In this age of 24-hour media, it’s crazy to imagine that Rihanna has managed to go so long without really sitting down for an interview about the night of February 8, when she was assaulted by then-boyfriend Chris Brown. Friday night (November 6), she’ll appear on ABC’s “20/20” for a full sit-down interview with Diane Sawyer. A portion of that interview debuted on “Good Morning America” this morning, and the singer spoke tearfully about the aftermath. “People put me on a very unrealistic pedestal,” she said. “And all these expectations … I’m not perfect.”
She was talking about the questions that arose when she and Brown were spotted vacationing together only three weeks after the assault, but she could have easily been discussing the way her music is currently being consumed.
The uphill battle for Rihanna is avoiding the “victim” tag in her return to the music world. So far, the new singles, images and video that she has produced for her new album Rated R cast her as a strong, independent, almost otherwordly woman. “I pitch with a grenade/ Swing away if you’re feeling brave/ There’s so much power in my name,” she sings on “Wait Your Turn (The Wait Is Ova).” While the music we’ve heard so far is a little more deliberate than her past singles (and not nearly as catchy as something like “Umbrella” or “Disturbia”), there’s an underlying toughness in her lyrics, as though she’s daring everybody to question her spirit.
We won’t know if Rihanna’s entire musical focus has shifted until we hear the rest of Rated R (which hits stores November 23), but one thing is for sure: The perception of her music will certainly shift, at least for the time being. Plenty of people are already wondering why there weren’t more direct references to Brown in the single “Russian Roulette,” but that seems like an unfair set of expectations. She has gone through a traumatic event in a very public forum, and it’s almost certain that whatever she felt in the aftermath exists in the subtext of whatever she’s going to put out.