Chris and Rihanna Give Us the Blues, Again

They join a tradition of singers whose art reflects a repeating cycle of domestic violence.

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He beats me up but how he can love

I never loved like that since the day I was born

I said for fun I don't want you no more

And when I said that, I made sweet papa sore

He blacked my eye, I couldn't see

Then he pawned the things he gave to me.

But outside of that, he's all right with me.

--"Outside of That," Bessie Smith

Blues women had a habit of taking masochistic delight in wallowing in the arms of an abusive man. But some feminist scholars say we often ignore the role that irony plays in the black performance tradition. The song lyrics -- usually written by men -- are often totally transformed in the live moment into a scathing critique of patriarchy.

For a moment I thought that was where Rihanna was going as I listened to her latest single, "Birthday Cake," featuring Chris Brown. She addresses the man who assaulted her in Los Angeles three years ago with an ominous growl: "I wanna make you my bitch."