entertainment

Does enjoying Chris Brown's music make you a bad person?

“I have been guilty of singing along to Run It on the radio. And every time I do, the same thought crosses my mind — ‘I should not be enjoying this’.”

Only yesterday, Chris Brown was preparing to tour Australia. Tickets were set to go on sale tomorrow for performances in some of the country’s biggest arenas: Rod Laver. Acer. The Brisbane Entertainment Centre.

This morning, the Minister for Immigration denied the RnB singer a visa. Brown’s arena tour will not go ahead as planned.

But that doesn’t change the fact that tens of thousands of Australians were preparing to pay their hard earned money to hear ‘Breezey’ play his biggest hits.

They were planning on buying t-shirts and posters.

On dancing and singing along.

On posting photos and videos of their experience on Instagram.

Chris Brown will no longer be performing in Australia this December.

And all the while they would have been forgetting, forgiving, ignoring the fact that they were supporting a man with a documented history of violence against women.

In February of 2009, Chris Brown turned himself into police after becoming violent against his then girlfriend, fellow artist Rihanna. He beat her. Brutally.

Images of Rihanna’s injuries were posted online, and Brown issued a public statement apologising for the ‘incident’.

“Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired,” he said. “I am committed, with God’s help, to emerging a better person.”

He was sentenced to five years probation and six months of community service.

Images of Rihanna’s injuries were posted online.

Since that time, Brown has released four successful studio albums. He has won an MTV Movie Award and the prize of all musical prizes — a Grammy, for best RnB album.

Let me be the first to admit, I have been guilty of singing along to Run It on the radio. Every time I do, the same thought crosses my mind — “I should not be enjoying this”.

I wouldn’t pay for his music, and would never dream of spending my money on seeing him in concert. But for that split second, when I hear that catchy chorus, I make a choice, not necessarily a conscious one, but a choice nonetheless. I choose to compartmentalise a despicable behaviour, and a catchy pop song. I’m aware of it and I do NOT feel good about it.

Historically, it seems like we have a habit of compartmentalising the artist and their behaviour.

We still call Michael ‘The King of Pop.’

Many people have been able to ignore, dismiss or choose not to believe Michael Jackson’s allegations of child sex-abuse. No, he wasn’t charged. But throughout the entirety of the court proceedings, when we DIDN’T know, we still called him The King of Pop.

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Woody Allen is still making highly successful films with Hollywood’s A-list, people like Emma Stone, Cate Blanchett and Joaquin Phoenix, despite continuing to make comments about the ‘paternal’ relationship he shares with his once daughter now wife, Soon-Yi.

Chris Brown Australian Tour
Woody Allen and Soon-Yi. (Image: Getty)

Dr Lauren Rosewarne, senior lecturer in social and political sciences at Melbourne University, has some insight into why fans may be more willing to overlook the behaviour of these individuals, as opposed to the likes of Bill Cosby or Rolf Harris.

“For people who have made a career from selling a kind of wholesome image or have been associated with the entertainment of children separating their real-life bad acts from their art is much more difficult because they emerge looking like hypocrites; the disparity between their public and private self is too stark.”

Artists like Chris Brown have never traded off being squeaky-clean.

Dr Rosewarne says: “They hadn’t previously been trading on their reputation as wholesome guys and thus their real-life bad acts are construed as less of a problem in the context of consumption of their art. For some artists in fact, controversy is useful in bolstering a reputation as a cutting-edge, renegade performer.”

In other words, when we look at their fall from grace, it doesn’t seem like they’ve fallen so far.

Monash University’s Dr Andy Ruddock, who specialises in the study of media influence, suggests perhaps it is less about Chris Brown the person than you might think.

“His songs have a special meaning to people,” says Ruddock, explaining that people, especially young people, have a way of using music as a means of constructing their social lives.

For them, listening to Chris Brown songs, or going to a Chris Brown concert doesn’t make them consider the devastating realities of domestic violence. It makes them think of that party they went to where they met their partner, or that time they went on a road trip with their girlfriends.

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Ruddock says, “There is a price to pay for not paying the price for the ticket.” The cost is a social one. Missing the show means missing out on events and interactions with friends. “Some people just don’t want to pay that price,” says Ruddock.

So those people are willing to overlook the artist’s behaviour.

“There is a price to pay for not paying the price for the ticket.”

Now, this is not the overarching sentiment.

Not all people are ignoring bad behaviours when they should be calling them out. A petition on GetUp! encouraged Australia’s Immigration office to deny Brown a visa on the grounds of his criminal history. The group said:

“We’re speaking out against Chris Brown because his casual visit our country would have enormous symbolic significance, which will only be amplified by our silence. By turning a blind eye to his tour, we send a message to survivors of family violence that it’s not that important and that you should just get over it.”

In the days leading up to the controversial visa decision, Melbourne residents took matters into their own hands, plastering posters advertising Brown’s concert with a sticker displaying the phrase, “I beat women.”

So, it’s not indicative of a universal trend. Not all people are willing to overlook Chris Brown’s behaviour so they can go to his concert. Others will perhaps make bargains with themselves about where they draw that line of support.

But some people, lots of people, stadiums full of people, are able to separate the two.

Are you able to separate between the artist and the man? Are there any celebrities whose behaviour you’ve been able to compartmentalise?