Photo Credit: Michael Caulfield
On June 27, I sat with my daughters, excited to watch the Michael Jackson tribute at the 2010 BET Awards. We watched eagerly, wondering how the infamous Chris Brown, 21, described by many as a Jackson prodigy, planned to pay homage to his idol.
This was Brown's first major TV performance after a year of laying low, following pleading guilty to assaulting ex-girlfriend Rihanna in Feb. 2009. The scandal greatly tarnished Brown's image and caused his popularity to dwindlle: I personally chose not to listen to, buy or even play his music. My girls were no stranger to Brown's reputation and crime. I used the incident as an opportunity to discuss domestic violence with my daughters, making clear to them that Brown's behavior, which resulted in Rihanna's injuries, was unacceptable. Filled with doubt and intrigue, I waited to see if Brown could actually redeem himself in the public eye through this national "comeback."
Brown was off to a great start, standing behind a white screen in silhouette, hat in hand. Then, the curtain dropped and he emerged dressed like Michael Jackson, dancing perfectly to a medley of MJ's greatest hits. The costumes lit up and Brown managed to mimic Michael's moves flawlessly, down to Jackson's famous, and difficult to imitate, moonwalk. He was paying homage to his fallen idol and it all went so well, until Brown took to the mic to sing Jackson's famous song "Man in the Mirror." Brown had only let out a few notes before his voice started to crack and he could no longer sing -- not because the dancing had left him winded, but because Chris Brown, overcome with emotion, had started to cry.
Brown tried several times to continue singing but was unable to pull himself together -- at one point he even dropped to his knees -- before walking off of the stage. The background singers and music continued on while the audience sang along, and many looked very moved by Brown's reaction. My daughters, however, were confused. My youngest daughter, a huge Michael Jackson fan, wanted an explanation. Had he injured himself while dancing or simply forgotten the words? She couldn't understand why he couldn't finish -- or really even start -- the song. I couldn't immediately respond with an answer, because as moved as I was watching Brown's breakdown, I was also perplexed. I explained to my daughters that due to Brown's experiences during the past year or so, he was most likely overwhelmed by the significance of this performance and the subject matter of the song. When my older daughter asked if I believed that Brown's reaction was the result of genuine remorse of his past, I questioned my emotions and then his motives. Did Brown actually have a "moment" when singing, or was his attention-getting breakdown part of a ploy to resurrect his dying career?
This also raised an even more important question: If Brown indeed was remorseful and trying to make amends, should my girls and I view him differently? Should we give him a second chance as an artist?
A main factor I had to consider was the song itself. "Man in the Mirror" is one of Michael Jackson's most powerful and intense works. It begins with "I'm gonna make a change, for once in my life. It's gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right." The message is to examine one's life, take responsibility and right wrongs. I've gotten choked up a few times listening to Jackson sing it, but seeing Brown's reaction to the song had me torn. Was he sincerely moved to tears or was this a publicity stunt?
As I watched a sobbing Brown on stage at the BET awards, I wanted to believe that he was truly moved by the words made famous by his idol. Like Jackson, Brown has encountered scandal and public scrutiny, but MJ's troubles tragically resulted in his life ending prematurely. Later in the program Brown accepted the AOL Fandemonium Award, beating out Justin Bieber, and said to the world " I let you down before, but I won't ever again. I promise."
So should we believe him? Some supported Brown, others mocked him, but many, like myself, remain unsure and torn between writing him off or allowing him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps in singing (or not being able to sing) the song forced Brown to carefully examine his own reflection in the mirror. Maybe he decided to become a man by acknowledging and accepting responsibility for the actions of his ill-tempered teenage self who hurt Rihanna. Let's hope that Chris Brown is inspired by the song's message to "make that change" so that he may have a second chance to follow Michael's dance steps, instead of the footsteps to destruction.
As for my daughters and me, I've decided that the right thing to do is set an example and keep an open mind. By allowing Chris Brown's future actions and music to speak for itself, we can move forward by watching, listening and then judging.
Did you think Brown's reaction was genuine or a PR stunt? Chime in below!
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