Around the time of the release of his 2014 album “X,” controversial contemporary R&B star Chris Brown sat down with MTV personality Sway to discuss another type of release: the singer’s release from jail, where he had landed for a probation violation. Sway, as sympathetic an interviewer as he could have hoped for, expressed his concern for Brown’s well-being while incarcerated and asked how jail had changed him.
“It humbled me, mostly,” Brown replied. “I’m not saying I needed to be in jail, but at the end of the day, it’s something that helped better my life.”
When you’re Chris Brown, however, it’s hard to be humble. Or check the tendencies — a quick temper, a fondness for intoxicants and a massive ego — that got him in trouble in the first place.
From his beating of then-girlfriend Rihanna to a bottle-throwing altercation between his and rapper Drake’s entourages, the 26-year-old Brown has a history that speaks to a lack of self-control, among other personal issues.
The website TMZ recently reported that the mother of his 18-month-old daughter Royalty, Nia Guzman, has filed paperwork in which she alleges Brown’s habit of smoking around their little girl has given the child asthma. Whether the allegations are truthful or merely the latest ploy in a nonamicable custody battle, they certainly fit the narrative of irresponsibility Brown has developed over the years.
In early 2015, the kick-off of his co-headlining Between the Sheets Tour with fellow contemporary R&B vocalist Trey Songz was delayed at the last minute because Brown hadn’t completed his court-ordered community service hours in time. Several dates were rescheduled, including a show at the Smoothie King Center; others were canceled. Brown’s disregard for his obligations inconvenienced thousands of fans, members of his crew and arena staffers, not to mention his fellow performers.
For that show in New Orleans, the arena wasn’t quite full. Maybe it would have been on the original date.
Brown returns to the Smoothie King Center on Friday, Feb. 12, topping a bill that includes August Alsina and Omarion. Tickets, which range in price from $45 to a staggering $550, are still available.
A native of Virginia, Brown was still a teenager when his very first single, “Run It!,” topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. His self-titled 2005 debut album sold more than 2 million copies domestically, kicking off a meteoric ascent that even older artists might have found difficult to deal with without some missteps along the way.
His commercial success has continued mostly unabated, as he mingled elements of club music with R&B and an athletic, nimble style of dancing. His 2011 album “F.A.M.E.” became his first to debut at No. 1 on the mainstream Billboard 200.
In December, RCA Records released his seventh full-length studio album, “Royalty,” named for his infant daughter. The cover depicts a shirtless Brown, his considerable ink on full display, cradling her tenderly.
In its first week of release, “Royalty” sold around 184,000 copies. Sales tapered off quickly and have leveled off around 250,000 — not a small amount, in an era of diminished album sales, but not tremendous, either. None of the four singles from “Royalty” — “Liquor,” “Zero,” “Back to Sleep” and “Fine by Me” — has cracked the top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart.
In his 2012 single “Don’t Judge Me,” the protagonist asks his lover to disregard past indiscretions so that they might enjoy the present: “If you love me,” he sings in the midtempo ballad’s chorus, “then let it be beautiful.”
The song wasn’t written specifically for his fans but could have been. Supporting him — cheering hysterically whenever he steps onto a stage; spending money on his music, concert tickets and merchandise — requires fans to ignore the ugly realities of the human being Chris Brown and focus only on the idealized fantasy of the celebrity Chris Brown.
Who he chooses to be going forward — the sweet, loving guy on the “Royalty” cover or the troubled star defined by his tabloid headlines and legal record — remains to be seen.
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @keithspera.