Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

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Rihanna – Unapologetic. (album review)

December 2, 2012

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Unapologetic might be Rihanna’s best album yet. In truth, I’ve been struggling to work out how to start a review of this album without referring to her previous masterpiece Rated R, which was a tour de force that exposed an angry, vulnerable girl trying to figure out the aftermath of love gone wrong. This album came out when I was in the midst of trying to untangle and deal with my own feelings of unrequited love, and resonated with me on such a level. On the other hand, Unapologetic comes out when I am happily in love and settled in my own life. This time, Rihanna’s narrative is quite different to my own – and yet Unapologetic, to its credit, still connects with the listener, drawing them into her fury that this time is more simmering than explosive (on Rated R, all-out rage only begins to subside into a quieter, more vulnerable, bubbling – yet nevertheless powerful – anger at around “Photographs”, two thirds of the way through the record).

Of course, Rihanna’s life has changed considerably since then. An even bigger star now than she was 3 years ago with the ability to only release number 1 singles, now she has a number 1 album to match. Meanwhile, her atomic breakup with Chris Brown (precipitated by his fists) has metamorphosed into media-baiting behaviour, ill-advised collaborations with Brown and the rumoured (likely true, if the photographs and ineloquent tweets and confessions of her ex are to be believed) rekindling of their romance. Unapologetic: why shouldn’t Rihanna forgive her abuser, her first love? Why shouldn’t she work with a hot male R&B star? Why can’t she misbehave, smoke, drink, party night after night like anyone in their early twenties? Despite what naysayers like to purvey, her career certainly hasn’t suffered for it. But the material on the album – none of which was written by Rihanna but all of which has a stamp immediately more personal than the scattergun Loud that hit dizzying heights all too infrequently, and than the ultimately unsatisfying Talk That Talk that petered out halfway after such a promising start – displays a thoughtfulness that suggests that while Rihanna may be “unapologetic”, she’s not unaware of what is going on around her, what is happening to her and certainly of what is being said or claimed about her. Unapologetic continues where Rated R left off: there are certainly hits, but nearly every song carries a depth of meaning that exudes confidence, confusion, sex and honesty.

Opener “Phresh Out The Runway” is swag personified, and is effectively Rihanna making an entrance. While it’s great to start the album, and an excellent song to listen to for an immediate energy boost when you’re half-asleep leaving the house on the way to work, it’s not the meaningful content I’ve discussed above. Neither is the other David Guetta collaboration, “Right Now”, a club diversion that rehashes previous album highlight “Where Have You Been” to pleasant but unremarkable effect. But on lead single “Diamonds”, we get a childlike chant, a sparkling midtempo strut and a powerful vocal that lyrically echoes previous megahit “We Found Love”: where there were “yellow diamonds in the sky”, now we are “shining bright like a diamond in the sky”. Rihanna’s vocals have grown more impressive over the years (whatever she’s smoking, I would like some) and where she may have simply been a vehicle for delivering hit songs even on the consistent Good Girl Gone Bad, now it’s she who transforms a song into a smash. The chorus is powerful yet sincere, and lyrics such as the telling “I choose to be happy” betray a sense of desperation in trying to convince herself that a romantic relationship is truly infallible rather than fleeting (as are the moments portrayed in the accompanying video). It’s a fantastic performance, and a refreshingly downbeat choice for a lead single that nonetheless packs punch.

The next trio of songs could all be described as downbeat yet potent, but each has its own place on the album. “Numb” works atop a sensual Egyptian-sounding ostinato and pounding drums, while Rihanna drawls monotonously that nobody “can’t tell her nothing… I’m impaired / I’m going numb, I’m going numb”. Interestingly, the vulnerability continues as the lyrics imply that for all her power and “double-dares”, Rihanna sees herself as the defective one. “Pour It Up” in contrast is celebratory of women who are in charge (like Rihanna, of course)… and yet the vocals and beats are submerged in aural tar, as if Rihanna is high off the champagne, weed and money referenced in the songs. None of these songs are instant, and yet on repeated listens they reveal themselves as worthwhile and interesting – “balling out” may not be as fun as it’s cracked up to be. “Loveeeeeee Song” is also very chill, working from a traditional R&B template that’s chopped and screwed into something less recognisable. It’s a romantic ballad dressed up as a nonchalant come-on. So far, the theme of Unapologetic is that appearances can be deceiving – Rihanna is flawless, cocky, confident, nonchalant, vulnerable, determined to be happy, numb, impaired, intoxicated, worried about “sounding too desperate”, in need of love and affection… It’s a spiralling morass of emotion dressed up as a percolating limousine ride.

