The good-looking, affable couple seemed ready for a happy night when they arrived at the Beverly Hilton for Clive Davis’ star-studded night-before Grammy bash on Feb. 7. As Chris Brown and Rihanna greeted their host, they were all smiles. Soon after Diddy performed ”I’m Coming Out,” he threw them a shout-out. Huddling at a table in the hotel ballroom, the duo appeared to be a picture-perfect portrait of young love.
Less than 24 hours later, everything had changed. The Grammy production team was rehearsing at the Staples Center the next afternoon when they received word that Brown and Rihanna — each nominated and slated to perform — would not be attending the ceremony. Justin Timberlake had just finished a duet with T.I. when the team approached his dressing room and asked him to sub for Rihanna. ”Justin’s first words were ‘What can I do to help?”’ recalls CBS exec Jack Sussman, who oversaw the show. ”That’s what you want to hear.” What they heard after that was not nearly as welcome: The couple wasn’t playing hooky. Instead, Brown was under investigation for domestic violence felony charges for assaulting a woman in the wee hours of that morning, right around the time that Whitney Houston sang at Davis’ party. And the victim was reportedly Rihanna. (Reps for Brown, Rihanna, and their respective labels, Sony and Universal, did not return calls.)
Not long before U2 kicked off the ceremony, Brown turned himself in to police and was quickly released on a $50,000 bond. (He’s due in court on March 5; at press time, he had been charged with making criminal threats.) The arrest shocked audiences who knew the 19-year-old singer and sometime actor as squeaky-clean and kid-friendly (he appeared on Sesame Street, after all!). It also raised questions about how he’ll recover from such troubling allegations. ”What an idiot,” says a studio insider who has worked with Brown. ”His music targets teenage girls. There could be a backlash.” Indeed, the fallout was swift and vast: On Monday, Wrigley suspended a TV ad campaign with Brown’s hit ”Forever”; as the week progressed, more ads, appearances, and TV reruns featuring Brown were shelved (see below). A handful of radio stations around the country also pulled his music from rotation.
Some remain cautious about judging Brown since he hasn’t yet been convicted of a crime. ”Even if he [is], I don’t think that’s going to make people not want to listen to his music,” says Lee Cagle, program director of Atlanta’s 95.5 FM The Beat, which is still playing Brown’s songs. ”His older stuff is already a hit. This won’t change that.” Of course, if any or all of the allegations are proved true, Brown will need to atone. But how? ”There’s no easy way to mask a lapse in judgment,” warns Jeff Rabhan, who manages clients such as Jermaine Dupri and Elliott Yamin and suggests Brown lie low. ”The best thing you can do is not be seen as a player.”
Still, it’ll be a long time before Brown can put the events of Grammy Sunday ’09 behind him. ”This is going to take weeks, months, potentially years if it becomes a criminal case,” says celebrity crisis expert Howard Bragman, who advised Isaiah Washington in 2007 after he used an antigay slur to refer to costar T.R. Knight on the set of Grey’s Anatomy. ”Chris is young, talented, likable, and the public forgives people. But he has to strap himself in and be ready for a long, uncomfortable ride.” — With additional reporting by Jeremy Medina, Whitney Pastorek, Lynette Rice, Aly Semigran, and Simon Vozick-Levinson
Rihanna postponed a Feb. 13 concert scheduled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, while Brown withdrew from a stint at the NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix on Feb. 13-15.
Wrigley suspended Brown’s Doublemint gum ad from airing on TV.
The Milk Mustache campaign said its ”Got Milk?” print ad with Brown had already been scheduled to end its run this week, but added in a statement that it was ”taking the allegations against Chris Brown very seriously.”
Sesame Street pulled a 2007 episode guest-starring Brown from all future airings.