The problem with Chris Brown
Every time Chris Brown’s name comes up – and it has come up a lot in the last week – I think of the over-priced baseball caps. It’s January 2009 and Brown is in Dublin to play four sold-out Irish …
Every time Chris Brown’s name comes up – and it has come up a lot in the last week – I think of the over-priced baseball caps. It’s January 2009 and Brown is in Dublin to play four sold-out Irish shows. Because of OTR readers’ “who the hell is Chris Brown?” puzzlement when he sold 50,000 tickets in the blink of an eye, I’ve been despatched to interview the r’n'b singer. It’s a bizarre experience for many reasons, not least because the interview is arranged alongside the fanclub meet-and-greet before the show. Around two dozen women have each paid $200 a head to meet Brown, have their photo taken with him and get the chance to buy special merchandise, such as the aforementioned baseball cap.
Later in his dressingroom, the then 19 year old Brown talks about this in the same terms as you’d expect to hear from any canny CEO. “With the way the economy is right now, you have to have the business side wrapped up. If you don’t have the money end of what you do together, you’re doing yourself no favours. If you don’t know what your revenue is going to be or how you’re going to make your revenue and what’s going to continue to bring you in revenue, you’re going to end up with nothing to fall back on if you want to stop singing.”
10 days after this interview took place, Brown assaulted his then girlfriend Rihanna in Los Angeles and left her bloodied and bruised. Suddenly, no-one was talking about Brown as the new Usher or new Justin Timberlake any more. Suddenly, the Chris Brown industry was facing a very large problem: the CEO himself.
Three years on, that problem remains. The harder the Brown industry tries to ignore it and move on, the more attention the problem receives. Last weekend, Brown won a Grammy for Best R&B Album and headed to Twitter to have a go at his detractors who, he feels, are still on his case three years on from that horrific incident. In the world of Brown and his fans (and his business), three years is a lifetime.
But three years on, Brown has still not shown any signs that he understands why so many people are still disgusted, outraged and horrified by what he did. He’s still capable of throwing public temper tantrums when the question is raised – just ask the team at Good Morning America - and his gloating tweet (since, naturally, deleted) indicates a man who doesn’t get why so many people are not prepared to forget what he did to an innocent woman (even if, as some reports have it, there’s now talk of collaborations again – that’s the record industry for you).
Actually, there really does appear to be a concerted effort on the part of the entertainment industry to rehabilitate Brown with talk of “second chances”. That was the line peddled by Grammys’ executive producer Ken Ehrlich talking about why Brown was one of the performers at the glitzy show. “I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened.” A whole two years without Brown doing his yellow pack Usher act? A whole two years since US TV audiences have had to see a man who bashed his girlfriend and has never showed any true remorse over it? A whole two years? Truly, the TV world is another planet.
Thankfully, some people don’t think that what the world needs now is a comeback from a thug who thinks hitting his defenceless girlfriend is a classy thing to do and has yet to show any inkling about why this is wrong. From Laura Snapes’ brilliant post for the NME to Billboard’s unprecedented open letters to both Brown and Rihanna, a lot of people are quite excercised about what’s happening.
And rightly so: entertainment stars like Brown need to understand why domestic violence of any ilk is wrong. That their punishment consists of public opprobrium and a loss of valuable opportunities is only the half of it. When you have some women responding like this to the spectacle of woman-beater Brown at the Grammys, you begin to see the bigger, more horrific picture. Do we really want a world where some women seem to think that domestic violence is OK?
As someone in the public eye, Brown is a role model. If he thinks that beating up Rihanna is OK and does nothing to show any understanding of why society should be angered by this behaviour, we still have a problem that no amount of community service or legally mandated apologies is going to solve. It’s high time for Brown to cop on and realise why so many people both within and without the industry which has given him a good living are so angry at what he continues to do.
The more people concentrate on this side of Brown’s character, the more chances are that his future shows will be greeted by a lack of interest rather than sold-out houses. That, after all, may be the only way for Brown and the large entourage who rely on him for their money will get it into their thick heads that what happened in that car with Rihanna in January 2009 is not something to be forgotten or glossed over in a hurry.