Things become much more straightforward with “Jump” – i.e. SMASH. Dubstep breakdowns done right and made fresh and dynamic; a sample of “Pony” by Ginuwine that could have easily been problematic (as is so often the case when interpolating excellent material) but instead elevates the music; Rihanna is cocksure and forthright. But within a couple of songs, we have an explosive ballad that I saw described by a user on Popjustice as “fire and ice blasting out of the ground”. “What Now” is flawless and one of Rihanna’s best works – a mid-tempo ballad that quickly becomes bombastic, overwrought and emboldened by one of her best vocal performances to date. As drums explode and guitars roar to a climax, lyrics profess that “I spent every hour just going through the motions / I can’t even get the emotions to come out / Dry as a bone, but I just wanna shout”. The emotions certainly do come out, so palpably that the cut is utterly absorbing and one of Rihanna’s best. “Stay” directly follows this and is the quietest track on the album, serving as more evidence of Rihanna’s improvements as a vocalist and interpretative singer – she is capable of taking a song and breathe life into it, whatever the subject matter or emotional standpoint. It’s just been confirmed as Unapologetic‘s second single and appears to be a fan favourite, though I wouldn’t go any further than saying the song is fine – I would certainly champion other tracks over this one. But its contrast with the other songs on the album and with Rihanna’s usual output gives it its own place on the album.

“Nobody’s Business”, the duet with Chris Brown, is the perceived “event” of the album, sampling Michael Jackson to boot. But musically it’s a little bit flat – the existence of the duet says more than its sonic attributes. “You’ll always be mine, sing it to the world… ain’t nobody’s business.” Yet another contradiction in an album full of them, both lyrically and musically. Is Rihanna purposefully spiting all of those who supported her during the fallout of her abuse suffered at Brown’s hands? Is it offensive? Or are they just teasing? It seems very pointed when Rihanna sings “Let’s make out in this Lexus” – as opposed to what happened in a car last time! It’s a trying sentiment that seems difficult to understand – but once again, let’s remember that Rihanna is “unapologetic” so what does it matter? She is going to do what she wants, she’s young and in love, and hopefully she won’t get hurt again in such a way. “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” is the album’s centrepiece that, like “The Last Song” from Rated R, captivates the listener with exceptionally personal exposure. Where the previous track aims to provoke without any substance to back it up, here the confessional actually reveals a lot. “I was his Marilyn Monroe / Brown eyes, tuxedo, fast cars / A James Dean on the low.” We are clearly taken back to that fateful night of Rihanna’s being attacked (and interestingly, she hints at Chris Brown’s alleged bisexuality to boot, which may or may not have something to do with the night in question).  The bravado of “Nobody’s Business” is completely gone here, and as the song transitions into “Mother Mary”, Rihanna sounds less sure of her swagger: “I swear I wanna change”. The lyrics touch on the nature of fame, as does worthwhile bonus track “Half Of Me”, and implies that whatever we think we know about Rihanna, us outsiders never get to see the whole picture and so we shouldn’t judge… but Rihanna understands that we inevitably will. As much as “Nobody’s Business” claimed to be happy-go-lucky and ready to dive into love-as-sex, “Love Without Tragedy / Mother Mary” shows much more depth of thought (as in “What Now”) and heart that encourages repeat listens. This is another highlight of Unapologetic.

The closing songs of the album feel like a plane coming into land. “Get It Over With” is sublime, like a song-length interlude that urges the climax to “come on and fucking rain”; anger gives way to fatigue and surrender to whatever will be, good or bad. “No Love Allowed” is, contrastingly, a deceptively sunny reggae song that once again confounds expectations set up by the previous song. But the lyrics are spooky and uncomfortable, as was its precursor in spirit, Loud‘s “Man Down”. In direct opposition to that song’s subject matter, here it’s Rihanna yelling “911 it’s a critical emergency / Better run run run and charge him with the 143.” It’s a neat (perhaps too neat?) inversion of “Man Down” and seems to shed more light on the Chris Brown saga… but as highlighted in “Half Of Me”, how much do we ever know about Rihanna? We’re not privy to the whole story – according to “Mother Mary”, she’s going to “make the best scene they’ve ever seen.” “Lost In Paradise”, last but not least, is a bass-heavy closer that implies the story is not over, because now Rihanna has to find meaning to the paradise she claims to be stranded in if she ever hopes to find her way out.

