Friday, February 24th, 2012

Rihanna ft. Chris Brown – Birthday Cake (Remix)

This picture has Rihanna with a sword. This song has Rihanna with Chris Brown. Guess which is better…


Jer Fairall: Let’s set a new legal precedent: restraining orders should be extended to include remixes.

Asher Steinberg: Three pretty great minutes of buzzing, hedonistic pop, the transgressive effect of which is accentuated, not impaired, by the fact that its two performers are people who really shouldn’t be working or singing about having sex with each other.

Edward Okulicz: Look, I consider myself a feminist. As such, if Rihanna, a human being of free will, wants to mend personal or professional bridges with a man who hit her, then I think she is completely entitled to do that, and nobody, man or woman, is entitled to tell her she shouldn’t and expect her to comply. Yet still, there’s something a bit too tidy about this. There’s the fact that on the album, “Birthday Cake” was less than two minutes long. It’s almost as if everyone involved — Rih, writers, producers, label, were making us want more, begging for that finishing piece. Then, at a point when the iron was hottest, Chris Brown was brought on. But you know what? Besides “cake! cake! cake!” there’s nothing in this song that suggested it could handle another minute, let alone two. If you feel yucky about Brown being on it, just play the album version twice. Or don’t bother.

Sabina Tang: It’s not that I don’t think Chris Brown deserves to have a career in pop music still; it’s that I’m genuinely surprised he does. Nothing to do with principle — the sight and sound of him make me uncomfortable, the way Mel Gibson does now too, the way anyone in real life would make me uncomfortable if I learnt they’d been a complete asshole to someone else I knew. Cross the street, don’t say hi at public events. Do other people not have a compulsion to avoid known assholes?! I had to work up the nerve to open this Youtube video. If I didn’t have a formal mandate to write about it, I would never have listened to it all the way through, regardless of the merits of the song itself — which are not nil, as it happens. 

Katherine St Asaph: 1. This is not a fucking remix. It’s finishing a song that was shipped unfinished. It’s the music-industry equivalent of “accidentally” turning in one page of your term paper, if that made the professor, department, dean and student body clamor for pages 2-50 instead of flunking you. 2. You know that scene in Matilda where Agatha Trunchbull forces a bodily fluid-laced chocolate cake down Bruce Bogtrotter’s throat for an assembly of hundreds? Someone is Trunchbull, us writers are Bruce, and the audience is clamoring as we cram this down then up our gullets. 3. Turns out, as the term paper trick does, that finishing the song ruined it. Hooray!

John Seroff: I’m choosing to address today’s Ri-Ri/CB double-feature on a “music only basis”, if only because it’s easier to stomach that way. “Birthday Cake” made the rounds as a sort of tantalizing and filthy album leftover that left me paging through YouTubes hunting for a full length. Now that it’s finally here, I have some buyer’s remorse.  As much as I dig the “CAKECAKECAKECAKE” chant, the motif gets sickly sweet and tired past the 1:18 mark; “put a candle on my muhfuggin back/baby blow it” strains both the metaphor and most muhfuggas’ flexibility. Rihanna sounds even more disconnected than usual and Brown (to make the understatement of the year) doesn’t do much to distinguish himself as a guest. It’s relentless stuff that isn’t much more developed than a fifteen-year old Lords of Acid album track, which isn’t a knock exactly… but it sure ain’t a compliment.

Jonathan Bradley: Fetid synths buzzing like a speedway, a blankly sinister Rihanna intoning “CAKE CAKE CAKE CAKE” like she’s conducting some weird hazing ritual, promising “I’mma make you my bitch” — this should be great. But something fails to fire and “Birthday Cake” doesn’t become the monster it ought to be; the repetition’s rote, not mesmerizing; the come-ons are confusing, not creepy. That’s before the remix’s real life monster shows up. Biography can be a part of pop music, but it doesn’t have to be; it’s strange, then, how insistently Chris Brown references his ignominious past here. “I wanna fuck you right now” from Brown sounds vicious, as if it should contain an “up” between “you” and “right.” Lyrics like “I wanna blow her candles out” and “I wanna lick the icing off” contain a violent subtext that surely can’t be accidental. As a rapper, Brown presents as singularly unlikable; here he sounds ludicrously contemptible. That works on a track like “Look at Me Now,” but it’s severely alienating on a song that’s supposed to be sexy. “Birthday Cake” is weird and uncomfortable, and I can’t understand what any of its participants were thinking during its production. (It might be slightly, sordidly compelling for that reason.) The thing is, that should only have been my reaction to the collaboration — and yet it’s also my reaction to the song.

