MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Over the last several months, TV shows have been clamoring to interview the pop superstar Rihanna, but not just because she's topped the charts in dozens of countries. Back in February, Rihanna's boyfriend, Chris Brown, beat her up as they were heading to perform at the Grammy Awards. In August, he was sentenced to five years probation for felony assault. Rihanna will finally talk on TV tomorrow during �Good Morning America.�
NPR's Zoe Chace says she's been trying to figure out how Brown and Rihanna are feeling through their music.
ZOE CHACE: They had been like the prince and princess of pop R&B. So, last winter's ugly violence was unbelievable. The picture that circulated on the Internet of Rihanna's face all busted up was almost irreconcilable with her perfect pop star image. And the idea that sweet-faced Chris Brown could've done that to her? In the stunned silence that followed, we waited for them to explain themselves.
For months, neither one released any new music. Now, both of them are back on the radio. I'm scrutinizing every song and video like a mix tape my crush gave me in tenth grade, listening for a hidden message in every word.
(Soundbite of song, �Run This Town�)
RIHANNA (Singer): (Singing) Only thing that's on my mind, who's going to run this town tonight?
CHACE: Rihanna came back to the charts late this summer. She headlined Jay Z's single �Run This Town,� and she owns the track. In the video, she looks hard, like you can't mess with her. Rihanna's back. And she's badder than ever. But Chris Brown is back, too. In late September, he released a tight, unapologetic pop song.
(Soundbite of song, �I Can Transform Ya�)
Mr. CHRIS BROWN (Singer): (Singing) My black card they don't decline that, see potential in you, let me mould that. I can transform ya. I can transform ya. I can transform ya.
CHACE: In the �I Can Transform Ya� video, Chris Brown is dancing, surrounded by his trademark Lamborghinis. He doesn't smile once as he hammers out the track. It made me think, I guess he's forcing himself to move on. But Rihanna doesn't sound done.
(Soundbite of song, �Russian Roulette�)
RIHANNA: (Singing) Take a breath. Take a deal. Calm yourself, he says to me.
CHACE: Rihanna's next single was called �Russian Roulette.� It's not a love song. It's about surviving an impossible situation.
(Soundbite of song, �Russian Roulette�)
RIHANNA: (Singing) I'm terrified, but I'm not leaving. Know that I must pass this test. So just pull the trigger.
CHACE: Rihanna ends her song with a gunshot. The very next day, Chris Brown debuted a love ballad �Crawl.�
(Soundbite of song, �Crawl�)
Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Everybody says we're through. I hope you haven't said it too.
CHACE: He sings, everybody says we're through, I hope you haven't said it too. Okay, so he's not over it. But I don't know if Chris Brown can do sweet longing anymore. He pled guilty to felony assault. The pain here isn't sexy, it just sounds like pain. Rihanna and Chris Brown are probably not creating a dialectical mix tape, writ large for us all to hear. But what I hear in their music is Rihanna saying, I will not be humiliated by the events of the past year. And Chris saying, despite the awful violence you've seen, I want you to think I'm still lovable. That's a complex conversation for the pop charts.
Zoe Chace, NPR News.
(Soundbite of song, �Wait Your Turn (The Wait is Ova)�)
RIHANNA: But together we gonna be taking over. It's just the way the game is played. It's best that you just wait your turn. Baby, put the work in like a champion.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.