Does Rihanna's New Single Defend Abusive Relationships?

Rihanna's new single "Russian Roulette" is definitely not her best work. But do lyrics about playing a dangerous game with a man mean the song glorifies abusive relationships?

As some have pointed out, the song itself kind of sucks. My main problem with it is that it's boring — I found it tedious to listen multiple times in order to decipher the lyrics. When I did — with help from Alyssa Rosenberg and Just Jared, I was a little disturbed.

The song basically describes a woman playing Russian roulette with a man who's apparently an old hand at the game and eggs her on. Rihanna sings,

And you can see my heart beating
You can see it through my chest
And I'm terrified but I'm not leaving
Know that I must pass this test
So just pull the trigger

Say a prayer to yourself
He says close your eyes
Sometimes it helps
And then I get a scary thought
That he's here means he's never lost

Another creepy couplet goes like this:

So many won't get the chance to say goodbye
But it's too late too pick up the value of my life

Rosenberg was just as creeped out as I was, if not more so. She writes, "the lyrics literally are about the singer undervaluing her own life, and treating the terror she's experiencing as a test she has to pass, presumably to win the love of the guy she's playing with." She adds,

I do understand that it's extremely difficult to leave an abusive relationship, and I respect that. But I thought it would have been terrific for someone to overcome such a relationship in public. Instead, Rihanna is using a song about embracing being terrorized as her comeback single.

I agree that this doesn't seem like the best choice for Rihanna's comeback. As Perez Hilton points out (I think that's the first time I've used that phrase), she didn't write or produce the single, but she did approve it, as she presumably approved the off-putting barbed-wire-wrapped image of her that accompanies it. And it's a little upsetting that, given her history, she'd decide to sing about a woman who risks death — with someone who, the song implies, has killed before and will again — in order to "pass a test."

On the other hand, "Russian Roulette" doesn't excuse violence so much as it portrays someone who feels she can't escape it. And, as Rosenberg points out, this feeling is a reality for many abuse victims. This doesn't makes it less creepy, and the song isn't one I'd want my kids singing in the car, if I had kids or a car. At the same time, lots of female artists sing about bad men, fucked-up situations, and doing things that put them in danger. Rihanna's very public assault shouldn't force her to choose only the most empowering topics, and it's not her responsibility as a pop star to discourage abuse. What I'm actually most worried about is her label's thinking on this song. If she truly had free choice that's one thing — but if anyone pushed a domestic violence victim to record a comeback song about gunplay, that's something to get angry about.

Image via Just Jared.

Rihanna Underwhelms With New "Comeback" Single! [Perez Hilton]
Is Rihanna's New Single A Defense Of Staying In A Violent Relationship? [Alyssa Rosenberg]
Rihanna - ‘Russian Roulette' Lyrics [Just Jared]