For an album where Rihanna does not carry a single songwriting credit (though she is an executive producer), Unapologetic sure feels personal. And honest: an album filled with contradictions that are often calculated but nevertheless sound/feel like they have genuine meaning. The journey of the album is consistently riveting and reveals its complexities on repeated listens. There may be few answers to fans’ questions (however many sordid details it provides), but this rings less as Rihanna being deliberately elusive and more as she herself not quite knowing how to proceed. After all, she’s naked on the damn album cover – how much more vulnerable can one be, clothed only in a flimsy gauze of words, slogans and hashtags? In a world where her lover became her abuser and now may become her lover again, and where soundscapes and lyrics distort and contort around and through her voice, the one thing – no, two things – Rihanna clearly knows is how to release hit singles, and how to craft a powerful album.

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onyx paradise.

April 11, 2010

Those of you who know me will know that my screen name for 85% of the forums that I use is “onyxparadise”.  Originally I only liked the ‘onyx’ aspect of the name (since the word looks and sounds pretty), but the name ‘onyx’ had been taken already on the forums I was interested in using at the time, and I was inspired by Britney Spears’ Onyx Hotel Tour.  Choosing an alternative, mysterious-sounding gemstone quickly became apparently not an option: “sapphire” and “topaz” (both in reference to my mother’s favourite stones, and both pretty-sounding words once again) were far too girly, so I thought about adding something to “onyx” to make it work.  Again “sunset” and “beach” sounded too feminine, but I hit upon the idea of “onyxparadise” and it had a magical, mysterious ring to it.  When I think of what the word represents, it symbolises some sort of fantasy faceted-glass multicoloured landscape within a gemstone.  I don’t know how to verbalise it better than that, but I know that those words create nothing close to the image / atmosphere in my head.

Returning to Britney Spears, she did teach me something interesting about the onyx: although the stone is traditionally black when we see it used in jewellery (and although black is my favourite “colour”, I’m not a fan of onyx jewellery), any light that shines into it can be refracted back out in a multitude of colours.  Now, Wikipedia tells me that this is false (or somewhat exaggerated at the very least) but I’m going to go with it because it supports the metaphor that I want to explore and essentially base the rest of this blog entry on.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve always felt like I’ve had multiple personalities.  Different sides of myself expanded as I got older and I started to give them different names: Alan; Miles (ok that was ill-advised but he didn’t last long); AC; purehonesty; onyxparadise; Chase.  They embodied different things, different representations of me, and now I reflect upon it I see that onyxparadise was really the perfect name.  Rather than multiple personalities, I am one person with all these different facets, different colours, different aspects to my being.  Just like an onyx (or Britney Spears’ version of it, anyway).

Sometimes I feel like I keep getting it wrong: I hated the movie Kick Ass, which I went to see last night, because I could only see reference after reference to Kill Bill – at want point does a parody/homage become a rip-off? It must have just been me, as the vast majority of reviews online are hugely positive, but I guess I just didn’t get the sense of humour (though I enjoyed Hit Girl). I don’t eat pizzas quickly enough for my father to have as much space in the fridge as he would like, and the first thing he said to me this morning was “who opened the back door?” as if by getting my milk from the fridge I had unwittingly committed a cardinal sin.  It’s times like these that I feel socially awkward or incorrect (like when I confused the barista at Costa by barking at Toby not to be so healthy in his choice of biscotti, as he was making me look bad with my vanilla frescato and carrot cake), and it’s only recently that I’ve taken a personal stand not to let my family make me feel so ugly, because their problems are no reflection of me.

There is a facet of me that feels tough, dark and edgy.  I now have 3 tattoos, I dye my hair black on the regular, I smoke and drink and stay out late.  I’m still a good person, I have many friends and I work damn hard juggling studies and employment. So I feel I’m entitled to play hard, and I feel that at 24 years old I’ve proved to myself (and to anyone else, not that that matters) that I am intelligent and sensible enough to make my own decisions and to stand by them and live through the consequences, right or wrong.  By embracing that side of myself, I take less nonsense, stand up for myself more (although this is still a work in progress)and I feel that it’s been key in the shift in my life over the last 9 months to being much more happier and taking control.  I feel happier indulging the edgier, mysterious side of me, acknowledging there are dark depths of my personality and essence that I have yet to plumb, because it makes the light shine that much brighter too.

And now, I have some really good friends, people who are close to me.  If my family more and more are the source of unnecessary stress and drama in my life, then my friends feel like what my family should be.  So I almost glow when my new best friend tells me how glad he is to be friends with me; when my boyfriend tells me for the first time that he loves me.  These are experiences I never had before, that make me feel almost uncomfortably good because I am valued, I matter.  Sometimes being strong, being independent, being tough – even if it’s a self-fulfilling façade at times – is really lonely.  But it’s times like that, it’s times when Mike offers me to spend the day with him and his family, when Billy gives me a big hug and kiss before bedtime, when Toby holds me tight in his arms as we watch TV and I feel so safe, that I know I don’t have to be, don’t deserve to be alone.

