This week, social media lightning rod and occasional recording artist Chris Brown found himself at the center of another controversy. This time around, it was speculation that his new neck tattoo was some sort of sociopathic nod to Rihanna because the image depicted a woman’s face that may or may not resemble the infamous police photo of his onetime girlfriend’s bruised and battered face that was leaked following his 2009 assault on her.
Brown’s rep was quick to step in and deny the connection, releasing a statement that said, “His tattoo is a sugar skull and a MAC cosmetics design he saw. It is not Rihanna or an abused woman as erroneously reported.” Brown himself wrote on Twitter, “I am an artist and this is art.” (Though not, as far as we can tell, the kind of art that at all resembles the Mexican Day of the Dead skulls his rep speaks of.)
Yes, we’re writing about him here once again. But people of the Internet, I implore you: Can we please stop being shocked every time Brown does something insensitive? Whether he likes it or not, at this point most of the public associates Brown with domestic violence first and with Grammy-winning R&B jams second. A more thoughtful and self-aware person would definitely take into account every artistic choice he made, with the question, “How will this be perceived by people who only know me for a crime I committed?”
Of course, there’s nothing that says Brown has to do that. He can totally ignore the lessons of his past and continue doing what he wants when he wants. He’ll keep giving defensive speeches at awards shows, getting upset at people who want to ask him about Rihanna, and angrily lashing out at people on Twitter without a second thought. Because that’s just who he is, and that’s the person we have come to know. How is anybody still surprised by this guy?
He’s not alone. Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil continues to drink and get behind the wheels of cars despite the fact that he totally killed the drummer from Hanoi Rocks doing that same thing. Doesn’t the fact that his drinking led to the death of another person weigh on him and play into all of his decision-making? Nope.
The point is that some people just don’t get it—or they actively choose not too. I don’t pretend to know Chris Brown. I’ve never interviewed him and am not one of his friends, so my only exposure has been what he puts forth on social media, in concert, and on his albums. I find him fascinating (if often abhorrent) as an artist and as a character, and I even expressed in my review of his latest album, Fortune, that I felt it was missing some of the raw emotion that he never has any trouble bottling up in other venues.
But it seems like one of two things is true: Either he is secretly meta and actively trying to make the worst decisions possible as part of his commitment to “art” (if this is true, then he’s Andy Kaufman-level brilliant and definitely advanced), or he genuinely doesn’t care what other people think.
And if he doesn’t care, why should we? Every time something like this happens, it creates a whirlpool of reactionary rhetoric that serves nobody. Critics deride him for all the wrong reasons (I thought this dopey review of Fortune was particularly offensive; it missed the chance to say something interesting and did it in the most trolly way possible), and then his army of defenders come out to tell everybody to lay off him for all the wrong reasons.
It’s a pointless cycle that will undoubtedly carry on for months, if not years to come. And it’s human of course to be interested in the ongoing soap opera between two very famous, very troubled pop stars. But can we all agree to put away our surprise face for good?