By now, you’ve already heard what fans and a domestic-abuse expert had to say about Rihanna and Chris Brown’s controversial collaborations on new remixes of “Birthday Cake” and “Turn Up the Music.” Chances are, you’ve probably formed your own opinion too.
But as the initial shock of the pair’s reunion subsides, and both remixes begin to diffuse into the collective conscience, we’re left with one rather important question: Beyond all the (very public) handwringing the songs have created, are they actually any good? Early opinions from critics have been lukewarm at best (and downright hostile at worst), mostly because it seems they have a difficult time separating their feelings about Brown — and his 2009 assault of Rihanna — from their feelings about the songs themselves. And really, you can’t blame them. In a lot of ways, it’s impossible not to view the “Cake” and “Music” remixes through the prism of the past three years.
Still, with opinions still being formed (and feelings still fresh), we reached out to some of our favorite music journos to get their take on the songs and Rihanna and Brown’s unlikely collaboration. Here’s what they had to say:
” ‘Birthday Cake’ was pretty much destined to be a smash when Talk That Talk was released with only a snippet of it. … The 78-second bit of The-Dream-produced track inspired hosannas from members of the Rihanna Navy who couldn’t wait for the full thing to be released. … Putting Chris Brown on the [remix] (and having him sing ‘I wanna f— you right now,’ which Rihanna sang on the fade-out of the TTT version, as his opening gambit) seems almost like overplaying her hand. Like, this song was going to be a big deal to her fans no matter what, so why add the controversy to it? Then again, the past three years of her career have, it seems, been about her taking control of her public image in a big way — from enacting revenge fantasies in ‘Man Down’ to singing about sex a lot — and adding Brown to a song about fetishistic sex is a way for her to do just that, to implicitly flip off people who she sees as paternalistic or overbearing while engaging in what she calls ‘chiefin’.’ Every gossip item about the two of them getting back together or hanging out, every angry/sad/exulting blog post, every public tweet they direct to one another when presumably they could just DM back and forth, keeps them — and the songs — in the news. Meanwhile, Brown’s song and Rihanna’s contribution to it are both pretty bland, a ‘Party Rock Anthem’ with no shuffling and even less whimsy. At one point, Rihanna does the phrase ‘I love you,’ which will no doubt get tongues wagging. I am pretty much grossed out by the whole thing, to be honest.” — Maura Johnston, Village Voice
“The remixes aren’t terrible, and that’s as much as I’ll say at risk of saying something positive about Chris Brown. … The most important thing to remember is that if you have a problem with these two teaming up: Don’t blame Rihanna. Blame the ravenous, unscrupulous, money-starved record industry for being complacent through this entire event. The whole machine is falling apart, so everyone — artists like Ludacris and Justin Bieber, their labels and managers, magazines like Vibe who put Chris Brown on the cover, awards shows like the Grammys, TV networks who play Chris Brown videos — they’re all too afraid to potentially put forth an opinion that would prevent them from being where money is. The fact that everyone except Jay-Z and Miranda Lambert is too chickensh– to speak out against woman-beating is pathetic beyond pathetic. Everyone is too scared to compromise their chance to catch the last remaining dollars during the music industry’s death rattle.” — Christopher R. Weingarten, SPIN
“Rihanna’s ‘Birthday Cake’ was a standout track from Talk That Talk, even in its original form (as an interlude) — and more importantly, without Chris Brown. On the remix, all Brown’s aggressive, salacious verses do … is add fuel to rumors circling of their reunion behind closed doors. [And] Rihanna comes back on the song, calling checkmate on Breezy with her suggestive lyrics — “Remember how you did it?/ Remember how you fit it?/ If you still want to kiss it, come, come and get it” — making it hard to not be teased into again reading between the lines. ‘Turn Up the Music’ feels like a collaboration that would have fit both artists’ discography during their days coupled up. Although RiRi’s airy vocals blend well with the Underdogs’ dance soundscapes, adding Rihanna to the track doesn’t leave a lasting impression nor elevate the song to higher grounds. Ultimately, it’s not the content of the songs that matter; it’s the statement both singers are trying to make by simply releasing them. The collaborations appear to be a step toward reconciliation between both — seeing the tracks climb the chart is a bonus. Rihanna wants us to know that she no longer wears the shoes of the victim and Breezy wants to prove that he’s become a better man. This isn’t a personal or professional move; it’s both. Both singers have woven their personal life, a haunting moment in their lives, into a professional move. Though it’s stirred much controversy, I believe it was bound to happen.” — Erika Ramirez, Billboard.com’s “The Juice”
What do you think of the collaborations? Let us know in the comments.