Iain Mew: This has some worth musically — there’s a half-decent Rihanna song buried somewhere, and “CAKE CAKE CAKE” is just as stupidly effective as when it was “ASS ASS ASS”. Actually more, because “CAKE CAKE CAKE” is sillier. What makes the song impossible to enjoy is that even after making the stretch to ignore the inherent wrongness of the collaboration and premise, the song itself actively draws attention to the wrongness. It’s the problem of imprecise innuendo again. Keeping your sex vague (The icing might be literal, but are those literal candles? What precisely is the cake?) is usually good not only because it lets you get on the radio but because listeners will automatically adjust to their own level of filthiness. You just have to be careful not to accidentally introduce weird or unpleasant images. An out-of-context “Birthday Cake” might just manage it, but of course I’m probably not alone in having the unpleasant images already lurking in the back of my mind. In the absence of anything coherent enough to displace them it barely takes a misstep to make those unpleasant images the only thing coming through. “Want it in the worst way”, “Blow your candles out” and “Remember how you did it?” all become unbearably jarring. The fact that Rihanna ducks back in to take over singing just as Chris Brown appears about to sing “make you my bitch” indicates that in putting together this song there was an awareness that a line had to be drawn somewhere. It just hasn’t been drawn in anything like the right place.

Michaela Drapes: Crass and immature, outside of the (remix) to the abuse narrative, this is probably the worst song about cunnilingus ever written. This either clearly indicates that someone needs some instruction on how to eat pussy properly, or begs the Lacanian question: Is Chris Brown actually doing this to savor his own ejaculate? And where is Rihanna in all this? I’m sure I’ll get loads of fan mail by suggesting she’s completely disassociated from the proceedings in her lack of desire for the act, or the man. It’s still about his orgasm.

Alfred Soto: To dismiss Rihanna as a cipher — a keyboard program designed to connote “pleasure” when pressed — is tiring me, and because the intersection of private life and performance bores me silly, as it should other critics (I guess I’m a “formalist” or New Critic), I wanted to play the contrarian. Yes, the giggles and interruptions-in-song suggest more EKG patterns than she’s suggested of late. I’ll even go along with the extra-diagetic power of Rihanna reminding the thug who beat her up, “I’m gonna make you my bitch,” not to mention the line about forcing him to bite “this.” But I can’t shake the suspicion that the song was written for Chris Brown, then given to Rihanna because her handlers wanted to profit from her embarrassment. Which brings me back to the problem of believing anything she sings.

Alex Ostroff: Shame about the song, because the whining, grinding beat is kind of awesome. It sounds like something that The-Dream, Tricky and L.O.S. might have churned out during the Love vs. Money era. Hell, on its own, Rihanna’s performance suggests there’s a decent song buried in here — certainly a better one than “Turn Up the Music.” It’s not just the context that completely ruins it; Chris Brown remains completely unconvincing singing about any and all matters sexual. (See also: “Strip.” Actually, don’t.) And on top of all that, the icing on the cake is getting to hear Breezy talk about wanting to lick his icing off her. Which is an image nobody needed.

Brad Shoup: For obvious reasons, this song reminds me of the ultimately inferior Nicki/Big Sean collabo from last year. “Ultimately”, because Big Sean’s wattage is single-digit, and because Da Internz topped their own chorus approach. Cake is even more fun to chant than ass, it turns out. Keeping that goofiness separate, everything else radiates a determined, predatory sexuality. “You Da One” — with its playful, easygoing raunch — will likely go down as a sweet aberration in Rihanna’s first career half, a brief excursion in the middle of a dungeon residency. Opening a padlocked chest of coos, laughs, school bells (?!) and melismatic dust clouds, Brown and Rihanna trick out the wounded-animal synth whines and claps. Unctuous as Brown tends to be in loverman (or essentially any) mode, here he’s simply risen to the level of the material.

12 Responses to “Rihanna ft. Chris Brown – Birthday Cake (Remix)”


    There was supposed to be some stuff there about why the merits of the song are not nil: 1) beat is really good, 2) every metaphor out of Chris Brown sounds vaguely menacing instead of sexy but this works… maybe, 3) Rihanna doesn’t sound submissive or helpless (the lyrics certainly aren’t), but she also doesn’t sound fully *present*: it’s kind of like Dollhouse/the Neuromancer cyborg whorehouse where the girls turn off to do their jobs and orgasm (I’m paraphrasing from memory) is a soundless supernova far out at the edge of space.

  2. This can’t be like Dollhouse, because Paul Ballard is essentially Drake.

  3. Ha!

  4. Thank you to Ed and J. Bradz for letting me temper my high scores with a petty, two-blurb acrostic.


  6. I don’t get it.

  7. Check the first letters of the sentences in my Breezy blurbs for an impotent treat.

  8. Pretty sure a grammy is an impotent treat too. Well played.

  9. lol@Edward’s opening bit

    is this blog capable of ever commenting on hip hop/R&B without sounding like Women’s Studies 101 students

  10. lol @ the suggestion that this is “hip hop/R&B”. In any case, I said it not to be all ZOMG LOOK AT ME I AM ENLIGHTENED, but more to point out how boring the “Should she or shouldn’t she have done this” argument became within five seconds of the first think-piece on the subject hit the web last week.

    (p.s. I did once take a women’s studies course and if you meant that as a burn, you missed)

  11. I took a course on marriage. Was the only guy in the class. Think I got a B.

  12. ditto