Today in longreads comes Danielle Bacher’s “Chris Brown’s Downward Spiral: Insiders Open Up About His Struggles With Addiction and Anger,” an almost 5,000-word piece for Billboard. In it, its struggling R&B star subject comes across as a tortured man who can’t (and/or won’t) get a handle on his addiction and mental illness issues (he self-medicates and skips his doctor’s prescription for his bipolar II condition), a giant baby who blames others for his failures, and a flat-out bully who’s prone to expressing himself with his fists. The piece is juicy and sensitive, gossipy and enlightening—a multivalent narrative for an unwieldy public persona.
In Bacher’s rundown of Brown’s unrelenting legacy of violence, petulance, and general messiness, she includes several counterpoints from sources that, I suppose, are an attempt to balance out the narrative and argue why the average reader should care about a man who seems hellbent on demonstrating why people should stop caring about him. Gotta hear both sides, I guess, but rarely in this piece are the sides worth hearing. Let’s take a look at some of the praise and qualifying context charitably afforded to Brown in this piece:
“Chris is an incredible singer and stylist who knows exactly who he is as an artist,” says Brandy, who featured Brown on her 2012 single “Put It Down.” “As a whole, he’s courageous. I loved working with him and would like to work with him again.”
I’ll agree to disagree on all of these points, especially the ones about Brown being an incredible singer (Brown just whines to express emotion in his songs) or an artist (he’s… a performer?) or courageous (whatever that means). And this is coming from Brandy, who is actually an incredible singer! (Incidentally, something that has always bothered me is that when Chris Brown spells his and Brandy’s names at the end of “Put It Down,” a song I love and continue to listen to regularly, he spells his first, not hers. I think that’s rude way for a guest to behave. I know that doesn’t have anything to do with this story, I’ve just been thinking about it for the past four and a half years.)
“I don’t think he hates women,” says one female former employee of Brown’s. “He’s actually a very sweet, sensitive guy. But they’re an easy target, and he’s a bully. It’s not just women — it’s everyone, and he can get away with it.”
See, he doesn’t hate women… he just hates women. And men!
There are, in fact, a multiple quotes in this piece expressing how nice a guy Chris Brown is and how big his heart is, buuuuut… It seems to me like the buts are way bigger than the man’s heart?
“He’s a natural. He is almost God’s perfect person,” says Flii Stylz, Brown’s longtime choreographer, who previously worked with Usher. “No matter how he fucks up and no matter what he does, another replacement for him is not on the way in the next decade.”
To quote Brandy yet again: almost doesn’t count.
Get ready for the worst one:
“He’s the most all-around talented person in R&B,” says Ebro Darden, assistant program director/morning host at WQHT (Hot 97) New York. “Trey Songz is talented, but he can’t dance like Chris Brown. Usher is probably the only person who could rival him, but he doesn’t have the songwriting abilities Chris Brown does.”
This is just completely insane to me. Even if you want to take the stance that Chris Brown’s artistry extends beyond his adroitness as a performer (a stance I’ve never seen anyone convincingly make), his songwriting? That’s what you’re going to single out while claiming it’s better than Usher’s??? Better than a man whose discography is full of songs that have defined the past two decades of R&B, and were sung impeccably, expressively, with great range, and an actual sense of melodic contour??? Without any support, this statement is about as incorrect as subjective opinions get. If I were Usher, I’d be livid.