Chris Brown often says Michael Jackson is his biggest inspiration. And it's easy to see the foundation laid by the King of Pop in Brown's work. Take his video for "Party," for example; as the 27-year-old Brown dances, you can imagine Jackson's moves, so much a part of Brown that they might be written in his DNA.
But there's another way in which Brown has followed Jackson's lead: They were both haunted by allegations of serious crimes. Though Jackson was never found guilty of child molestation in a court of law, those claims made it so fans either had to separate the man from his music or convince themselves that Jackson's multiple accusers were part of a vast conspiracy.
But while Jackson had decades of creating legendary music under his belt when he was first accused of child molestation in 1993, Brown was only a few years into his career when the photo of his battered then-girlfriend Rihanna was splashed all over the internet in 2009. In subsequent years, Brown allegedly shoved a women to the ground at a California club, allegedly punched a woman in the face in Las Vegas, and allegedly used a gun to threaten a woman in Los Angeles. So without the respect afforded to music legends to protect him, Brown has surely lost huge numbers of fans who would boycott any artist who might have a thing for hurting women. Right?
Nope. Since that scandal, Brown has had five top-ten albums and packed massive arenas, just as he'll surely do at American Airlines Arena this Saturday.
Why are so many people willing to forgive and forget?
It would be easy to write off Brown's fans as sexist assholes, belonging to the same category as the 60 million Americans who voted for a man who admitted to sexual assault on tape to run the country for the next four years. But music history is especially filled with rock gods with problematic personal lives. Rockabilly fans in the '50s shook to Jerry Lee Lewis even if they didn't agree with incest or statutory rape. Dr. Dre beat the hell out of a female journalist in front of a hundred witnesses, and we still blast "Nuthin but a G Thang" any time it comes on the radio. An adult Jimmy Page once kidnapped a 14-year-old girl to have sex with her, and it's considered un-American not to love Led Zeppelin. The urge to overlook a celebrity's vile behavior for the sake of entertainment is not a strictly conservative tendency.
If churches are filled with people who hate the sin but love the sinner, concert halls are filled with people who love the song and love the singer, at least as long as the singer keeps them moving. So as long as Brown continues producing vocally modulated music accompanied by collaborators such as Usher and Gucci Mane that fans can dance and sing along to, there will be massive crowds at every Chris Brown show — no matter how many more times he displays violent behavior and then chronicles it in song.
Chris Brown: The Party Tour
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; aaarena.com; 786-777-1000. Tickets cost $35.95 to $175.95 via ticketmaster.com.