I never used to wear designer clothes or jewellery.  I have never been a 32″ waist since I was a child, and I find it funny to be posing as a model in Toby’s photos on beautiful days walking around Bristol, because I always dreamed of being a model and assumed it was out of reach.  After the strife of growing up between my parents and their families, the violent alcohol-fuelled arguments and mental abuse I experienced as a child and adolescent, the periods of unhappy rebellion as a 16, 17, 18-year-old, the disappointment of not really knowing where I was going with my life having graduated from Oxford University, the turmoil of a year in retail unable to fulfil my potential, I finally get to experience everything slotting into place, the lights shining from the onyx in a rainbow of the right colours.  Life finally feels good, if not how I imagined it to be! So this entry is really personal to me, because it’s how I see that I’m a whole host of different things – I am one person with many different aspects, not all of them necessarily pretty but all of them important, all of them of value.

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take off running.

April 4, 2010

Happy Easter everyone!  I am fast becoming a bit of a scrooge, dreading any kind of holiday because it means not that I will have to spend money (something that I have absolutely no trouble doing, as you should all know by now) but because there will be some form of family gathering. Today hasn’t been as bad as Christmas, because there are buses running and I have taken refuge in Starbucks after a quick dinner with my parents and grandmother – I’ve even accomplished some work (wonders never cease)!  But discussing my current relationship with my family yesterday with Davina and Frankie, and reminiscing over my historical experience of family gatherings with Hannah on msn earlier today, it’s not really a surprise that being in these kind of situations makes me uncomfortable.  So making a swift (but polite – I thanked my dad for a lovely Easter lunch and gave my nan an appreciative hug, promising that I would see her again soon) exit makes sense and allows me to preserve my own good mood and sanity.

When I was younger, every 27th December (roughly) we would drive up to London (or thereabouts) to see my father’s side of the family for a Christmas gathering.  The venue would rotate each year depending on who was hosting the gathering, and to be fair the food was nice enough and I don’t remember anyone being particularly nasty to me.  However, I do remember the competitive atmosphere between my father and his siblings – comparing families’ progress and ‘success’, wealth, partners and so on.  Being from Bristol, we were the “poor relations” in comparison with the other families who would pretend to be upper class right down to their accents, and my mother being Italian led to a sense of exclusion and some prodding jokes from certain members of the family (this is racism!).  Despite the fact that my father was largely absent during my childhood, and when he was there he was either drunk, argumentative and mentally / verbally abusive, or sleeping, my intelligence (which, much to their chagrin, undeniably outclassed all of my more “well-to-do” cousins – money doesn’t buy smarts, and I promise that in this case I’m not being up myself, it’s just the truth) and good traits were attributed to him rather than to my mother (who raised me more or less single-handed).  Because of this, and because of the fact that the other members of this family were largely self-absorbed to the point of being imbecilic, I didn’t really enjoy these yearly outings, because it seemed like a lot of chest-puffing and bravado for no real purpose.

My grandmother (the head of that side of the family, who seemed to portray herself as the Queen) died when I was 17. From the age of 17, we never had any more of those yearly gatherings. Nearly all of my father’s siblings’ marriages (and some of my cousins’ relationships) broke apart, one aunt declared she was a lesbian and moved her secret girlfriend in, and we never heard from them again.  In other words, all that competitiveness and fuckery had been for show, for my grandmother.  For what purpose, who knows? Interestingly, for all the dysfunction and stress in my family, we stayed together through thick and thin, and I had always got on better with my mother’s side of the family (though they are far from perfect), even though they were from another country – gasp!  But I’ve never tried to be anything I’m not, and that’s the same issue that drives me crazy now, but in a different way.

I can’t be an angel for my grandmother (the one who’s still alive, obv) – I never really was an angel, but I’ve gotten darker over the past year.  I’m 24 years old and I can’t be treated like I’m 12 by anyone – I am not on drugs, I don’t have an eating disorder or a gambling addiction and I find it frankly insulting to be accused of those things by my mother, the woman to whom I was so close during my childhood.  Shouldn’t she know me better?  Shouldn’t she credit me with more intelligence, show me more respect?  Has everything I’ve accomplished, the fact I’ve never gotten into trouble – does that all mean nothing?  It really hurts me when I have to suffer those things, even if they’re just jibes, coming from my family – the people who are supposed to be on my side more often than not feel like they are against me now, when I’m just being myself and having my own independent thoughts, opinions and life.  I refuse to compromise, I refuse to conform – I’m an adult, why should I? And shouldn’t my family be proud that I am my own man with my own mind? I don’t understand why I have to give itemised accounts of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what I’ve eaten. That’s why these days, given the slightest opportunity, I’ll take off running out the door, because my friends (the only family I feel I have these days), my sanity, my freedom is out there.

