When Rihanna and Chris Brown dropped not one, but two tracks together Monday night, the songs were met with mixed reactions. Some fans thought it was time for everyone to move on and embrace the former couple's next chapter, while others argued that given Brown's 2009 assault on Rihanna, it was inappropriate for them to record together.
In the years since that assault, Rihanna has been open about her abusive relationship with the R&B singer, saying, "I don't want to be the big domestic-violence spokesperson, because that doesn't define who I am. But if I can help young women in any way, and that being one of the things they need help with, then I'll do that."
Since that late 2009 interview with MTV News, Rihanna certainly hasn't backed down in her career, releasing chart-topping singles, winning awards, going on tour and using videos and Twitter to show the world just how fierce she can be.
After the release of the "Birthday Cake" and "Turn Up the Music" remixes, Rita Smith, the executive director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, talked to MTV News about what the collaborations mean.
"I guess I'm not particularly surprised given the rumors that had gone on around this, and it's also not surprising because many victims get back with their abusers, even after an assault. They love them, they think they change, and abusers are particularly good at convincing you they've changed," she said. "I don't know what their relationship is at this point, but I'm not surprised that she's staying connected.
"I'm still concerned because his reaction to people's criticism of him being on the Grammys was fairly belligerent, and that didn't give me much of a message or sense of hope that he had made changes since that assault," she said, referring to the barrage of tweets Brown sent out after negative feedback about his Grammy appearance.
"I hope he's changed. I hope that he will never choose to use violence again no matter what kind of relationship he has with her or anybody else," she continued. "I think, for me, it would be much more powerful if they could publicly state what's different for them so that it doesn't just leave us wondering if anything has changed and if they have learned anything in the process, because it was so public. We're all wondering, because they're not saying anything. That would leave us with a different message that it all doesn't matter and they're just going to do what they do."
Smith said that, given their history, "I think the message she's sending is that the feelings of being in love are more important than your personal safety."
"The thing that matters most is whether you're safe and whether you feel respected — that's what matters most in a relationship and that's what we should all be focusing on," Smith added. "That has to be the primary goal of any relationship."
In the end, Smith hopes the two pop stars have grown since the very public assault.
"I don't know what the message is. I would like the message to be: People can change, and I will never be treated that way again and I will never treat anyone that way again. If they had released a song saying this is what this represents for us, that would be such a much more fabulous, powerful story than not saying a word," she said. "The content of the songs seems to be more in-your-face than something about, 'We're collaborating on something because we care about the way people treat each other.' That would have been the message that would have been nice to come out of this very public and tragic incident."