Not far into Sunday’s Grammy telecast there was a pivotal shot. During one of those predictable tight pans of celebrities in attendance, the camera found Rihanna. She looked radiant in her red gown and flowing tresses as she smiled widely for the camera.
Despite how tight the frame was, it was impossible not to notice Chris Brown seated next to her.
Backstage a few reporters groaned whenever the camera captured the two cuddled together and smiling widely, and their seating arrangement provided plenty of fodder, both good and bad, on social media networks.
As the night went on, Rihanna, who won a Grammy for her “We Found Love” video earlier in the day, took the stage (twice) and Brown lost out to the guy he allegedly jumped in a parking lot a couple of weeks ago.
But that’s not what mattered, and the two exhaustingly provocative R&B-pop singers are smart enough to know this. By sitting together they made a very simple statement: We've moved on.
Unless you’ve been in exile these last four years, you’re fully aware of Rihanna and Brown’s tumultuous relationship with the Grammys.
Both bowed out of attending the 2009 ceremony after a late-night car ride changed everything between the young lovebirds -- and how we viewed them. We’ve all seen the photo of Rihanna’s bruised and battered face, which came at Brown's hands. We’ve read the police report, scrutinized the interviews, decoded the music created in the incident's aftermath and formed (very strong) opinions.
The sordid details of that night have driven the collective obsession with Brown and Rihanna since then, and the interest has intensified as the two have gravitated toward each other over the last year, courting controversy here and there along the way.
At last year’s telecast, Brown drew plenty of ire when he performed and took home his first Grammy. Rihanna was there, too, but she did her thing separately -- and the cameras never panned to the other for reaction shots.
Not long after, they issued a pair of musical collaborations, but those post-Grammy remixes were just the beginning of Brown and Rihanna letting us now they were still in each other's lives, and a firestorm of outcry seemed to follow their every move.
Of the countless headlines connected to the pair within the last year -- her appearance on “Oprah’s Next Chapter,” his bizarre rhetoric of loving two women (he dumped flame Karrueche Tran over his “friendship” with Rihanna) or oversharing on Instagram -- what’s become clear is they no longer care about public opinion. As if to underscore the point, the pair cut another duet in 2012, "Nobody's Business."
Still people cringe when the two sit courtside at a Lakers game or go clubbing in Hollywood. They’ve been labeled the next Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, especially after Rihanna supported him by appearing in court last week for his probation progress report.
Sure, that 2009 incident will follow Brown for the rest of his life. And he has made it especially hard to look away now that he has amassed a ridiculously embarrassing list of public misbehavior, including allegations that he failed to complete his community service sentence, which was handed down as a result of his assault on Rihanna.
But Rihanna has moved on. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, when asked about reconciling with Brown, she told the magazine that she decided it was important to be happy.
"I wasn't going to let anybody's opinion get in the way of that," she said. "Even if it's a mistake, it's my mistake. After being tormented for so many years, being angry and dark, I'd rather just live my truth and take the backlash. I can handle it."
The public might not ever forget what happened, and that's OK. But by sitting together at the very ceremony that framed an evening that altered every perception surrounding the couple, they've shown us what their brand of forgiveness looks like.
And if anyone doesn't like it? Well, Brown and Rihanna have written a few songs in response.