In the wake of her turning 30, conversations about Rihanna’s impending life milestone have moved away from the singer herself and re-focused on the fact her ex, Chris Brown, curiously and publicly wished her a happy birthday.
Alongside an image of Rihanna as a child, 28-year-old Brown wrote: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY @badgalriri.”
Despite the well wishes, Brown soon drew the wrath of the Rihanna’s most loyal fans, with many pointing to his 2009 domestic violence charge against his former girlfriend.
“So we just gonna pretend like 2009 didn’t happen?” one fan wrote.
“Just stop, Chris. This is getting sad,” another added.
On the eve of the 2009 Grammy Awards, Brown assaulted his then-girlfriend after the two had been dating for about a year. He pleaded guilty, accepting a plea deal that dictated he must attend one year of domestic violence counselling.
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Photos of Rihanna’s bruised, bloody and swollen face were leaked to TMZ soon after, making the story public.
Some three years later, they began dating again.
In a 2015 interview with Vanity Fair, Rihanna said she has struggled in the years since with becoming a kind of spokesperson for victims of domestic violence.
“It’s not a subject to sweep under the rug, so I can’t just dismiss it like it wasn’t anything, or I don’t take it seriously. But, for me, and anyone who’s been a victim of domestic abuse, nobody wants to even remember it. Nobody even wants to admit it. So to talk about it and say it once, much less 200 times, is like … I have to be punished for it? It didn’t sit well with me.”
Detailing her decision to get back with Brown, she added she was intensely “protective” of him at the time.
“I was very protective of him. I felt that people didn’t understand him,” Rihanna said.
“I don’t hate him. I will care about him until the day I die. We’re not friends, but it’s not like we’re enemies. We don’t have much of a relationship now.”
And as for the birthday message? Well, there’s a chance the two could be on better terms some nine years after the attack, there’s another chance it’s a public and virtual olive branch from Brown to the woman he once hit, or it’s another cog in the churning PR machine that is Chris Brown Inc pining to regain the reputation he lost.
Of the above, we’ll never know, though there’s little doubt there’s an element of discomfort around Brown’s deliberately public message for a woman on whom he inflicted such monumental harm.
If this post brings up any issues for you, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.