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Rihanna – Rated R. (album review)

November 14, 2009

Here is the album review I promised on my twitter yesterday!  Before I start, once again I want to thank you all for supporting my blog, both my music reviews and my personal entries.  I really appreciate all the views and I hope that you’ll keep it locked here because I ain’t stoppin’! 🙂 Thankyou.

You already know what I think of Russian Roulette, and the other 3 songs we’ve heard already from Rated R.  Generally, they portray a darker, edgier side to Rihanna, both in the production (deeper, more menacing beats) and lyrical content that includes a bit of cursing, a lot of swagger and references to pain, trials and tribulations.  “Russian Roulette”, “Wait Your Turn” and “Hard” are more or less indicative of the album as a whole.  In contrast to her previous smash Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s a lot less uptempo.  The songs are mainly midtempos and ballads, which may alienate a lot of fans who want her faster, danceable material (though “Hard” and “Rude Boy” cater to these needs, and do so well with swagger lyrics – the latter seeing Rihanna come on to a ‘rude boy’ as if she were the guy who is gonna “put it on you”).  However, the slower material allows for two major things: one, to prove that Rihanna can actually sing.  Okay, she’s no Beyoncé, but she holds her own a lot better than many people might expect.  “Russian Roulette” and closing standout “The Last Song” don’t employ lots of vocal runs, but they emphasise strong, clear vocals that prove Rihanna’s got a voice as well as a body – btw. the artwork for this era is immense! – and also go well with the more emotionally searching and vulnerable material.  Two, it allows for Rihanna to delve into her pain, and although it’s never made explicit that she’s referencing her love, abuse and love lost with Chris Brown, songs such as “Stupid In Love” and the epic “Cold Case Love” immediately bring that whole affair to mind.

Not every song is concerned with love lost.  “Te Amo” is about a girl who’s infatuated with Rihanna, and its undulating beats have been beefed up slightly on the album version to make it more hypnotic and possibly (along with “Rude Boy”) the song that would have slotted in nicely on Good Girl Gone Bad.  “Rockstar 101” is backed up by Slash’s guitar work and like “Hard” and “Wait Your Turn”, it demonstrates Rihanna’s confidence in herself – something she perhaps wants to emphasise.  She is fierce!  However, compared to some of the other tracks, “Rockstar 101” falls somewhat flat, as it doesn’t have as much depth as the emotionally-charged midtempos, nor does it ring as true as the harder-knocking songs.  It does demonstrate that Rihanna is not an urban artist – she’s a pop singer who encompasses a range of music. On this album, she combines elements of rock, pop, R&B and melds them together to create a dark album that works for the most part.  And credit goes to her for trying to improve on each album – like Good Girl Gone Bad, the amount of filler on the disc is fairly minimal (in contrast to her first two records) and she’s tried to do something different that has evolved as she has as a person.  So I must applaud that.

A couple of the ballads such as “Stupid In Love” and “Photographs” (which benefits from will.i.am’s synthed beats that kick in midway) are perfectly solid, but pale in comparison to the best tracks.  These are, in a nutshell, first single “Russian Roulette”, “Fire Bomb”, “G4L”, “Cold Case Love” and “The Last Song”.  These all work because Rihanna is putting herself out there vocally and emotionally.  The producers do a fantastic job (praise must go in particular to Justin Timberlake and The Ys’ work on “Cold Case Love”, which shows a gradual building of beatboxing, standard beats, guitars and strings to an epic climax that fades out by itself and underline Rihanna’s pain at a love misfired – “Release me now ’cause I did my time”) more or less throughout, but Rihanna herself carries the songs.  “Fire Bomb” has been compared to something by Kelly Clarkson, but in my opinion it knocks much harder and is a compelling contrast to expectations – most people would expect a club banger from the title, when in fact it’s a slow pop/rock ballad which essentially says “if I’m going down in flames, you’re coming with me”.  “G4L” is one of the darkest songs which shows Rihanna pledging to be “down 4 life”, ride or die until the end.  The off-key tweaks at the beginning signal something mysterious, and the lyric “I lick the gun when I’m done ’cause I know that revenge is sweet” is one of the best opening salvos I can remember.  The track brings to mind the tiny gun tattoos on the sides of Rihanna’s breasts, demonstrating that even if she may be a sweet person on the surface, she’s also a strong and determined one – her attitude is reflected in her music as much as her body art.

