Folks all across Negronia and beyond tuned into last night’s BET Awards in anticipation of the network’s second attempt at a Michael Jackson tribute. I didn’t watch live because, well, I ain’t got cable. I am convinced that having access to so much television would make me lazy. And also, I’m poor. In anticipation of the key performances making their way to YouTube, I was able to garner the public’s reaction via Twitter. Interesting to say the least.
Chris Brown, who was unable to partake last year in the wake of beating his girlfriend’s ass, was given clearance to do the sort of MJ tribute all of us had been waiting for (not to shortchange the dope tribute at last year’s VMA’s, which was overshadowed by the Kanye/Taylor and Jay+Alicia+Lil’ Mama incidents):
Let’s table the last two and a half minutes for a second and focus on the dancing first. Did Brown bring it? Yes, he did. As most of us know, there isn’t really another artist around who can dance as well as Chris does. Justin Timberlake is good, but not that good. Usher might have been able to pull it off, but I’d wager that had he wanted to do it, he would have been the one up there in the glove. However, we never had any doubt as to whether Chris Brown can dance. He’s been dancing since we met him. That’s what he does best; his vocals are fair to middling, but he can move those feet.
The immediate reaction to the dance performance from a LOT of folks on Twitter was “Chris Brown is back!” and “This is his redemption song!” (this was the reaction on the Negro Net; other folks felt differently). Hmmm. Interesting. Brown hasn’t really been gone as of late; he released an album last December and his name has stayed pretty constant in the gossip pages. This was his first performance at a major awards show since his arrest, but it wasn’t exactly a comeback. More like a high moment in a career that has, as of late, been marked with low ones. A comeback would require some new music; Brown can’t just show up everywhere and do Mike choreography (as much as I would enjoy watching that). And since he hasn’t ever been known to do bad dance performances (remember: we haven’t engaged the attempt at singing “Man In The Mirror” yet), the only ‘redemption’ he could have been seeking on stage would be for his assault on the Barbadian sensation.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that R. Kelly’s star only began to fade as the quality of his music declined. Not as a result of his scandal. The reaction to Brown’s performance last night gave me a similar feeling. Graffiti didn’t tank because of what the singer did to Rihanna; the album failed because people didn’t enjoy it musically. Did his trouble make things worse? Absolutely. Brown’s victim was famous, there was photographic evidence of just how bad the beating was and he never denied what he did. Plus, his post-arrest interviews and apology video were infamously terrible. But I think had the kid recorded some better music, it wouldn’t have taken this long for people to forgive him. The fact that people want to call a great dance performance a “redemption” troubles me greatly.
I personally would have liked to see Chris disappear for a while. He was arrested for the Rihanna incident in February of 2009 and his third album was released in December. If I were in charge of his career, he’d have been gone at least a year and reemerged after some serious therapy and media training. And then he’d come back to say he was still in therapy, that healing would be a long process and that he wanted to be an example to young men and women everywhere who grew up witnessing abuse and found a way to brake the cycle. I’d get some great songwriters and producers to give him an album that had some lighthearted dance material for the kids and a few cathartic ‘I am changing’ cuts. And I would keep him off of Twitter without a chaperon. But, alas, I ain’t in charge of his career (evidence of which: Larry King interview (and bow tie), apology blouse, Sandra Rose jokes, Wal-Mart rant, ‘I miss her’ rants, etc.)
Ah, yes, so how about those tears when he attempted to sing “Man In The Mirror”. Staged? I can’t call it one way or another and with no apparent evidence that it was, I’ll just say it looked real to me. Chris is 21 years old, which is still remarkably young. He’s just barely an adult. He was plucked from a little town in Virginia before he could halfway finish high school and before he could drive legally, he was at the top of the music charts, being spoiled and coddled and exposed to all types of things a person his age shouldn’t have access to. Even without the fame, the fact that Chris Brown grew up with domestic violence in his home made it very likely that he would repeat the behavior he witnessed as a child. I am not making excuses for him, but instead, trying to highlight some reasons as to why the Grammy night assault (and any violence prior to that event with Rihanna or other girls) may have happened.
I’m personally hoping that we do get an actual ‘redemption song’ from this young man. Is his personal life my business simply because he’s an entertainer? Well, he’s a young brother and I want what’s best for him and what’s best for the community: rehabilitation. For his safety and happiness, for the sake of the women he dates and for the many young people of this celebrity obsessed culture who take their cues from entertainers. I’m glad to know that on a legal end, he’s doing what he’s supposed to do and I truly hope that Brown is in a space where he can work on himself for real and not just going through the motions to stay out of prison.
I am in no way saying that we should blacklist him for life for something he did at age 19, but the suggestion that dancing and crying on TV redeems him from his violence against his girl is pretty disturbing. Had he not performed well, would people say “See, that’s what he gets for beating up Rihanna!” ? What if the dancing had been bad, but he broke into tears; would people still say that was his ‘redemption song’?
All that to say, if Chris Brown redeemed himself yesterday, it wasn’t for beating up his girlfriend but for releasing a crappy record. He did a great job and it was enjoyable to watch. But by delivering a fitting salute to the King of Pop, Brown simply reminded the world that he can perform. Nothing further. If you feel that he requires public forgiveness for what he did to Rihanna, then he shouldn’t be able to earn it from dancing. If you don’t think forgiveness is required, then just say he’s good at what he does.
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