Four Five Seconds to Domestic Violence

Sometimes, when you spend eight ten twelve hours a day working on something, you start to see that thing everywhere, even when other people might not.

For me, that thing is domestic violence. As an attorney who works on child abuse and neglect cases, I get more than a few cases a day that involve domestic violence (because hey, if you’re going to beat up your kid, you may also be beating up your partner).

So as I was driving into work the other day, I heard Rihanna and Kanye West’s new single, Four Five Seconds. For the unfamiliar, here are the lyrics:

Four Five Seconds (Lyrics from metrolyrics.com)

I think I’ve had enough
I might get a little drunk
I say what’s on my mind
I might do a little time
‘Cause all of my kindness
Is taken for weakness

Now I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

Woke up an optimist
Sun was shinin’, I’m positive
Then I heard you was talkin’ trash
Hold me back, I’m ’bout to spaz

I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

And I know that you’re up tonight
Thinkin’, “How could I be so selfish?”
But you called ’bout a thousand times
Wondering where I’ve been
Now I know that you’re up tonight
Thinkin’ “How could I be so reckless?”
But I just can’t apologize
I hope you can understand

If I go to jail tonight
Promise you’ll pay my bail
See they want to buy my pride
But that just ain’t up for sale
See all of my kindness
Is taken for weakness

Now I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
That’s all I want

Songwriters
Mccartney, Paul / Fenty, Robyn Rihanna / Omari, Kanye West

Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

The radio show hosts couldn’t figure out what it meant. They spent a long time discussing what “Four Five Seconds” means–is it forty five seconds? Four, five? Four “five seconds”?

They did not talk about the heart of the song, which is, to me, obviously about domestic violence. At least, I thought it was obvious. Apparently the internet doesn’t think so. I googled “Four Five Seconds meaning”, and didn’t find anything about domestic violence, other than one article that simply hints at “ins and outs” that Rihanna and Chris Brown have gone through. Wikipedia had this to say about the meaning of the song:

Lyrically, it “express emotions ranging from the flip to the resigned”.[9] Sharan Shetty of Slate stated that the song is about “heartbreak and redemption”,[17] while a Yahoo! Newsreviewer noted that it is about “personal travails and confusion”.[18] Nora Crotty of Elle magazine described the single as an “ode to repenting in the morning for the foolish mistakes you made the night before”.[4] -Wikipedia “FourFiveSeconds”

Baffled that that nothing explicitly mentioned the clear domestic violence message of the song, I tried googling “Four Five Seconds domestic violence”. Nothing. There were some sites about the song and some sites about domestic violence, but really nothing that linked the two. So, dear internet, let me tell you. “FourFive Seconds is a song about domestic violence, told both from the perspective of the abuser and the victim. It attempts to go beyond the surface level discussions that so often surround these debates, and get into the heart and souls of people in such relationships.

All of My Kindness is Taken for Weakness

Rihanna doesn’t waste any time getting into the heart of domestic violence. Survivors might feel like they’ve had enough, but they’re willing to give their abusers one more chance, out of the kindness of their hearts. Over and over again survivors talk about not wanting to give up on their abusers. They love their abusers, and so, even while recognizing that they’re not being treated as they should be they bestow “kindness” on the abuser, giving the abuser a chance to redeem themselves.

From an outsider’s perspective, this “kindness” is so many times called “weakness”. We often hear things like “Why can’t she just leave that guy–he’s always beating her and slapping her, she’s just too weak to leave”. Rihanna herself suffered such victimization. After Chris Brown famously assaulted her in 2009, Rihanna left him. After many rumors that they were back together, she announced in 2013 that they had reunited. Commenters on a Rolling Stone article about the reconciliation had this to say about that decision:

“I love seeing someone like her run back to her abuser-she looks like the idiot she is by her actions.” Hook UK

“Rihanna is a role model for young women. By staying with her abuser, she is encouraging other women to stay in abusive, dangerous relationships. It’s only a matter of time before one of those women ends up battered, maimed, or dead. As far as I’m concerned, Rihanna has or will have blood on her hands. Shame on her.” Robotclam

So many times victims say that they want to give their abusers “one more chance”. It is an important step. While so many people view it as weakness or idiocy, it is not meaningless. It is an important step that a victim takes towards recognizing that there is a problem in the first place.

Four Five Seconds from Wildin’

I absolutely love the chorus of the song. It evokes so much emotion. The pouty, slow breaths of the lines bring up feelings of struggle. The references to Friday and Monday make one remember that personal struggles are not just about these lofty ideals of “what type of person is right for me” and “what do I want out of life”, but rather are often much more finite–“how will I pay the rent this week” or “my child is sick but I can’t take any more time off of work” or “we don’t have any more chicken in the freezer but I don’t get paid until Thursday”.

I remember one night in college, I was all stressed out because I had a big paper due that I wasn’t nearly ready to turn in, along with some other finals and shifts at my part time job. I called a friend, who told me that she was also feeling stressed. We decided to meet up and talk about our issues. I remember feeling almost angry with her when she told me that the problems that were keeping her up at night were “what type of person do I want to be” and “where do I see myself in 10 years?”. Of course those are important questions to answer, but you can’t really deal with them until you turn in that final paper, which is due no matter what type of person you are.

While a relationship can give people joy and love and safety, there are also practical benefits. There’s housing, there’s shared finances, there’s co-parenting. I know someone who has been separated from his wife for years, but still hasn’t signed the final divorce papers because he and his daughter are benefitting from being under his wife’s insurance. This arrangement works for him, but if his wife was abusive, it may not be practical. There’s a lot of extortion that happens: Sleep with me and be my partner, or you can’t stay in my house anymore. If you leave, you’ll have no where to go. Your job (if you even have one) won’t be enough to pay for an apartment and living expenses all on your own. Stay with me, where it’s safe.

If I Go To Jail Tonight, Promise You’ll Pay My Bail

If my husband needed to be bailed out of jail, I would march over there and bring every single penny in my account to help him out. Because I love him and he’s good to me and he deserves my help. Even if he did something foolish and stupid–he might have to deal with the consequences later, but I’d help him out in the moment because, love.

For so many victims, the sentiment is the same despite years of being treated badly. There is still love. There is still affection. There is still a very real feeling that the abuser deserves to be loved, despite whatever may have happened in the past, because, love.

This can’t be dismissed very easily.

There are no easy answers. We can educate boys and girls how to behave in relationships and what is healthy and what is unhealthy, but at the end of the day, every individual has to make the choice that is right for him or her. There are so many nuances involved in the decision that an outsider can’t see. All that an outsider can do is offer assistance and support, and most importantly, to be there, no matter what.

“He put me in the hospital when I was pregnant with her. The next day he started crying, begging for forgiveness. He said: ‘I’m so sorry, I was drunk, I need you so much.’ So I took him back. The next time it happened, he managed to convince me that it was my fault. He said that he wouldn’t have gotten so angry if I had paid more attention to him. So I started thinking that I could be better. Then it happened again. Honestly, I stayed with him so much longer than I should have because I was afraid of becoming the stereotype of a single black mother.” HumansOfNewYork.com
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