In Defense of Chris Brown (But Not Really)

Come on William, isn’t Chris Brown old news? What reason could you have for writing about him in 2012?

Well, as it turns out, Chris Brown continues to release music after his widely reported incident of domestic violence against Rihanna. This music even has the audacity to be popular, as if the notes weren’t aware they were coming from the worst human being to live since that one other celebrity who was in the news for doing something bad.

Okay, we get it, you’re a smart-ass. But really, why is this relevant to bring up again?

I’m bring up Chris Brown again because the internet keeps bringing him up to me. Recently, I’ve seen pictures getting passed around on Facebook and Reddit of reviews of Brown’s newest album, Fortune. Two reviews in particular, one from Chloe Papas in X-Press and another by Chad Taylor in CityView, are very popular. The essence of both reviews is “Chris Brown hit a woman, don’t listen to his music.” Taylor’s review, in its entirety, reads “Chris Brown hits women. Enough said.”

And what’s the problem with that? Are you saying that hitting women is good?

Of course not, hypothetical audience! I tend to believe that hitting anyone is a bad thing that should be avoided. I also think that those who hit people in such a major way as Chris Brown hit Rihanna have poor personal lives and a distinct lack of social grace. Those reviews of Fortune are good for a laugh, I’m not about to deny that. Beyond that initial laugh, though, as someone who cares about music and music criticism, I think there is an issue with the writers responsible.

I still disagree, but since I’m not a real person, I can’t do anything to stop the oncoming rant. So please continue.

Thank you. Music criticism is a self-explanatory phrase: it is (intended to be) criticism of music. It is not a criticism of the person creating the music. Are there times where the artist and his or her art are so intertwined that you can’t look at one without the other? Sure there are, but I strongly believe in separating the artist from the art as often as possible. If we didn’t do this, we could never have discussion about the music of John Lennon (and by extension, The Beatles), Ike Turner or James Brown. For the same reason people believe we shouldn’t have discussion about the music of Chris Brown. The former are people who did horrible things to women in their private lives, but made good and important music. If you choose not to listen to these artists because of wrongs they have done, that is your prerogative, but critics should be at least a bit more objective about the situation.

Hold on, did you really just compare Chris Brown to John Lennon? Are you insane?

To be fair, there is one caveat here, which is that Chris Brown does not make good or important music. That makes this situation particularly sticky as we have to ask ourselves whether bad music is worth the trouble of actually analyzing and criticizing when the artist is personally disliked and easy to make jokes about. A definite answer to this problem is not something that is easy to find, but I expect a bit more tact and class from those who would call themselves critics. A great deal of work gets put into most albums, especially those with big names attached to them. A critic using their pedestal to glib and wise crack disservices those involved in that creative process and cheapens the profession of criticism. Chris Brown may be a despicable human being, but he does create music that, simply by being music, is as worthy of consideration as anyone else’s, even if that music is, in itself, a steaming pile. So stop showing Chris Brown’s music this lack of respect it doesn’t deserve and start showing it the lack of respect that it does deserve.

  • Maury

    I never thought of it like that. Great article William!

  • mel hayyyyyy chris brown.
    but yes, i agree… john mayer’s a douche, but creates some sweet, sweet music.
    and apparently adele is a diva.
    and i hate kanye with a passion, but that doesn’t change the fact that my beautiful dark twisted fantasy is an amazing album.
    good stuff.

  • Stephen Allen

    I’ve never listened to Chris Brown but a poisoned mind will produce poisoned art. The music may be catchy, even good but his personal life and mind does influence anything he makes. In that sense I disagree with the premise.