Thousands of fans piled into Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on Friday night to see onetime pariah Chris Brown's F.A.M.E. tour, supporting his latest album of the same name (an acronym for the bewildering title "Forgiving All My Enemies").
In a gray knit skully, camouflage shirt, cargo pants and boots, Brown, 22, sprung out of center stage to immediate squeals from the audience — opening with F.A.M.E.'s "Say It With Me."
"Please don't take my love away," he croons on the hook. Lost, maintained and renewed love in relationships is a constant theme on his most recent songs. But the concept hits home even harder in relation to his career.
As if it's necessary, in brief, here's how Brown went from toothy teen pop star to hated outsider to unlikely hero. At 19 the R&B singer with two platinum albums assaulted his then-girlfriend, songstress Rihanna, in Los Angeles after a party on the eve of the 2009 Grammy Awards — seemingly damning the once golden boy into the abyss of soon-to-be-forgotten criminals. How would the kid recover from that?
Though he dodged jail time, his career didn't recover so easily. Just months later, he'd drop an ill-received third album, Graffiti, which failed even to hit gold status. Then came his Fan Appreciation tour. In November 2009 Brown, an entertainer whose gifts had packed 15,000-plus-seat venues just a year prior, was relegated to puny ones. I attended the tour's last show at New York City's Best Buy (then Nokia) Theater. It was sold out. But at capacity, it held only a measly 2,000 people. And who attended?
His core audience of teen and 20-something blacks, mostly. The idea that we figure out who our real friends are during rough times proved to be true for Brown. Hardly present were the white faces that likely made him more than just an R&B singer and propelled him to the top of Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart before. But "we" stuck with him.
All of this makes what Friday night was even more astounding. Nassau Coliseum, which holds 18,100 concertgoers, was nearly stuffed to the brim. For Chris Brown! Young fans of all colors were there to hear his voice, a nasal but somehow sultry tone. They came to witness his incredibly fluid dancing, a hip-hop-tinged blend of James Brown and his idol Michael Jackson. And the most telling sign that Brown is truly back? They accepted him as the sex symbol he was before, screaming as he did his grinding on the stage during "Take You Down."
At one point he brought a red-haired fan onstage and laid her on a couch to sing to her. Eventually he grabbed and spread her legs to creep to her face. She, exercising every ounce of self-control she had not to kiss the lothario, very much enjoyed this treatment. As did all the ladies in the house, it would seem.
It's hard to believe that Brown, who admittedly bloodied a woman he loved, could be so adored by this fan base again. But he is. Perhaps time does heal all wounds. Having a heaping helping of handsome doesn't hurt, either. Oh, and let's not forget his music. That helped, too.
In 2010 Brown, effectively down for the count, independently released "Deuces," a catchy yet spiteful kiss-off to an ex, and "No BS," a sexy bedroom knocker, which slowly worked him back into the good graces of DJs and laid the groundwork for the spring 2011 release of F.A.M.E. — now on its way to becoming a platinum album. Several singles from it have made it to the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart's top 20.
To some, Brown's life as a pop star should be over. But there are obviously many more that are thankful it isn't. I watched plenty of them shed tears of joy as he exited stage right for the night to his joyous cut "Beautiful People." The man himself was shining, figuratively and literally — with sweat dripping down his face and chest, and a swagger that suggested he, too, knew that he could have lost it all for good.
The road to redemption is a lengthy one. With his occasional Twitter outbursts — not to mention his headline-grabbing dressing room tirade — it hasn't been a smooth cruise for Brown. But his followers, whom he affectionately refers to as Team Breezy, are riding with him again — and letting his past blow by.
Brad Weté is a contributor to The Root.