Let’s talk about…Chris Brown

‘Cancel culture ends careers’… and yet Chris Brown is selling out the 3Arena

Over the past weekend, infamous recording artist Chris Brown performed two sold-out shows in Dublin’s 3Arena, in front of 26,000 fans across both concert nights.

Of course it’s not unusual for such a famous overseas performer to sell out their shows when they come to Ireland; the same happens when any ‘big name’ musician visits. That said, despite Chris Brown being an undeniably huge artist with a well-known discography, it was a bit of a surprise to see so many people attending last weekend’s concerts, because it had seemed like the tide of public opinion turned on Brown significantly a long time ago.

In 2009, Brown was arrested and sentenced for assaulting his then-girlfriend, fellow musician Rihanna. Given how high profile the former couple was, the account of him attacking her on the way to that year’s Grammys became an infamous news story. Anyone familiar with the details is likely able to instantly recall the image depicting the damage done to Rihanna’s face as a result, which became front page fodder for every magazine and tabloid at the time (alongside some definitely-not-inappropriately-snarky headline, a la classic noughties compassion for female celebrities), and which still circulates online from time to time.

However, as disturbing and shocking a news story as this was, it was far from being a one-off occurrence for the singer; a probation officer’s report filed later that year for his sentencing found there’d been two previous domestic violence incidents with Rihanna in the months prior, and in the years since then, Brown’s been involved in various other cases of domestic violence – and violence in general.

Over the course of multiple occasions throughout the early 2010s, Brown faced a string of assault charges against several different parties, high profile and otherwise. Then in 2017, his ex-girlfriend Karrueche Tran was granted a five-year restraining order against Brown after he sent her threatening messages. The year after that, he was arrested for threatening a woman with a gun, and just last year, he was handed a $20 million lawsuit accusing him of drugging and raping a woman on a yacht in Florida. And these are just the major examples.

All this to say that Chris Brown is a public figure whose history of violence and abuse has been well documented and widely reported over the years. His 2009 assault on Rihanna remains perhaps the most infamous charge against him and the one people are quickest to recall, but it’s important to note that it’s not as if we’re talking about a person who committed one out-of-character act of violence over a decade ago; this is someone who, up to the very recent past, has been involved in several extremely serious and violent situations. And it seems inconceivable that anyone invested enough in him as an artist to shell out their hard-earned money to see him live, would’ve avoided coming across this extensive history of his – and yet 26,000 Irish fans were happy to attend his show last weekend?

Whatever there is to be said about separating the art and the artist, or the slim possibility that some of Brown’s attendees were totally unaware of his notoriety, this wouldn’t explain him selling out two shows in one of the country’s top music venues. No, the reality is that despite the extent and nature of his many scandals, Brown’s professional career remains massively successful.

Scrolling through the stories and posts that came up on my feed, I have to say I was genuinely quite surprised (perhaps naively) to see the attendance at Brown’s concerts last weekend. Seeing someone so notorious for committing serious offences receive such a warm welcome feels jarring and unjust, and reveals that despite how much we go on about how ‘cancel culture’ ends careers without due process, even those with a black and white history of catalogued abuse can continue enjoying all the fruits of celebrity without a hitch.

So often when we try to have conversations about these subjects, they get sidetracked by the arguments of allegations having the potential to end an accused’s career before they are even validated or not. The concept of false allegations (despite being exceedingly rare) always comes up like a ‘gotcha’ defence against clamping down on how we deal with abuse – “People could lie and say X happened, and ruin an innocent person’s life! Better play it safe and do it the way we’ve always done (because that’s been working out great)”. But the reality is that people like Brown, who have openly admitted to such things and been charged on multiple occasions, have no trouble maintaining successful careers – Kevin Spacey received a liftetime achievement award just last month, for pete’s sake!

It was disheartening to see so many Irish fans support Brown at his concerts last weekend, but if nothing else, the sell-out attendance should highlight the fact that we shouldn’t get bogged down in oft-perpetrated falsehoods about allegations and cancel culture ruining livelihoods; it simply isn’t accurate and usually is only spouted to undermine accusers’ validity and protect abusers. At the end of the day, allegations don’t ruin careers the way people claim they do – and Chris Brown has the profits from 26,000 ticket sales lining his pockets to show for it.