The night was supposed to be about Whitney. And yet, with the exception of a brief prayer led by host LL Cool J, and a fleeting tribute number courtesy of Jennifer Hudson, Sunday night’s 54th Grammy Awards ceremony degenerated into the “Chris Brown Comeback Special,” featuring three limber performances by the pop star, as well as a Grammy award win for Best R&B album, for F.A.M.E.
Celebrities such as Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model-cum-actress Brooklyn Decker took to Twitter to voice their disapproval, not only because one of the greatest singers that ever lived was given short shrift, but also due to the fact that just three years ago, on the day before the Grammys, Brown violently assaulted his then girlfriend—the pop star Rihanna—and now, all that seems to have been forgiven, forgotten, or, in the case of his exceptionally delusional young female fans, made light of by tweeting bizarre things like: “I would let Chris Brown beat me up anyyyy day.” (The great irony, of course, being that the late Whitney Houston was a very public victim of domestic abuse herself.)
“The Grammys is an event, and events need entertainment, and the entertainment trumps morality sometimes,” said Dr. Reef Karim, director of The Control Center for Addictions as well as a psychiatrist, relationship expert, and addiction doctor. “If you look at the Grammys or at the music industry, the real question here is: why are you so interested in bringing Chris Brown back to where he was in your industry in spite of his legal ramifications?”
To understand why many are up in arms over Brown’s comeback, one must review the details of that fateful incident three years ago.
While cruising around Los Angeles during the early morning hours of Feb. 8, 2009, pop stars Rihanna (born: Robyn Fenty), 20, and Chris Brown, 19, got into an argument. According to the police report, Rihanna picked up Brown’s cellphone and saw a three-page text message from one of Brown’s former flames. An argument ensued, and when Brown could not force her out of the car, he got physical.
Brown took his right hand and shoved Rihanna’s head against the passenger window of the vehicle, causing a one-inch raised circular contusion. She turned to face him and he punched her in the left eye, and continued punching her while steering the vehicle with his left hand. The pummeling caused Rihanna’s mouth to fill with blood, and blood to splatter all over her clothing and the vehicle. Brown then looked Rihanna square in the eye and reportedly said, “I’m going to beat the shit out of you when we get home! You wait and see!”
Rihanna attempted to call her assistant, who did not answer, according to the report. She then pretended to talk to her and told her to have the police ready when she got home. Upon hearing this, Brown looked at her and reportedly screamed, “You just did the stupidest thing ever! Now I’m really going to kill you!” He continued striking her on her left arm and hand, causing a contusion to her left triceps two inches in diameter as well as numerous contusions on her left hand. Rihanna went to text her other assistant and Brown snatched her cellphone away and threw it out of the car. She then went for his cellphone and he put her in a headlock while steering the vehicle with his left hand. He bit her left ear and continued to rain punches down on her face and arms. When he began choking her, she started to lose consciousness. With her left hand, she gouged at his eyes in an attempt to free herself. He bit her fingers and continued punching her, all while Rihanna desperately screamed for help.
Even Brown’s comeback song, “Deuces,” seems a Rihanna dis, with the line: “Like Tina did Ike in the limo, it finally hit me / I got a new chick, and she ain’t you.”
All of a sudden he stopped, exited the vehicle, and walked away.
A neighbor phoned police, who arrived on the scene and issued a Domestic Violence Emergency Protective Order for Rihanna. Both Rihanna and Brown canceled their Grammys appearances. A picture of Rihanna’s bruised and battered face was posted by the entertainment website TMZ. Despite the evidence, few people in the music world spoke out against Brown’s actions. Nine days later, according to the police report, Brown apologized to his victim via text message. In 2009 he pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to five years’ probation and six months of community service.
Much of the outrage toward Brown, it seems, stems from the fact that he’s been given this very public reprieve yet hasn’t shown much remorse, at least publicly, for his actions. Instead, he’s stormed off the set of Good Morning America—breaking a window on his way out—and been kicked out of his Miami condo for regular late-night partying. Even his comeback tune, the 2010 Grammy-nominated song “Deuces,” which sold more than a million copies in the U.S., was viewed by and large as a Rihanna dis, and included the line: “Like Tina did Ike in the limo, it finally hit me / I got a new chick, and she ain’t you.”
“Whenever you look at a celebrity or an artist who’s done something Chris Brown did, you still have an industry that sees him as a commercial entity, so they’re willing to forget the abhorrent behaviors he’s engaged in because they’re willing to make some money off him,” said Michelle Garcia, director of the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C., who also points out that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. “I don’t think Chris Brown has done enough to take responsibility for his actions. What have we seen to see that he truly regrets his behavior or to actively raise awareness about violence against women?”
A young woman we’ll call “Chloe S.” spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity. Chloe was assaulted several years ago, when she was 18, by her then boyfriend during one of his booze- and Adderall-fueled binges. She’s now a seventh-grade schoolteacher and is frustrated by her students’ affinity for Chris Brown.
“I discovered a picture of Chris Brown inside of [a female student’s] binder cover,” said Chloe. “I tried to explain to her that he was not a role model and she just didn’t get it. I even showed the student the photos of [Rihanna’s] bruised face and she claimed they were Photoshopped.” She adds, “It makes me sick and it makes me sad. I’m not sad for Rihanna, because she seems to have forgiven him. I’m sad for the kids that I teach. This didn’t happen that long ago, and they’ve already forgotten or don’t care to know.”
If the rumors are true, Rihanna has more than forgiven Brown. According to a recent article in Us Weekly, the pair have been “secretly hooking up” for more than a year, including allegedly spending four hours together in a Grammys rehearsal dressing room the week before the awards ceremony. “Rihanna loves to live dangerously, and talking to and hooking up with Chris is all part of that,” a Rihanna insider told Us. The alleged trysts—which reps from both camps have denied—have puzzled Rihanna’s defenders, who were under the impression that the depiction of an abusive relationship perpetrated by someone bearing an eerie resemblance to Brown in her music video for “We Found Love” represented emotional catharsis.
And the phenomenon of battered celebrity women returning to their A-list abusers isn’t new. From Josh Brolin and Diane Lane to the more recent alleged tryst between Michael Fassbender and actress Leasi Andrews, who once filed a restraining order against the actor alleging a grisly cycle of physical abuse, it seems as though more and more famous women find themselves being drawn back to their violent significant others.
“If the relationship was mentally abusive as well as physically abusive, it’s hard to get away from it because sometimes you idealize your captor,” said Dr. Karim. “When some women leave those relationships they feel lost because they don’t know their identity, since it was controlled by this guy. So they’d almost rather be in an abusive relationship then be lost.”
Or, according to Garcia, lingering feelings are to blame. “Despite all of the abuse, victims will still talk about feeling love for their offender and just wanting the abuse to stop,” said Garcia. “When you have a relationship that was ended quickly, there may still be lingering feelings of remembering the good times.”
Whether or not Rihanna and Brown are indeed together, the musician should tone down his braggadocio and repent for his actions, according to Chloe, a victim of domestic violence. “I don’t think he should be center stage at the Grammys and have this swagger that he has,” she says. “Realize that you were an asshole and you need to get your attitude in check.”
On Tuesday evening, Brown took to Twitter to lash out against his detractors, writing, “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY. Now! That’s the ultimate FUCK OFF.” The tweet was later deleted.