Does "Loyal" Have Anything to do with Loyalty?

Chris Brown's single "Loyal" (2013), from the upcoming album X (2014), is a horrendous
collaboration of colorful language -- racist, misogynistic, degrading, and indecent -- bemoaning the fact that it's impossible to trust women to remain loyal when there are always better offers out there. Along with the added lyrics offered by Lil Wayne and French Montana (East Coast version; there are two other versions of the song featuring other artists), I don't feel comfortable even quoting the majority of the song in this post, so I'll be paraphrasing to get their points across. One may wonder why, if the song is so offensive, I would bother devoting so much time and energy to it. Wouldn't it be better to just ignore it and move on, rather than give it the attention it doesn't deserve? Well, I guess I believe that we can learn important lessons even from the painful and degrading dregs of our human experience -- even Chris Brown's. So let's dive into this waste heap of toxic humanity and see what we can find, shall we?

I think the first thing we should establish is that this song has nothing whatsoever to do with Chris Brown's onetime relationship with Rhianna. After all, it took sixteen writers to bring this lyrical behemoth to birth, and Chris Brown only ranks third in the list of contributors, making it highly unlikely that this song was initially inspired by anything Rhianna may or may not have done in their relationship. Besides, the lyrics to the song vociferously claim that poor women cannot be trusted to be loyal in their relationships because of their desire to gain financial security through wealthy men. I think it's safe to say that Rhianna is not being alluded to here, since I'm pretty sure she is perfectly capable of independently funding each and every one of her worldly desires herself. I would bet Rhianna is not suffering in any financial way, shape, or form from being a single woman. Now that we've got that misconception out of the way, let's look seriously at the lack of loyalty the artists involved in this song are whining and complaining about.

But perhaps a second misconception needs to be debunked before we can really attack the heart of the problem being wrestled with in "Loyal". We may need to let go of the idea that this song has anything to do with loyalty as such. In order to make any claims to loyalty in an intimate relationship between a man and a woman, the idea of love must necessarily be conceived of as a true and complete gift of self. If the relationship between man and woman lacks this idea of love, there can be no foundation for mutual loyalty within the relationship. If the intimacy between man and woman is considered nothing more than an exchange of goods, the woman exchanging access to her body for increased social status and financial gain, and the man exchanging his wealth for sexual satisfaction, then neither party can make any "loyalty" claims on the other. When sexual satisfaction ends, so does the exchange; when social or financial status declines, so does the exchange. The only "loyalty" that is demanded in this conception of intimate relationships is that between business partners: as long as the relationship is mutually beneficial, it will be respected. As soon as it stops being beneficial for either party, neither are obliged to keep it. Since this is exactly the kind of relationship the poet is referring to, the idea that loyalty is something he can legitimately demand on these terms is nonsensical.

This conception of the relationship between men and women is far from a modern phenomenon. It hovers in the background of every one of Jane Austen's novels and shows itself blatantly in Chaucer's "Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale", and the Greeks were certainly familiar with it if Lysistrata holds any weight. The degradation of the marital union into an exchange of things instead of a gift of persons has been a longstanding enemy of true love between the sexes since the dawn of time, and has brought many abuses of love to birth in adultery, divorce, pornography, prostitution, and rape. In this light, "Loyal" stops having anything to do with loyalty as such within the marital relationship and everything to do with the way we view each other as men and women. As long as we keep viewing the other as a business partner and not the beloved, true intimacy and security in the marital relationship will be impossible to achieve. As long as love is rendered part of an "economy", it will always be subject to the ebb and flow of "market values". As long as this system stands, every woman will be nothing more than a prostitute, and every man nothing more than a john. Rather than addressing this issue and crying out for real love, the poet chooses to sulk like a child and lash out with an inherently misogynistic tirade that only serves to entrench more deeply the very abuse of love that causes the poet's complaint in the first place. Rather than rejecting the consumerist view of sexual intimacy, the poet chooses to throw away marriage, fidelity, dignity, and love altogether in favor of an openly hostile environment of objectification and power struggles that Nietzsche would be proud of. The poet embraces his objectification as nothing more than a source of cash for money-hungry women, and in turn promotes the objectification of women as nothing more than prostitutes.

