[artist id="1961441"]Chris Brown[/artist] is under a court order that requires him to stay from former girlfriend [artist id="1940303"]Rihanna[/artist]. And while that order — one part of his sentence for an assault on Rihanna in February on the eve of the Grammy Awards — means that Brown has to keep a certain physical distance from his ex, there’s nothing to say that he can’t be professionally close to her.
That reality made for a strange situation on Tuesday, when Rihanna released her first new single since the incident, “Russian Roulette,”
just hours before Brown announced the dates of his “Fan Appreciation” tour.
Then, approximately 24 hours later, Brown dropped the second single from his upcoming Graffiti album, “Crawl.” Given the situation between the two since the altercation, the close proximity of their big career re-boot moves was curious to say the least.
While Brown’s label had no official comment on the timing of the activity from the former couple, a source close to the Brown camp denied that it was anything but “purely coincidental.” Given that both artists are releasing fourth-quarter albums and are on similar album/ tour/ recording cycles — both released their debuts in 2005 and a follow-up in 2007 — the source said the overlap was not planned at all. “We don’t have a copy of what [Rihanna's label] Def Jam is rolling out any more than they have one of ours.”
Rihanna’s single seems to obliquely reference the incident, with edgy graphics featuring the singer wrapped in barbed wire, a blood-dripping song title and her initial in gleaming-blade silver, not to mention the sounds of guns cocking and being fired and foreboding lyrics about a seemingly violent relationship.
While neither artist has commented on what their songs are about, Rihanna producer Chuck Harmony said people were bound to infer that the song is a commentary on the assault and her break with Brown. “Because that’s the newest situation,” he said. “It’s just a natural reaction for people to associate ’cause she’s been so tight-lipped.” At press time, a spokesperson for Rihanna had not responded to MTV News’ requests for comment.
Meanwhile, after posting pictures of himself in ninja gear on Tuesday, Brown rolled out the ballad “Crawl” on Wednesday, and the second salvo from Graffiti also appeared to be a reaction to the end of the couple’s relationship, albeit a softer-edged one.
The melancholy song features the lines: “Everybody see it’s you/ well, I never want to lose that view/ Everybody says we’re through/ I hope you haven’t said it, too.”
Tresa Sanders, a veteran music-business publicist who has worked with artists including Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, and Common, said her first thought when seeing that Rihanna and Brown were crossing musical paths was that it was a coincidence. “I’ve worked inside at labels and outside of them and there are a lot of times when you really don’t know what the other labels are doing or when other records are coming out or what their marketing plan is,” she said. “Really, when you are in the middle of a plan and you’ve already set it up, there’s nothing you can do but go for it.”
Sanders, who has not worked with either act, said Rihanna’s team appears to have been working on the set-up for her Rated R album for many months, pointing to the singer’s cameo on the Jay-Z song “Run This Town” as the first glimpse of her look and sound for the next go-round. “That performance is so in line with what she’s doing now,” she said. “If it was me, it would just be business as usual. I wouldn’t do anything out of the ordinary that was not already in the plan. There’s no reason to switch up the game because they’re both successful artists and when you’re a big artist like that, your album tends to come out in the fourth quarter. That’s Music Industry 101.”
With both artists actively tweeting and teasing information about their new albums over the past few weeks, it’s not like their plans are a mystery. And while it’s not likely that they’re trying to coordinate their professional relationship amid the ashes of their personal one, it seems like their public lives are going to keep intersecting for the foreseeable future.