“The Last Song” was the track that stood out to me most from listening to the 30-second snippets, and it doesn’t disappoint – it’s a perfect closer to the album, not only in name but in texture also.  It employs a soaring guitar and heartwrenching lyrics, chronicling the realisation of a breakup.  “The sad song ends up being the last song you’ll ever hear.”  Rihanna’s spare vocals almost seem to cry the lyrics throughout the track, and the buildup throughout the song until near the end where all the instruments fade out is done perfectly.  Rihanna said that she wanted Lil’ Wayne and Kings Of Leon to like her album, demonstrating her desired blend of urban and rock. The album is definitely a mélange of styles, but apart from “Hard”, I don’t see enough hip-hop for Weezy to connect with, and the rock elements are nowhere near as indie-pop as Kings Of Leon.  However, the soaring guitars provide something edgier and deeper within the context of a pop album, and the hard-hitting beats and synths knock plenty – the combination of which provide something quite extraordinary and special within itself.  Rihanna should be proud of this record.

Rated R has a focused aggression to it that rings truer than it did on Good Girl Gone Bad. Despite the lack of uptempo smashes, it’s a fantastic record that hopefully will have as much repeat-play value as her previous record.  Whether it’s because of her personal struggles, maturity as a young woman or desire to experiment musically (probably a combination of all three), Rated R shows growth.  I pray that her label doesn’t re-release the album, since it’s perfect as it is and comes across as something sincere, rather than designed to make money as a light pop confection.  Why I’m impressed with Rated R, beyond the simple fact that most of the songs are solid or better, is because it’s cohesive.  All the songs work together to make the album more than the sum of its parts.  It has a big emotional impact, and it sets a musical mood (dark, edgy and yet heartfelt) that doesn’t let up throughout – in her own words, from “Hard”, “that Rihanna rain/reign”.  I didn’t know if she had it in her to best Good Girl Gone Bad, but even if it doesn’t have as many number 1 smashes and addictive beats, Rated R is a musical step forward that I personally value that little bit more.

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trust, humiliation & beauty.

November 7, 2009

I understand that this blog has been a bit Rihanna-focused lately, but between the new material that has been premiering online and the publicity surrounding her 20/20 interview (which is a must-see – check it out at Toya’s World), I’ve been hooked on her once again.

Within this interview (which resonated with me more than I will go into on this particular post), Rihanna said two things that I thought were particularly interesting.  One thing was the notion of feeling ashamed and embarrassed when the picture of her battered face was leaked by the media – because she fell in love with a person who could do that to her.  Obviously you can’t help who you fall in love with, you never know how abusive they might be until the first time it happens, and the notion of shame is one that we could debate for days anyway.  But the idea of that was interesting to me, that there are certain of us who seem to feel humiliated or ashamed by things that are essentially not our fault – yet we take the blame for ourselves.  It reminded me of a time when I was dating L, and we found out that we had a friend in common, M.  So everything was cool, and it was a nice coincidence and all that business.  And I remember having a conversation with L, and he said that M had told him effectively to be gentle / careful with me as I’d been hurt in the past.  I remember just feeling utterly mortified, humiliated and ashamed.  I wasn’t angry (and I’m not angry about it now) – after all, M wasn’t wrong, and I wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that he had told L to treat me nicely; although it wasn’t necessary for him to do that, I appreciated the sentiment and understand that M was only looking out for me.

But I felt ashamed that someone viewed me as fragile, vulnerable or emotionally unstable.  That someone might have to explain my apparent insecurities to someone else made me feel humiliated.  I mean, yes, I have been hurt in the past (and then during that relationship – although I caused L hurt too, something which I still feel sad about, as I never meant to – and since) and my reluctance to let somebody in right away stems from that.  I was discussing with Emma last night that I am a very suspicious person, and if someone is friends with me or enters into a relationship with me, or even just approaches me in a bar or whatever flirtatious setting, I can’t help but wonder why they’re doing it, what they want from me, and whether they just want to use me up and throw me away.  I guess that comes from past experiences, and also probably what I’ve learned from my mother.  But I can’t help suspecting people, and I admit that I’m still growing as a person and I’m more insecure than I might care to admit to anyone who isn’t very close to me.  So for somebody to not only penetrate the façade I uphold of being strong (and at the same time as being a vulnerable person, I also believe that I am a strong person and that the two can co-exist within me), of being independent and of being teflon, but also to have to make excuses for the way I am and the fact that I might not let somebody in as quickly as 1-2-3 made me feel embarrassed.