The objectification on both sides leads to resentment and outright hatred for the opposite sex, which is evident in almost every line of this train wreck as women are referred to in the most degrading of terms. Despite all the macho posturing  and flaunting of wealth referred to in these lyrics (Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Dolce and Gabbana, mink coats, the wealthy Bay area of San Francisco, bottle service, and a lot of marijuana), what is revealed in the heart of this song is a deep-seated fear of being inadequate and a resentment against women for making men feel this way. Rather than finding security in his accumulated personal property, the poet reinforces his misogyny by using his money to buy the so-called loyalty of married women. All three of the collaborators in this song make mention of women taking off their rings or disregarding them in order to allow rich men to have intimate access to them. Lil Wayne says that "she ain't have her ringer or her ring on last night", which allowed him to take the place of the absent husband because of his greater wealth and sexual prowess. Chris Brown scolds women for bringing their husbands with them to the club where he is since he has a lot of money to throw around in exchange for their dancing, a euphemism that quickly dissolves into sexual access. He throws the symbolic fidelity of the wedding ring in the husband's face by tell him that his investment in it was worthless; he has been replaced by someone who can give her more expensive rings. The husband's personal investment in their marital relationship means nothing. French Montana makes the degradation of the "economic exchange" most obvious when, after having been intimate with a woman, he takes back his own property by putting his mink coat back on, while telling the woman to "put a ring back on". The relationship based on economic exchange always devolves into use and abuse; the woman does not gain her financial security despite giving herself. The man has received all he wanted and the contract is broken. She can "put her ring back on" and renew her previous contract with a less satisfying partner. Just as her former contract was easily broken when a better prospect came along, the poet's current contract is broken when he no longer requires the services rendered. When men and women stop being persons in each other's eyes, when the beloved becomes an object, there can be no love but self-love.

The end result of this mess is a generation of men who abuse women out of a fear of being abused in turn. The fear of being inadequate, of being hurt by the beloved, causes the poet to close himself off from any true intimacy or personal investment. A gift of self requires vulnerability, and this personal vulnerability is too risky. It's a bad investment. Lil Wayne asks why he should give his heart to a woman who would rather have money, or why he should involve himself physically with a woman who will willingly be seduced by the very next virile male to come along. He makes a good point: men shouldn't give their hearts away to women who are not willing to make a reciprocal gift of themselves; they shouldn't get involved sexually with women who are not willing to commit themselves totally to the marital union. However, instead of removing himself from the objectification game, he chooses instead to remain within it and objectify in turn. He will continue to participate in these relationships with women, but he will leave his heart out of it; he will assume that the woman will be unfaithful from the get-go and resist any personal attachment to anything about her outside of coitus. French Montana shows where this initial decision leads in the end: "No relation, I don't chase 'em, I replace 'em". The sexual act becomes a faceless interchange of muscle spasms; men and women are relegated to bodies rather than persons, replaced as easily as cell phones; complete apathy takes the place of any notion of real erotic passion. In the end, the insistence on a lack of relationships in intrinsically relational beings brings out the worst in humanity, to the point that the poet says he doesn't know whether he will have sex with women or insult them, which in this case pretty much amounts to the same thing. Love and hate have become indistinguishable. The next logical step from here is violence.

So what does all this say to us? Ultimately, it reveals the complete wrongheadedness of thinking that any economic model for relationships between the sexes can be implemented with positive consequences. Forming relationships solely based on the goods to be exchanged can only lead to degradation and breakdown on the personal and interpersonal level, as the beloved is reduced to a mere object. Only the true and complete gift of self to the other as a beloved person can set the standard for fidelity in marriage and maintain the inherent dignity of both sexes. Otherwise, you'll turn out like Chris Brown. And that's a scary thought.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!

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