I was up all Thursday night worrying about Chris Brown. No one but Rihanna and Karrueche knows what that feels like.
He'd just wrapped up the kickoff of his Between the Sheets tour with Trey Songz and Tyga at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. But what kept me awake was something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Chris Brown is only 25 years old, and already, he's the millennials' biggest villain.
He's also one of the most underrated performers today. I'm pretty sure his loyal army of dedicated fans would agree. Team Breezy, comprised mostly of young black women, was out in force that night, screaming for more. The long line to buy T-shirts after the show was likely unprecedented. Yet it seemed like the only media that had touted the show was 99 Jamz, the local hip-hop radio station.
Why don't people write about Chris Brown? He's one of the few popular male pop stars who both sings and dances. And he can really dance. But he's an uncomfortable topic. He basically makes the internet news only when he acts like an asshole. But I'm not convinced that's entirely Chris Brown's fault.
Besides his own music, Brown sings hooks on almost every hip-hop song on the radio. It's not like he's a has-been. His "New Flame" is blowing up the radio. In it, he links up with two music heavyweights, Usher -- the dancing, singing, reigning king of radio R&B -- and Rick Ross. Many of us very actively encounter Brown's voice on a daily basis. But writing about him is more complicated than singing along.
The reasons he's not written up enough include his criminal past, the fact that dudes singing R&B aren't "hip," and the fact that the demographic his fans represent is often ignored by the media.
To be fair, it kind of sucks to have to address the topic of domestic violence every time you write a positive thing about an artist. He did something that most would consider unforgivable: He physically attacked his girlfriend, a beautiful, budding superstar. This, of course, elevated her status and rightfully diminished his. Even though Rihanna dated him again years later, no one will forget this act, and his shame will continue as long as the internet exists. But remember, Brown is still only 25 years old, so that's likely to be a long time.
And though many will argue otherwise, the truth is, if we'd never worshiped at the altars of talented criminals, who knows what backs today's greats would stand upon. Yeah, you can stop listening to Chris Brown or watching Woody Allen movies, but the truth is, most artists in history were creeps, misogynists, perverts, criminals. But without them, we'd have no Beck (had to), no Questlove, no Beyoncé.
And while we're on the subject of Bey, let's talk R&B. Music blogs drop their panties day in and day out for Beyoncé. She's legitimately talented, but to be frank, her live show is more than a little mechanical. Point is, she's not the "perfection" everyone makes her out to be, and that's cool, because we're all human beings, and "perfection" is not a pretty thing. Women can still sing R&B music and garner true praise, but men singing R&B seem to have a harder time. Thankfully, D'Angelo has arrived to save the genre for all the dudes with smooth voices. But D'Angelo's most recent album is next-level deep. It's not made for the regular radio.
On to the third point: Brown doesn't have as culturally diverse a fan base as his colleagues. The reason Brown is so often overlooked is because his fans -- young women of color -- are often overlooked and generally underrepresented in every medium (this is not to say all young women or non-Anglo females are fans, of course).
A year ago this week, the Women's Media Center released a report that showed how underrepresented women are in the media, specifically, "Women of color -- who are spotlighted in this report for the first time -- are among those who have lost ground in recent years." So, women of color weren't even a subject in the Women's Media Center's research till 2014. If that doesn't say something, I don't know what does. It also shows there aren't that many people in charge of what we're reading and watching who would showcase the interests of this group. I would also posit that it's more out of ignorance than malice.
We, the mainstream music media, pay more mind to guys like the Weeknd, who is, granted, doing more innovative things musically but couldn't begin to fill the BB&T Center. Brown's songs do manage to really mix R&B with electronica. I was surprised when I heard it live -- he is really doing something different, in a way.
At Brown's concert, the crowd screamed the whole time. My friend commented that it was weird that Trey Songz had female dancers and Brown had only male backup dancers. I think it might be because of the Rihanna situation. Songz had quite a pair of pipes on him (and what pecs). The audience swooned and hollered. But Brown, though not a rippled beefcake, managed to illicit the same reaction as Songz with his liquid-like moves.
Out front, like at many larger shows populated by members of the black community, huge sheets hung with the images of the singer's face displayed on them. Women (and sometimes men) waited in long lines to pose for a photo in front of them, pay for a printed-out pic, and bring it home as a souvenir. They waited till the venue kicked them out.
Monday night, Brown was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon with Tyga. I was on the phone with my aunt who said, "He's really good." In fact, my mother first alerted me to Brown as like "the next Michael Jackson" -- this was, of course, before his unforgivable infraction. But who was Michael Jackson? A saint? Or a pervert. Either way, he was a great talent who shaped many lives with his music. And all this tells me that Chris Brown's media problem isn't as much about his terrible past as most people would like to think it is.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!