Two years after he assaulted Rihanna, the R&B star has two singles on the charts and just appeared on SNL. Too soon? Or is it time to move on?

By Brad Wete
February 18, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST

It was supposed to be over for Chris Brown. Two years ago, the young pop star was riding high on the success of two platinum albums and set to make an appearance at the 2009 Grammy Awards. But the night before the show, Brown, 19 at the time, did the unthinkable — he assaulted his then girlfriend and pop peer Rihanna. The following weeks were full of shock and speculation: How could he do such a thing? Were his days as a music star finished? And would his audience — largely composed of young girls — ever forgive him?

Much has happened since then. The pair briefly reconciled, then split. Brown pleaded guilty to felony assault, and was sentenced to probation. And his popularity understandably plummeted, with 2009’s ill- received Graffiti failing to reach even gold status. Now it seems the tide may be turning once again. He released three popular mixtapes last year, and the first two singles from his upcoming studio album, the Europop ”Yeah 3X” and showy ”Look at Me Now,” both rest just outside of the Hot 100’s top 10. And perhaps most tellingly, on Feb. 12, Brown was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live — his first performance on a Big Four network since that night in 2009. All this despite a recent controversy surrounding a homophobic Twitter feud. (He later apologized.) SNL had no comment on the booking. Brown also declined to participate in this story. ”The impact is huge,” says Reggie Rouse, CBS Radio’s vice president of urban programming. ”[The SNL appearance shows] mainstream America has moved past his troubles.” And to some extent, Rouse may be right: There was surprisingly little outrage about the gig. Certainly this would have been a chance for domestic-violence groups to speak out. But even when contacted for comment by EW, several organizations, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, did not respond. In the days since Brown’s SNL performance, his longtime label, Jive, has been fielding offers from other networks, says executive vice president Tom Carrabba. He hopes the new album F.A.M.E. (a not-so-contrite-sounding acronym for ”Forgiving All My Enemies”) will be a return to form for Brown: ”It’s only a matter of time.”

Chris Brown’s legal woes
After attending a Grammy party on Feb. 7, 2009, Chris Brown and Rihanna got into a heated argument that escalated into a full-on assault. Brown pleaded guilty that June, and was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of community labor. He was also ordered to attend a yearlong domestic- violence class (which he’s now completed) and told to stay at least 100 yards away from Rihanna. Brown’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, recently asked a judge to lessen the ”stay away” order to a contact-allowing ”do not annoy” order. Rihanna’s lawyer, Donald Etra, confirms that his client ”does not object” to the change.