Chris Brown down but not out

R&B singer rebounding from scandal plays Friday at Sonar

December 10, 2009|By Sam Sessa | sam.sessa@baltsun.com

By all accounts, it's been a bad year for Chris Brown.

On the night he was supposed to perform at the Grammy Awards ceremony, Brown was arrested after assaulting his then-girlfriend, pop/R&B starlet Rihanna. In a matter of weeks, Brown went from celebrated dancer and R&B singer to criminal, his promising career nearly derailed.

"His name was mud," said Vernon Kelson, music director for the radio station 92Q.

Now, months after Brown was sentenced to probation and ordered to do community labor, he is back on stage. A smaller stage, but a stage nonetheless.

Brown booked a nearly 20-city tour, called the Fan Appreciation Tour, which brought him to intimate clubs such as Sonar, where he performs Friday. He issued a public apology this summer, and is donating a portion of the tour's proceeds to Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that helps find jobs for people with disabilities. His new album, "Graffiti," which was released Tuesday, barely touches on the incident.

But the question remains: Will the tour and the new album help Brown's career recover? Or will this incident stick with him for the rest of his life?

"It's going to be a hard one to shake," said Angela Yee, host of The Morning After on Sirius/XM satellite radio. "Stuff like this does tend to stick around."

Yee points to platinum-selling R&B crooner R. Kelly, who was accused of producing child pornography several years ago. Though Kelly has since released a handful of high-selling albums, his reputation will most likely never fully recover from the incident. Brown, on the other hand, could have a better chance to improve his image than Kelly ever will, she said.

"Chris Brown is still really young," Yee said. "He's only 20 years old. He's made some mistakes, and it seems like he really regrets the mistakes."

Fans still have split emotions about Brown's actions, Yee said. After she recently interviewed Brown, she posted on her Twitter page about the conversation, and got a mixture of positive and negative feedback from listeners.

Brown's assault conviction didn't stop Joelle Prepetit, a Baltimore-based DJ, from enjoying his music. Prepetit, who DJs under the name Miss J Nyce, said she is going to see Brown at Sonar tomorrow with friends.

"I don't feel like it's a big issue," she said. "I don't condone people fighting in a relationship. ... That's their personal life, and I don't think your personal life should affect your business."

Since Brown typically performs in arenas, the Fan Appreciation Tour is a chance for the singer's fans to see him in an intimate setting. Though ticket sales were initially sluggish, according to the New York Daily News, the Fan Appreciation Tour appears to have picked up steam. Brown's shows in Washington and Connecticut sold out, and the last few tickets for the Sonar show went on Tuesday.

Brown is one of the most high-profile acts to perform at Sonar, according to Adam Savage, the club's booking agent. Even so, when Savage was first offered the show, he was reluctant at first to book it, he said.

"I was a little hesitant about it," Savage said. "The response was pretty overwhelming. ... Obviously he needs to regain some favor among people, but there are enough people that are willing to forgive whatever mistakes he's made and want to see him."

Qiana McKay, a 29-year-old who lives in Washington, is one such fan. McKay, who won tickets to Brown's show at Sonar through a contest, supports the singer, but doesn't know if his career will ever be the same.

"It's a horrible situation for both of them, but he's paid his debt," McKay said. "It's not like he said he didn't do it. He did it, he's atoned for it, let's all move on."

Yee thinks Brown's decision to play clubs instead of arenas was the right move. In the wake of his incident, Brown might not have been able to fill the arenas he once did, she said.

"It might be too early to try and do something like that," she said. "It would have been a big risk."

One way to gauge how many of Brown's fans have forgiven him will be how many copies Brown's new album, "Graffiti," sells in its first week, Yee said.

So far, "Graffiti" hasn't fared well with critics. Rolling Stone called it "a bland, occasionally obnoxious, pro forma R&B album." The Boston Globe found it hard to separate the man from the music: "No matter how catchy a tune is, it's difficult to feel comfortable enjoying Brown croon." And the New York Times said "the situation is still too fresh to appreciate his CD on the music alone, and the songs ... aren't amazing enough to stand on their own."

Kelson, on the other hand, said "Graffiti" was the first Brown album he enjoyed all the way through. He hopes Brown can bounce back, and regain his good standing.

"I wish people would stop being so hard on him," Kelson said. "I think by him putting out this new album, doing the tour and getting back out there, his fan base will grow. ... We just want to get back to the music."

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