“I let my fans down once. And I will never do it again.” — Chris Brown
He came. He danced. He…cried. And just like that, Chris Brown was seen primarily as a splendid performer and not the temperamental guy who played Ali with Rihanna’s face.
Brown’s tribute to Michael Jackson may have come a year late for some, but that didn’t stop him from moonwalking, strutting, crooning, crotch-grabbing and doing everything else he could to channel Michael Joseph Jackson at the 10th anniversary of the BET Awards.
His performance was flawless. It was perhaps, the closest impersonation to Michael Jackson’s brilliance we’ll see in a while. Yet, there are many who will remain unmoved. Rhythm and dexterity aside, many cannot forget the hurting he put on Rihanna on February 8, 2009. His career has taken a nose-dive that rivals the U.S. real estate sub-prime mortgage crisis. Endorsements were snatched. He had a feud with the world’s largest retailer. A country even vetoed his entrance.
He has made public appearances since, and has slowly worked to pull himself back into the public’s good graces. Emphasis on slowly. If Brown was anticipating a large-scale forgiveness party, it wasn’t happening. Larry King couldn’t do it. An online apology couldn’t do it. If Brown’s ordeal has taught us anything, it’s that domestic abuse is harder to recover from than, say, a singer peeing and sexing up a minor on video. Regardless of how much time elapses and how many singles he drop, it may won’t be enough for a society where respect for women is demanded.
To be fair, at the time of the incident and his subsequent trial (he pleaded guilty), Brown deserved the criticism. His behavior was irresponsible for a guy who was on top of the world from a career standpoint. From a teenage wunderkind to this generation’s Ike Turner, Brown earned the deepest enmity from women.
Sunday night’s performance at the BET Awards was the first time he was able to apologize to the world on his terms: through doing what he does best by honoring the best. But everybody didn’t hate Brown coming into this performance. Diehard and forgiving fans were in his corner the whole time, sympathizers of a young man who made a mistake and just happen to be famous enough for the world to know it.
As for the other side, the skeptics went into viewing his performance already sensing any possible public relations ploy on his part. Once the tears came, that’s all the hounds needed. Everything afterward was contrived and purposeful. But people in this camp fail to consider the song he cried to was “Man in the Mirror” at the one year anniversary of a the death of a man he grew up idolizing. Add to that all of the tribulations he has gone through (his fault, no doubt) and that adds up to a healthy recipe for genuine tears.
Was his handlers mindful that this was an opportunity to resurrect his career? No doubt.
Were his tears for Michael Jackson? Some of it probably was. But it’s reasonable that it stemmed from the events in his life as well. Either way, it doesn’t make his tears less genuine.
Did he know beforehand that he was going to cry? More than likely.
Does that make his tears and obvious remorse contrived? No. Just because you know something will work out in your favor doesn’t mean it is any less real. Perhaps isolating these factors to gauge authenticity is a mistake. It was more than likely a confluence of all of these factors that resulted in the man we saw Sunday night. For the first time a while, the world saw the passion of a young man, unvarnished and bare since his reprehensible actions over a year ago.
Artists are a special breed: their performances and works are triggered by emotions. Music induces emotions in people. Anybody who listens to ‘Man in the Mirror’ can get misty-eyed and contemplative. Considering the magnitude of the stage and what was at stake, why wouldn’t Chris Brown cry?
Even if Brown went P.T. Barnum on us, does that take away from the performance? Better yet, does it render the call for forgiveness irrelevant?
Remaining cool and calm wouldn’t made him appear more professional, it would have taken away his ability to do what he does best. Artists feed off emotions. And for any music stan, MJ conjured up massive feelings.
People will still insist that “his tears were for Chris Brown, not Michael Jackson.” So what? If it wasn’t for Michael, there would be no Chris Brown. Just like if it wasn’t for Jackie Wilson and James Brown, there would be no Thriller. MJ even shed a few tears when he honored the Godfather of Soul in 2003, yet there weren’t rumblings of crocodile tears then. These artists are a part of each other. Chris Brown deserves to shed a few tears for his journey. That doesn’t make him phony; that makes him human.
But many people won’t see it that way. Regardless, initial reactions on Twitter indicate that Breezy’s career may have received a second life.
If a flawless rendition of the King of Pop can’t serve as a career defibrillator, then redemption just isn’t in the cards. Fortunately for him, at the moment, he has a winning hand.