five minutes of the show, the camera zoomed in on Rihanna, sitting directly next to Chris Brown. Two hot artists, romantically linked for years, attending the most prestigious award show for their industry.
Four years ago this week - the night before the 2009 Grammys - Chris Brown physically assaulted Rihanna, beating and bruising her. And while none of us know the specifics of what happened at or after the pre-Grammy party they were attending, the pictures and police reports don't lie: Chris Brown abused her.
For a while after the incident, the public outcry drowned out any pro-Chris Brown news or accolades. I personally vowed to never pay another cent towards Chris Brown or his music. Chris Brown hatred was loud, and Rihanna was a simultaneous victim and heroine, an unwitting flag-waver for victims everywhere, her silent grace screaming against domestic abuse louder than any PSA ever could: abuse can happen to anyone, anytime. And it's not the victims fault.
I respected that she kept her feelings to herself, and her mouth shut, publicly at least. The bright lights of Hollywood shine harshly, and before that day in February 2009, she and Chris Brown were a powerful couple at the pinnacle of their careers, with endorsements and magazine covers and Billboard Top 40s. I imagine that in the days and weeks that followed her assault her feelings were conflicted and wavering. Love and hate. Fear and desire. Shame and pride.
I'm not sure when, but at some time in the past four years, public opinion has turned. While most people would say that his actions were unforgivable, it seems that he's been forgiven: at this very moment, he has a song in the iTunes Top Singles, and he was nominated for at least one Grammy. Forgiveness happens in a number of ways.
Seeing Rihanna and Chris Brown sitting together, cuddling and holding hands tonight made me sad. To me, domestic violence is unforgivable, and the effects are long lasting and the scars permanent. And while physical abuse is never, ever, ever the fault of the victim - seeing Rihanna, so clearly smitten with her abuser scares me. Saying that out loud makes me a little mad - at myself. I believe in a woman's right to choose - and not just about reproduction. The only one that can decide if Chris Brown deserves her forgiveness is Rihanna. She is the only one who gets to decide about her relationship. And I know that the feelings are complicated and confusing and nowhere near black or white, wrong or right.
Chris Brown and Rihanna have said that their relationship is "nobody's business", which is (not?) coincidentally the title of a song that they recently collaborated on. But I wonder if this is entirely true. While I respect the privacy that we all deserve - celebrities included - I also wonder how far the right to privacy extends. Their relationship played out publicly because of who they are and what they do, not despite it. And while they certainly have the right to make choices that the public disagrees with, the career and lifestyle they have chosen - and embraced with magazine interviews, sit-downs with Larry King and Barbara Walters - invited the public in.
So while I'm not entirely comfortable with their relationship, I begrudgingly accept the reality - it's none of my business.
But how I spend my money is. And while Rihanna seems to have forgiven Chris Brown, I haven't, and I'll still never spend a single penny on his music, any film he is in or magazine where he is on the cover.