Why should I feel embarrassed about myself?  In relationships, I don’t know what is up with me but I generally manage to get into these tortuous situations without ever having something concrete that lasts very long.  But I am a popular person, an intelligent person and a handsome person – my friends say that I will not be single for long, etc. etc.  These are things people say – who knows whether it will come true or not?  There’s more to life, but I can’t help but wonder if the façade I try to maintain at all times slips more often than I realise?  I think I would feel equally humiliated to know that the vulnerability and sadness I try to hide every day of my life was in actuality on full show half the time, and that that might be part of what turns people off wanting to date me or feeling attracted to me.  I hate the thought of people feeling sorry for me – not only because they shouldn’t, since everyone has their own pain and who’s to say that mine is greater than anyone else’s, but because I’d rather people didn’t focus their pity on me.  I understand it’s out of kindness or what have you, but I don’t desire that kind of attention.

The second sentiment Rihanna expressed was that of “F love”.  If you’re in an abusive relationship, be it physically, verbally or emotionally, you have to keep your judgment unclouded by love, and you need to do what is logically right for you, your safety and your health, regardless of the direction in which your heart pulls you.  That is a hell of a lot easier said than done; exhibit a) my current infatuation with somebody with a ring on it.  And this isn’t the first time that love has led me astray – this time, although the feelings are intense, at least I am getting something out of the relationship and it makes me happy more than it makes me sad.  Looking at my parents’ marriage, both past and very current present, although I’m proud of the storms they have weathered, if I had been in my mother’s position, I would never have put up with it.  And if I had been in my father’s position, I would never have put up with it.  Without saying too much, I don’t know if love was their only motivation in deciding to stay together (I highly doubt it, since things are rarely that clear-cut), but I would certainly have said “Fuck love, fuck everything, I’m gone.”  Even though I am a vulnerable person, and quite often I believe that part of me must be really an ugly person, I still have more self-worth than to go along with it.

Last night, I was out with Emma and we had some really special heart-to-heart conversations.  Obviously I am going to divulge nothing of what we discussed (here or anywhere else), because I made her a promise to keep what she told me to myself, and that is the whole point – I am a trustworthy person and trust is such a fragile thing, such a precious thing and something that takes so long to build.  Be it because of past experiences, be it because of what I’ve learned from my parents and other relationships that have surrounded me as I’ve grown up, but I find it hard to trust people and it’s rare that I am totally and immediately open with my heart to friends I’ve known for years, let alone somebody new in my life.  But I believe that trust is vital for life, for relationships, for friendships.  The thought of my betraying someone else makes me feel sick; a promise is a sacred thing, and there is so little that is sacred in life.  I think that having some self-worth as a person, even if it ebbs and flows sometimes, is really important, and the fact that I feel I am trustworthy, that I have dignity, and that I have the ability to give love but also am now aware that sometimes we have to say “F love” makes me a good friend and will one day mean that I might be a good boyfriend and not feel so ugly at my lowest… These things give me hope, they give me something to aspire to, and I hope to at the end of my life be able to look back and say that I was a good person, I was a strong person and that I did myself proud.  Work in progress.

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vulnerability.

July 19, 2009

Yesterday I wrote about façades and what people see on the surface, how we portray ourselves and what that says about who we are as a product for public consumption.  Today I want to explore underneath that surface, and let you in on what the façade of fashionable confidence that I try to display is hiding.  So I guess this entry is a little more personal, but I’ll still try to keep it light and brief (as much as I can, y’all know me by now!!!).

It’s my dad’s birthday on Monday, and I have bought him just a couple of small gifts that he asked for (swimming goggles and a blues CD he saw advertised on tv), along with a juvenile pop up card “For my Daddy” that I appreciate more than he probably will.  But anyways, normally on a Monday at the moment (i.e. when I’m not working) I go to the gym before going to my nan’s for lunch.  Tomorrow however will be different: my mother has the week off work, my father has the week off work, it’s his birthday.  Not only will I not get a lift to the gym, but I’m probably going to stay home just in case we end up doing something “as a family”.  These “family outings” invariably involve my father driving us to a pub, where we have a quick drink, make awkward conversation with his friends at the pub (while I go on twitter / msn / text on my phone) and wait to go back home all while promoting our “happy family” façade.  It’s not particularly enjoyable, and it’s a bit fake because we rarely spend time together as a family, apart from at the dinner table, and only 50% of that is in conversation if none of the three of us happen to be annoyed with anyone else.  So I am unsure whether to stay home tomorrow because of my father’s birthday (which I know is what I really should do) or just do what I would normally do, i.e. go to the gym and then visit my nan.  And here is the crux of the matter, and the first example of the titular vulnerability:

I’ve always known that my father never really loved me.  He paid for me to go to a private school and he’s supported me financially on the rare occasions that I’ve had to swallow my pride and ask for money (3 times that I can remember).  But the early part of my childhood, up until maybe 16 years old, I spent quietly hating him for his absence, for the way he would boss me around and try to make me cry in order to make himself feel more powerful in the face of the close bond between me and my mother, for the pain he put my mother through, for the rows he would instigate because he would come home drunk every night, for the nights I spent in tears in my bed or on the stairs or crouched behind the door listening to them arguing and throwing things and praying it would stop (another reason why I stopped believing in God).  This is perhaps more than you want to know.

