Twelve days before Christmas, Chris Brown released Heartbreak On A Full Moon Deluxe Edition: Cuffing Season–12 Days Of Christmas. This deluxe edition debuts new tracks to complement his original album that rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts earlier this year. Heartbreak’s impressive reception exhibits that after more than a decade in the music industry, Brown’s popularity has not declined. It also begs the question, Why the hell not?
Nearly nine years have passed since Brown attacked then-girlfriend Rihanna, leaving her face bloodied and bruised after an argument. Though Brown was charged with felony assault and making criminal threats, the real consequences took place outside of the courts. Companies and organizations rushed to distance themselves from Brown, pulling commercials, television episodes and advertisements featuring the star. Many radio stations removed his music from airwaves, and the U.K. leg of his tour was postponed after his visa application was denied as a result of his felony.
Following the incident, Brown apologized, describing it as his “biggest regret.” In an interview with Larry King Live, he appeared with his mother, Joyce Hawkins. Clad in a baby blue sweater and bow tie that seemed to radiate innocence and boyhood, Brown discussed the violence his mother endured at the hands of Brown’s stepfather. Throughout the interview he insisted that he still loved Rihanna—that the events that unfolded were a mistake but more interestingly, that he didn’t believe his career was over. He was right.
Slowly but surely, he won back America’s hearts—and Rihanna’s as well. In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, Rihanna cleansed the slate, admonishing his vilification and maintaining that “he made a mistake, and he’s paid his dues.” If Brown learned from his mistakes, his actions don’t show it.
Over the years, multiple charges have been filed against Brown for assault. Earlier this year in June, Brown’s former girlfriend, Karrueche Tran, was granted a restraining order against Brown, who she says threatened her with violence. Brown’s unwanted advances toward Karrueche are well documented, even in his own videos.
The #MeToo movement has ousted many men in Hollywood and stripped them of their platforms and influence. These men stand accused of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct by numerous women and men. The culture of #MeToo promotes accountability, which typically manifests in the expulsion of predators from positions of influence. Why then, does RCA Records continue to release music by artists who are alleged perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment?
Brown is just one example. In addition to Brown, RCA represents R. Kelly, who has a history of sexual assault that spans decades. In 1994, Kelly, then 27 years old, married R&B singer Aaliyah when she was just 15 by falsifying her age on a marriage certificate. This would only be the beginning of his recorded history of disturbing behavior. His transgressions publicly culminated in 2002, when Kelly was indicted on 21 counts of child pornography after a video emerged that allegedly depicted Kelly having sexual intercourse with an underage girl. Despite seemingly glaring evidence, he was not convicted of any crime.
In July, BuzzFeed reported that R. Kelly was holding women against their will in a “sex cult.” The article detailed physical and psychological abuse by Kelly against these women, one of whom was only 15 years old when she met Kelly. In spite of this vile past (and present), Kelly successfully sold tickets for his After Party tour. Four performances were later cancelled due to the BuzzFeed report.
In July, music artist A$AP Bari was accused of sexual assault after a video emerged that showed him seemingly attempting to force a woman to perform oral sex on him. Though this prompted Nike to cut ties with him, A$AP Bari remains a member of A$AP Mob, a group who is represented by RCA Records.
Meanwhile, victims of sexual assault in the music industry face a different tune. In 2014, Kesha sued producer Dr. Luke, who allegedly sexually and emotionally abused her. She asked Sony Music to let her record new music without him. Sony declined and instead, her career was put on hold for years as legal drama unfolded. Similarly, Katie Armiger, a country singer who found success at a young age, spoke out about sexual assault and harassment in the country music industry. In response, her record label filed a lawsuit against her. Being a perpetrator of this violence seems to bear no negative impact on a music career, while being an outspoken victim of said violence can bring a career to a screeching halt.
In this new age of #MeToos, why do artists with predatory pasts still have a place in music? A better question may be: Why do labels like RCA Records allow them to? Perhaps that’s just one reason why Dictionary.com chose complicit as 2017’s word of the year.