In the #MeToo Era, Is Chris Brown Still Untouchable?

Chris Brown
Chris Brown Photo by George Martinez
It wasn't that long ago when the world first cringed at the "grab 'em by the pussy" recording. A white man with a lot of money and power is bragging to another white man of privilege about how he likes to, well, assault women. The most upsetting part: That man is now the president of the United States. For all of the nightmares that have become a reality under the Trump presidency so far, one good thing did happen. All of those pussies being handled without consent were attached to bodies. And their mouths and fingers shared their stories of sexual violence, connected by a simple hashtag: #MeToo.

#MeToo was created by social activist Tarana Burke in 2006 but elevated to a national discourse after sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein came to light. A tweet by actress Alyssa Milano on October 15, 2017, sparked a revolution of sorts. People have always been accused of sexually violating the bodies of others, but now, it seemed, those doing the violating were beginning to be treated like the criminals they are. There were finally repercussions for their very bad actions. Of course, many unmarked predators still lurk in our midst, but the movement seemed to draw a line in the sand. A reckoning had begun.

But a couple of things haven't yet happened in the wake of the #MeToo stories. First, people who committed those transgressions before Milano's now-famous tweet have not lost their celebrity and largely continue to maintain their social influence — so far, at least. Second, those men who were violent toward women in a nonsexual manner have also yet to face the fire.

In the world of music, the before-and-after line of #MeToo seems even clearer than in other industries. Many who were accused prior to the movement largely maintain their power positions, but men who have been accused in the wake of the hashtag are facing great consequences for their actions. People such as Ben Hopkins of PWR BTTM, Russell Simmons, and Ethan Kath of Crystal Castles have dealt with allegations of major mistreatment of women since last October. Fans are fed up with people who will not take no for an answer.

No one is burning Elvis records because he was into middle-schoolers.

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There are so many others, however, whose transgressions were discovered before mainstream minds decided sexual violence against women was unacceptable — which was only last year — and who continue to tour and maintain a devoted fan base. There's CeeLo Green, who in 2014 pleaded no contest to using Ecstasy to drug a woman but avoided a rape charge in the same case. There's the most infamous of all, R. Kelly. Fans are only now boycotting the R&B singer, who has a sordid history of sexually abusing girls even before #MeToo. But a report by BuzzFeed that alleged he was harboring a sex cult really got the ball rolling last year. It's almost as though the horrific actions that were reported before the hashtag aren't nearly as important as anything that comes to light now. Perhaps fans don't have time to think about past allegations when it comes to their musical gods. No one is burning Elvis records because he was into middle-schoolers.

Then there's Rihanna's abusive ex, Chris Brown. Though his violent tendencies are not necessarily sexual in nature, he's still one of the most problematic pop stars of all time. Since he beat Rihanna to within an inch of her life in 2009, his history of abuse toward women mostly involves punching them or stealing their phones to prevent picture-taking. He has maintained steady airplay throughout his adult life despite his music being largely ignored by the music media because of his terrible behavior. He still maintains his devoted Team Breezy fandom and has taken his "bad boy" high jinks and made them part of his brand. It's as if he's untouchable. He has the odd protection of some otherworldly force that Trump also possesses. They commit so many vile acts but fall just short of losing all of their supporters and thus maintain their power.

The reason Brown isn't going down now is because the #MeToo movement doesn't quite affect those who commit nonsexual violence toward women in the same way it affects molesters and rapists. In May 2018, a Jane Doe accused Brown not of raping her but of trapping her in his house without a cell phone so she could be raped by rapper Young Lo. Brown didn't do it, but he was in the room. He might have enabled the crime. Did this hurt his career? Not exactly. He wasn't the one accused of rape.

If Brown brutalized Rihanna tomorrow instead of in 2009, would he still have as many fans in a post-#MeToo world? It's possible. People like Chris Brown will fall through the #MeToo gaps. The movement should widen its focus to include other kinds of violence toward women. But then again, maybe the public can't handle the scope of it. So Brown continues to tour and shape a new generation of women and men.

Chris Brown. 7 p.m. Thursday, July 5, at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach; 561-795-8883; Tickets cost $35 to $170.99 via
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Liz has her master’s degree in religion from Florida State University. She has since written for publications and outlets such as Miami New Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Ocean Drive, the Huffington Post, NBC Miami, Time Out Miami, Insomniac, the Daily Dot, and the Atlantic. Liz spent three years as New Times Broward-Palm Beach’s music editor, was the weekend news editor at Inverse, and is currently the managing editor at Tom Tom Magazine.
Contact: Liz Tracy