I’ve been debating the idea of speaking up on this whole Chris Brown/Rihanna mess for a few days now. It wasn’t until last night, when I was poring through a nearly two decade-old book, Generation Sex by Dr. Judy Kuriansky, that I really felt like it was necessary to put pen to paper. I randomly picked up on this statistic: over 30% of women who are murdered in theUnited Statesget killed by a current or former lover/spouse/romantic partner. The book I was reading was published in the late Nineties, so the info is outdated, but I doubt very much that the number has decreased-and if it has since then, feel free to correct me.
Now, let’s backtrack a bit. For those who live under a pop culture rock, here’s the deal. Singers Rihanna and Chris Brown were a couple. On the evening before the Grammy Awards in 2009, Chris-to put it bluntly-beat the shit out of Rihanna. The photos of a bruised Rihanna actually seemed to underplay what Chris did to her. He punched her, choked her, bit her. This wasn’t a heat of the moment shove or slap (not that I advocate that as an acceptable alternate,) but a full-on beatdown. Post-assault, the two briefly reconciled before splitting up, Chris Brown was charged and convicted of assault, and was then sentenced to community service and probation. His career seemed to (rightfully) take a dive as well. His pre-assault album, Exclusive, sold 2 million copies. His first post-assault album, Graffiti, sold about 1/6 of that. He was largely shunned by the radio, video outlets, and press.
However, the worm has turned. While last year’s F.A.M.E. didn’t fully restore him to hit radio, it’s sold a healthy 839,000 copies so far. It was last year’s biggest selling album by a male R&B artist. Radio (particularly urban radio) embraced him again, superstars ranging from Busta Rhymes to Justin Bieber collaborated with him, and it culminated in a triumphant return to the Grammy stage less than two weeks ago, where he performed twice and accepted the award for Best R&B album on the air-causing much scratching of heads.
Personally, I take that with a grain of salt. I’ve never been a fan of Chris Brown beyond liking a couple of singles (and considering he rarely writes his own material, and doesn’t have a voice with very much personality, I take some small comfort in the fact that I’d probably like that handful of songs no matter who sang them.) I’ve never bought one of his albums (although through various professional contacts, I’ve wound up owning three of the four,) and I wouldn’t pay a red cent to see him in concert. The Grammy performances were mildly annoying, but we have free will-we can change the station, and I would have, was I not live-blogging the show for this site. And while the win itself was a bit insulting (especially considering the talent of the other nominees in the category,) it is the Grammy Awards, a show that generally tends to honor the most popular as opposed to…you know, the best.
At the time, I was actually irritated by the fact that people seemed to be singling him out for scorn, when the show gave a tremendous amount of airtime to Glen Campbell (a man who has long been rumored to have been free with his fists around women) and we’d just spent a week honoring Don Cornelius (who’d been arrested for assaulting his wife more recently than Chris did for assaulting Rihanna.) Hell, in the same category as Chris Brown, there was El DeBarge (who has been arrested at least once on charges related to violence towards women) and R. Kelly (whose “alleged” crimes are far more egregious than Brown’s.) Had the show honored James Brown (arrested numerous times for assault on his wife at the time,) Bill Withers (see: Glen Campbell,) or Phil Spector (who actually KILLED a woman) it’s also likely that there would not have been much of an outcry. Why is that? Simple answer: most of these incidents are nowhere near as well known in the age of Twitter, Facebook and TMZ when NO one has a private life. In most of these cases, both parties involved are not famous (or as famous as Chris and Rihanna were/are) and…let’s face facts. Chris is a young black man and, rightly or wrongly, American society loves to put the face of a monster on young black men. Granted, Chris deserved to be labeled a monster, but I’ll bet you my life savings that if a white male singer with an equal amount of success had been accused/convicted of the same things, there would be significantly less of an outcry-or at least, three years would probably be sufficient time to “forgive and forget.”
I can’t say whether the Grammy committee was right or wrong in allowing Chris to perform on the show. Money overtakes morals in just about every industry in existence. Why should the music industry be any different? Did Chris’s appearance bring more viewers to the show? Personally, I doubt it, but obviously the Grammy organizers did, and they’re entitled to make that decision. How many award shows did Snoop appear on between the time he was arrested for being an accessory to murder and the time he was acquitted?
I don’t know whether there’s a statute of limitations on forgiveness, either. Yes, it sets a bad example for impressionable people, but if our young people believe that it’s okay to pummel our significant others (or women in general, or anyone in general,) you can’t blame that on the Grammy Awards or the people who’ve bought Chris Brown’s album. You’ve fucked up as a parent, an adult, or a mentor.
Now, in terms of personal forgiveness? It isn’t really my place. I don’t know the man, will probably never meet the man, and as I mentioned before, don’t really care for his music. I don’t see him having a lengthy or meaningful career, so he’s pretty much an afterthought to me. I totally understand why there’s such a large amount of people unwilling to forgive him-there hasn’t been one moment where Chris has sincerely appeared to be remorseful or contrite. There’s been no public apology, and he’s had plenty of opportunities to stand on a stage, acknowledge the incident, and say he made a mistake, he regrets it, he’s learned from his mistakes and he’ll be a better man from now on. Hell, he had the opportunity to do it at the Grammy Awards WITH RIHANNA IN ATTENDANCE. Hell, y’all made Justin Timberlake apologize for assisting in exposing Janet Jackson’s titty on live television (hell, and Janet got blacklisted for it,) but Chris Brown doesn’t have to apologize for beating the stuffing out of his girlfriend?
Not only has he not offered a sincere apology, but he’s acted like an entitled asshole (which, let’s face it, most celebrities are) and refused to man up and face the music about the incident in interviews. While in most cases, no one should be obligated to discuss their private lives if they don’t want to, most of us are not celebrities. No, famous people (I’ll fall short of calling him an “artist”) should have some semblance of privacy. However, the assault was not a private event, and if Chris can make oblique references to it (y’all saw his last album title, right?) then he should talk honestly and frankly about it when asked.
Which leads me to the thing that really irks me-Rihanna and Chris have reunited to record two new songs-remixes of her “Birthday Cake” and his latest single “Turn Up The Music.” No, I haven’t listened to either of these songs, so I have no clue what their musical merit is. I do wonder what the hell is going on inside Rihanna’s head that made her think this was a good idea. On one hand, people go back to their abusers all the time in a personal context-one could argue that a professional relationship isn’t that big a deal. But on the other hand-what kind of a message does that send? In the three years since the assault, Rihanna’s cultivated this image as a rebellious, resilient woman, and this move basically undoes everything she’s done during that time. What does it say about the moral character of the people at Rihanna’s label, her management and advisors, that they allowed this to happen? What does it say about the press that no one seems to be willing to take a stand (especially in light of the fact that fans of both artists are quite young) and at least issue some sort of , I don’t know, disclaimer along with the songs? Am I a wacko for thinking that forgiveness is encouraged, but the line has to be drawn somewhere? When someone basically attempts to take your life, you don’t go back and do things to help their careers! It’s definitely dropped my appreciation level for Rihanna down a few pegs.
Look, she’s a grown woman, he’s a grown man, they can do whatever they want to do as two consenting adults. However, as people whose success is largely dictated by public opinion, I’d say that this idea probably should’ve been thought through a little more intelligently, and thought through with a little concern for Rihanna’s young fans who might get the wrong message. No, it’s not hers (or Chris’s) responsibility to be a role model, but showing a little bit of respect and common sense towards the people responsible for your lifestyles (and just being decent people overall) is never a bad thing.