Nowadays, he has improved a lot and I am glad my parents stuck it out, but if it were anyone else in that situation, I would have told them to split up because to stay together through what my parents did took incredible strength and also perhaps a lack of sanity.  It’s hard to ever move past that, because that was my life for the first 16 years, and as much as I have tried to forgive my father and appreciate the changes he has made, something like that never leaves.  Truthfully, I think about it most days.  A couple of people tried to psychoanalyse my “daddy issues” and explain my sexuality thus, but I don’t really know if that’s connected (IMO, possibly but probably not).  But these days he acts as if I don’t exist half the time, which gives me the freedom that I cherish but also makes me feel semi-left out because as much as my mother feels hard done by because my dad is now always picking fights with her (or occasionally vice versa! nobody is completely innocent… I have inherited a little bit of a temper from them both too, I must confess), I see it from the other side because at least that’s where his attention is focused.  If he is always trying to upset one person, if he always looks for one person when he comes home, then as much as he causes that person pain, at least that person exists to him.  Sometimes I wonder if I am a ghost in my own home, only visible when the telephone rings or my dad needs me to do him a favour or he needs to pride himself on my Oxford degree.

Honestly, I don’t hate my father.  I love him and I appreciate how much he has tried to change and improve.  But I can’t forget what he put us through, and I can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that if he’s not trying to compliment me nor enrage me the way he does my mother, it’s got to be because I am just less important to him.  I don’t really see any other explanation.  And I guess it does hurt to know that you are second best, that you’re not who he perhaps hoped you would be (I’m not a usual drinking buddy, which is what my mother told me was his primary excitement about having a child at 30, because when he was 48 I’d be 18 and we could go drinking together – I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened) but I am lucky that me and mother are extremely close (when we argue, it’s blazing but usually short lived, and usually because we are so similar that we know exactly what ticks each other off), me and my nan are really close, and I have some really wonderful friends.  I don’t lack for love, and I feel that I give love in return.

Talking of love, I finally met Brett (guy I’ve been chatting to who is referenced in this post) last night at a club, and we spent hours together. It was really fun, his friends were open and welcoming to me, and I had a good time. We flirted a lot, got on really well (as far as I could tell) and were quite touchy-feely.  No kisses until the very end when we said goodbye (and that was only v brief), but then it was the first time we’d met in person and it would be too much too soon.  I want to have fun and to keep things light, because the last relationship I had was far too much too fast (despite my attempts to put on the brakes) and ended in disaster (and I must admit, relief for me).  But at the same time, I can’t help but hope that it will work, because I’m tired of dusting myself off and trying again.

Life being single is certainly fun, and as I said above, I don’t lack for love and I don’t lack for friends, but there’s a little part of me which hopes for something more, and needs to prove to myself that I’m not some kind of unlovable leper.  That the longest relationship I’ve had thus far has been 5 weeks is depressing to me, at 23 years old.  I don’t think I am unlovable, and it scares me that perhaps I am not aware of how repulsive I might be to potential dates and mates… in other words, I can’t fathom what is wrong with me to not have had a more successful love life.  My sex life has been average I guess, but it’s holding someone’s interest as more than a friend that I seem to have trouble with.  Maybe it’s not my fault, but if I’m the common factor in all these cases then I’ve got to shoulder some of the blame.  So right now, I am feeling vulnerable because I am scared Brett will lose interest just like all these other guys have, that he will suddenly stop texting me (the balance of power so far is pretty equal, I believe, and I’m not keen to tip it in his favour) and not want to take things further.  The last thing I want to do is jump into a relationship again, but I want one to slowly blossom in a fun, healthy way, and I can’t help thinking that this is a chance for that to happen, and I am scared that it might slip away.  I got home at 5:30 this morning, so I am waiting until tonight to text him and say hi (he will be awake, sober and hopefully by himself and in a space to talk) and quietly hoping he will beat me to it (it has happened!).  Because at the heart of it all, I’m feeling vulnerable because I guess that I like him and I don’t want to feel a fool one more time.  These are things that Prada and Armani don’t tell you.