Two new videos came out this week for songs sung by women in their early 20s. One is the one above. And while it's blatantly banking on reminding people of last year's smash hit "I Love the Way You Lie," and it's always creepy, because of what we know about her real-life past, to watch Rihanna flirting with the notion of domestic violence as turn-on, I like it. It's certainly very titillating. Like Requiem for a Dream, from which it also borrows heavily. The song itself is great, too, which certainly helps. Big dumb disco done just right. I think I like it more than any song of Rihanna's since "Umbrella." As good as it is, though, it pales in comparison to "I'm His Girl," by the new Bushwick, Brooklyn band, Friends.
This is subtle, sly disco done just right. (It's reminiscent of what ESG and Liquid Liquid were doing in the early '80s. Has anything ever sounded more New York? Was Friends frontwoman Samantha Urbani not born with the perfect name?) But as much as the sound of the record, it's its sentiment that has lots of people jumping up and down and cheering. Over at the Hairpin, Blanca Mendez called "I'm His Girl," "the best song about healthy relationships that has ever been recorded."
Well, "I'm His Girl" is very great at expressing some very important ideas about healthy relationships. As Mendez goes on,
"Wisdom like knowing that your worth doesn't depend on your relationship status and that relationships are not about possession. Even if she’s his girl, she does exactly what she wants when she’s with him and when she’s not. And she doesn’t get jealous when he goes out, because trust! It’s important! No matter how into each other they are, they both need room to breathe. I kept saying, 'preach, girl, preach,' as I watched this video."
I kept saying that, too. And that's exactly what Kahlil Gibran would have said, too. Since what Urbani is singing about is just like what he wrote in 1923, in his poem "On Marriage," from The Prophet, which you probably read in college and have heard recited at some weddings you've been to. But I'll put a part of it here, because it is always nice to read again.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
The truth that Gibran and Urbani are getting at is all too rarely expressed in pop songs, which tend to instead focus on the breathless, immature "OMG I'LL DIE WITHOUT YOU!!!" sort of love that Rihanna's video is about because that kind of love is more combustible and titillating and much more easily rendered into something someone else would want to hear about or watch on a screen. It's no coincidence that it more often makes for good entertainment. It's more entertaining. Dysfunctional relationships are far more interesting than nice solid healthy ones—at least from the perspective of someone outside the relationship. The problem is people get stuck on that stuff from the inside, they start to feel like that's the only way they know they're in love, when there's the crazy frisson of passion that borders on pain or emotional abuse, or in the worst cases, violence. People get their inner lives confused with what they like to watch on TV.
Being able to breathe is more boring than not being able to breathe. But it feels better. And it lasts longer.