Chris Brown's tearful tribute to Michael Jackson on last night's BET Awards has been called a comeback by some and a come-on by others. Gawker.com's headline yells, "Chris Brown Breaks Down During Shameful Michael Jackson Tribute at the BET Awards," and the New York Daily News' headline reads, "Kanye West makes a comeback, Chris Brown sobs while paying homage to Michael Jackson at BET Awards." Really?
Facebook and Twitter were all abuzz last night, raising questions about Brown's motivation for the performance. I'm trying to figure out why he's getting slammed (pun intended), while BET gets off of the hook?
The Jackson family chose Brown to do a tribute to Michael Jackson this year that should have happened last year had BET had its stuff together. The worst Michael Jackson tribute of last year belonged to the black-owned network.
You may recall that Brown was allegedly "banned" from the broadcast because of his high-profile domestic battery incident with pop princess Rihanna. While BET was trying to pretend to have some modicum of respect for black women — which we all know it doesn't, based on its programming — it canceled Brown's performance.
Meanwhile, both Tyrese Gibson, who was accused of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, and Don Cornelius, who was on probation for a spousal battery conviction, served prominent roles in the broadcast. This exposed BET's hypocrisy and willingness to punish Brown out of political expediency while overlooking Gibson and Cornelius' dustups with their romantic partners.
This leads me squarely back to this emerging dialogue about whether Brown's motivation for the performance was self-serving. BET's inclusion of Brown this year was self-serving. It needed a solid Michael Jackson tribute on the anniversary of his death to make up for the lame tribute last year. Since we're on the subject of self-serving, Kanye West's performance was self-serving. I suppose we're supposed to forget about his penchant for booze, strippers and outbursts because of his "comeback" on the show. El Debarge's return was self-serving. It was to remind people that he is a great singer, not a drug addict who can't keep it together. Did I mention that DeBarge has a domestic battery conviction as well? Why are people so fixated on Brown and his intentions?
I believe that his meltdown was real, because I don't think the brother is that deep or complex. Folks are giving him way too much credit. This is a guy who until last night had not been able to rebound from his public relations nightmare with Rihanna. This is the guy with the random tweets, videos and career-ending appearance on Larry King Live who clearly did not realize the magnitude of his assault on Rihanna.
The applause that he received demonstrated support from his fans and the industry, both of which know that the way he has been treated is hypocritical at best when compared with other troubled artists (including domestic abusers). People are stepping in the name of love to R. Kelly songs, and Kelly was charged with, among many things, child pornography; praising Jesus with BeBe Winans, who was charged with assaulting his wife around the same time as the Chris and Rihanna debacle; and bouncing to T.I., who is a sho' nuff criminal. Yet, they want to know whether Brown is authentic?
Brown is a young man who clearly needs help, guidance and leadership from someone outside of the industry. Do I think he was wrong? Absolutely. But I do not agree with tossing away teenagers (at the time of the incident). He is clearly talented and made a horrible decision at 19. Imagine what the industry would look like if Puffy, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, T.I. and a host of others hadn't gotten a second chance after messing up royally as young men? If a 21-year-old can't get a second chance, but grown men like El DeBarge, Don Cornelius and BeBe Winans can, then why not Chris Brown? Why not the BET Awards, which needed him as much as he needed it? Why not a Michael Jackson tribute, particularly when he was handpicked by the family, which obviously witnessed the debacle that BET tried to pass off as a tribute last year?
Time will tell if Brown has actually taken a look at the "Man in the Mirror" and is committed to making real change. It is what it is — a tribute to Michael Jackson that ended in tears, real or contrived. But to continue to attack Brown, a young man who may be trying to do better, while supporting others who aren't is wrong. That's the definition of inauthentic.
Nsenga Burton is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow her on Twitter.