Rihanna – Love the way you lie
November 24, 2010 at 9:26 am, by Timna Burston
It is not often we hear a cry for help at the top of the charts. And maybe it is often, but we are not listening. It is even more rare to hear a song from one of the young leading ladies of pop that gives us an actual window into her experience, her life. Love the way you lie by Rihanna may not be a great song. The arrangement sounds like it was done from the inside of a tin can and the lyrics are not the most sophisticated or poetic. Nonetheless, Rihanna gives us that rare glimpse into her own world that has the ring of truth.
The song deals with the ambiguous feelings of being trapped in a destructive relationship – not only because the person you love is threatening and cruel, but because you yourself cannot seem to give it up. Rihanna’s song draws on her experience as a victim of domestic abuse – her relationship with singer Chris Rock ended in a highly-publicized trial, after footage was released by the paparazzi depicting her injuries. Chris Rock pled guilty to felony assault, and overnight Rihanna’s very personal and shocking experience became seemingly legitimate material for news coverage by the tabloids. Many stars would have left the reporters to have the final say, or lost control in the face of their public humiliation. Many others would use it as a catalyst for more publicity, becoming the mouthpiece for anti-abuse organizations, which, quite frankly, deserve more publicity.
What Rihanna did was create art. She created a rough, real, image of her experience that shows that the person she was with was no saint, and neither was she. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you are weak. Rihanna’s lyrics swing back and forth on a kind of seesaw between her assailant’s poor behavior and her passion for her lover, who is the very same man. How he hurts her. How she can’t let go of that pain. In her base lyrics, she paints the complex picture of abuse – the tangled web of blame, spreading to encompass not only attacker, but also victim. Her own guilt for not being courageous enough to make it end.
And that line – “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn” –indicts all of us: The spectators, the hungry eyes seeking out screens and cheap magazine paper, the people in the industry who knew and said nothing. While seemingly aimed at her boyfriend, to whom the song is addressed, I wonder if she is not also speaking to us, pleading for us not to enjoy her tragedy, even as she dresses it up in a shiny pop bow. In Judaism, we say “Lo Ta’amod Al Dam Re’echa” – literally, you shall not stand on the blood of your friend. I have always found that image jarringly graphic, as though you have just arrived on a crime scene, and you have witnessed something horrible happen to one of your closest friends. There you are in your CSI-style pool of red blood, and you are frozen, and can do nothing. The message of the proverb is that you must act to help your fellow man, not stand idly by as that person is hurt. But doesn’t it also mean that you must help him after he is hurt? Doesn’t it mean that when you have arrived too late, when you are standing by your friend, you can still help?
I think it is hard for us to believe sometimes that Rihanna’s tragedy really happened. But it is an angry, open wound that ironically, has created one more way for others to take advantage of her. Her song is the song of so many women who cannot help themselves. Who endure pain daily, who are lost in a shadow land of deceit and pain and cannot find their way back. She is asking that we see that they are hurting. That we understand and try to help. That even if we cannot help, we try not to judge.