Redemption Song: Why Chris Brown’s Man in the Mirror Performance Will Save His Career


Chris Brown has had a rough year: 1,400 hours of community service and a dropped endorsement with Wrigley;  banned from the UK and blasted by Oprah; the nation was turned against this guy. A platinum selling artist out the gate, his last project Grafitti sold fewer than 100,000 units.  So now, a little over a year after pleading guilty to assaulting pop princess Rihanna, he has done the impossible.  He has redeemed his career.

Browns’ performance did what an appearance on Larry King and a scripted video apology could not do.  It showed the frailness of humanity and how our moments of greatest weakness can be the dawning of our greatest days to come.

To me Brown’s performance was a purely redemptive moment that sent chills up my spine and I was as mad at Chris as anyone. Prior to the BET awards, he was in R. Kelly territory for me.  And there was little to nothing he could do to get out because I just could not wrap my mind around how he could batter this girl in this way. Young, gifted, and Black, he was throwing it all away. I’ve had friends tell me various versions of the “he didn’t beat her, they were fighting” line, but I just could not get past it.

Brown’s tribute to Michael Jackson at the BET Awards was nothing less than transformative.  An insanely talented dancer, Brown mimicked the late superstars moves with the perfect combination of pinpoint accuracy and breathtaking artistic freedom.   As Brown tried hopelessly to croak out vocals to Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, he was overwhelmed with absolutely genuine emotion. I mean I can’t listen to that song without crying, much less trying to sing it live in front of a audience, perhaps less hostile to you than the general public, but still skeptical.

Yet watching him  stammer across the stage lost in emotion, I can say without the slightest doubt that we were watching a humbled and talented man emote in a way that is so rare in our culture, but particularly within Black community.  The collective experience those who watched performance had was transformative in many ways. It showed “black maleness” in all its strength and frailties to a Nation.  Therefore, this moment means  more than just forgiveness for Chris, it will represent seminal moment in the re-launch of a career destined for superstardom.

In our community, it is often said that Men Cry in the Dark.  Yet Brown cried in the light.  No doubt his tears were for the pain he caused his mother, the disappointment he brought to his fans, his personal foibles and failings, challenges throughout year—and for the loss of one of his mentors—Michael Jackson.

His performance left me asking, how often do we see Black men cry in our lives, much less in the media? Last Year, in an article for Black America Web, Tonya Pendleton asks: Can a Black Man Cry Openly Without Ridicule? She names D.L. Hughley, Ne-Yo, and Stephon Marbury as notable Black male celebs who turned on the tears, only to be mocked and scorned by the public:

“Since black men in particular are encouraged from childhood to show a stoic face to the world, is it possible that their pain is viewed as unimportant? Could that be why black men tend to die earlier than white ones, and are often disproportionately violent towards women and others? Is the inability to express pain keeping black men from healing from various wounds” (Black America Web 2009).

The cynics will say that Brown’s tearful and broken effort was a ploy for the nation’s forgiveness and regain his career.  This conclusion marginalizes Black male pain and illustrates a disdain for any kind of weakness shown on their part.  But let it not go unsaid that he was entirely wrong for beating Rihanna.  He was more than wrong.  What he did was absolutely unconscionable.  His behavior showed an immature spirit carrying demons that one will hope were released with this cathartic performance.  I don’t doubt that this man carried and continues to bear a lot of anger and pain from childhood and beyond; ironically having expressed this pain in a  wholly different way than the Rihanna beating, he is now being questioned and doubted.  I’m am convinced this is unfair.

Ironically, the same folks questioning the Brown’s authenticity, condemn President Obama for not showing enough emotion for the Gulf Oil spill.  When it comes to emotional expression, Black men face a difficult catch 22.  Show too much emotion and you are angry or somehow damaged, and too little you are haughty, professorial, and unfeeling.  Go figure.

Americans want to forgive talented people: Kobe Bryant, Robert Downey Jr., Bill Clinton, Ron “I want to thank my psychiatrist and hood” Artest, and any number of celebs and politicians have, through the continued execution of their genius, overcome the darkest of moments.  Tiger you’re up next if you can win another green jacket.

This is Chris Brown’s moment to say: “America, let me transform you; I’m about to do genius.  Watch”.

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2 Comments

  1. He doesn’t need to cry to get the heart of everybody again. As what he said time heals all wound and people are starting to forget on what he did to Rhianna.

  2. Don’t under estimate the power of imagery on the human mind. It will be very hard to forget the images of Rihanna’s beaten face. What did not help was what Chris Brown did after the dust settled…his interviews were cold and he showed no emotion. His once beautiful brown eyes and sweet smile became dark and sinister to the judging public. I do not think the public could allow themselves to forgive him…until this performance. FINALLY we saw a human. We saw a man who was vulnerable, imperfect, and most of all truly sorry. People will not forget the images, but at least now we have seen a new Chris Brown, one that the public may allow themselves to forgive.


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