Can you separate the music from the artist? The Case of Chris Brown
Chris Brown seems to be turning into a cautionary tale about the dark side of social media. Last week Twitter exploded when he voiced his opinion on singer Kehlani who, in a since deleted Instagram, showed herself in a hospital bed with the caption ‘Today I wanted to leave the earth’. Kehlani’s suicide attempt came after the singer was slammed on social media for appearing on the Instagram of her ex – artist PartyNextDoor – holding hands in bed, seeming to have cheated on basketball player Kyrie Irving, who she was formerly linked with. Reacting to the news, Chris Brown launched an angry tirade, calling out Kehlani for ‘flexing for the gram’ and faking her suicide attempt, and for being unfaithful to Kyrie, hitting Twitter with a double whammy of mental health shaming and misogyny.
Chris Brown has a long history of bad behaviour, from viciously assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009 to his current obsession with ex-girlfriend Karreuche Tran, who ended the relationship after he fathered his daughter Royalty with another woman. Brown’s fixation on Karreuche shows how manipulative and abusive he really is, alternating from outpourings of hate to begging for forgiveness. Most recently, Brown dedicated a verse to Karreuche on his song Back to Sleep Remix, but shortly after left a ranting comment on her Instagram: “When this ‘TALENT’ you have starts to simmer, so will everyone else…all of your famous friends know u how? How? How? How? How?” Chris Brown’s ongoing displays of physical and emotional manipulation, as well as his own track record of disloyalty in relationships, makes his unfounded criticism of Kehlani particularly hard to swallow.
However, the music industry has conveniently forgotten about Chris Brown’s misdemeanours. He continues to produce albums and sell out shows, as in a profit-driven industry, a guaranteed hit-maker like Chris Brown isn’t one to drop. But should we demand a more morally accountable music industry? When Lostprophets singer Ian Watkins was convicted of child molesting in 2012, fans went through a lot of soul searching, and ultimately the band broke up. Few would openly proclaim a continuing love for the band and none would try and defend Watkins. Our morals clearly have some sway over our choices, but only in the most extreme cases. In the case of Chris Brown, we continue to let things slide.
We put on similar blinkers when it comes to Kanye West, an artist who, like Brown, shares an obsession with trashing his ex, Amber Rose, about whom he famously said, ‘I had to take 30 showers before I got with Kim’, and has increasingly expressed problematic views on Twitter, including a defence of serial rapist Bill Cosby: ‘Bill Cosby innocent!!!!’ Kanye presents an even more difficult case than Chris Brown when it comes to the question of the art versus the artist. Kanye’s genius is pretty much under constant debate, and it’s hard to deny that he is one of the most innovative and interesting musical talents today. Does the value of his music outweigh the harmful views he presents? It seems far easier to walk away from Chris Brown, as although a commercial success, he is less favoured by the critics, his latest album Royalty receiving barely average reviews.
The reality of events like Kehlani’s attempted suicide and Chris Brown’s attack on Rihanna seem a million miles away from us when we hear his songs on the radio or pick a track on YouTube. The social implications of Kanye West’s misogynistic lyrics in promoting a negative view of women seem even more distant. And when we listen to these artists, we aren’t saying we agree with all of their views. But ultimately, as consumers, we hold a lot of power. Our money is what drives the industry, and as hard as it might be to abandon our favourites, we should try and be conscious with our choices and stop financing artists who we can’t morally defend.
In today’s world, celebrity culture has reached its peak. Social media has given us intimate access to our favourite stars, but it has also exposed their imperfections. In the case of an artist like Chris Brown, it becomes hard to stand on the sidelines and not call out his behaviour, and this changes our relationship with the music he creates. Chris Brown continues, without apology, to expose himself as a misogynist, an abuser and ultimately, a bad person. At some point, we need to call it quits.