Hours before Chris Brown was charged with making criminal threats against a woman that may have been Rihanna, the singer and his girlfriend were seen in pictures together at Clive Davis' pre-Grammy shindig, smiling and appearing playfully at ease with each other.
According to a number of sources (several of whom spoke to MTV News under the condition of anonymity), however, the couple was enduring a rough patch recently in their year-plus relationship — the pressure that the stars' high-profile status created began to take a toll, said those with knowledge of the couple's relationship. Rumors swirling around on blogs about the pair, including off-hand remarks about infidelity and fights, certainly didn't help matters.
At last year's Grammy celebration, the couple first created a buzz when they were spotted together in the VIP section of an afterparty. Brown and Rihanna were located next to another urban music super couple, in Nas and Kelis. A month after the spotting, Brown spoke to MTV News and denied a burgeoning romance with Rihanna, insisting he was still single.
"Me, personally, from a relationship standpoint, I am a single guy," he told MTV News. "I am definitely single. And I've been on my Web site and seeing how girls have been threatening me and saying I'm a liar, and I'm like, 'It's not even that.' The thing is, I have a close friend, but it's not like a relationship. I'm not trying to settle down. I'm only 18, so I'm just trying to live my life and have fun."
Later that same month, Rihanna said the pair were like "brother and sister." She told MTV News she would confirm the relationship if there was one — but instead she called Brown her "best friend."
"I won't say that we're just friends — me and Chris are really best, best friends," Rihanna explained at the time, smiling. "We both started our careers around the same time. He is one of the only people in the industry ... I trust and hang out with all the time. We are best friends, honestly, like brother and sister. If he was a boyfriend, I would say that."
The couple has been snapped in a number of photos since then, many of them capturing the intimacy the two share, whether kissing, swimming together or showing their matching tattoos (stars on the sides of their necks). The two never officially confirmed their status, instead opting for a Jay-Z and Beyoncé-like secrecy. Brown and Rihanna playfully insisted they just had bad luck with pictures and the images were misleading.
Soon, Brown began popping up at Rihanna's shows around the country and added a guest verse to her hit song "Umbrella."
In addition to just dating, the musical couple traveled overseas together in recent months, touring a number of countries. Some industry experts believe that both artists being successful in their own right added to the stress of the public relationship. Mimi Valdes, the former editor of Vibe, saw firsthand the scrutiny a young couple can endure when she placed former teen couple Bow Wow and Ciara on the cover of the magazine's March 2005 issue.
"Young relationships are hard, in general, because in many ways I'm not really sure if people that young should be in an exclusive relationship to begin with," Valdes told MTV News. "But when you throw in lots of money and fame, everything becomes heightened, whether it's somebody seen as being too flirty or someone else not always being available for you when you call them. Then egos start to come into play and being mature enough to be in those types of relationships, at 19 and 20 ... not to say it can't happen — because some people who are married met at that age — but it's extremely difficult."
Just last month Brown and Rihanna's first musical collaboration, "Bad Girl," leaked onto the Web. The song's producer, Polow da Don, described the atmosphere in the studio to MTV News, calling the session "fun." He had hoped for more collaborations in the future by the trio.
"It's crazy, because Chris Brown's energy alone is incredible — he's a high-energy kid," Polow said. "Rihanna has a unique voice, and she's one of the easiest people to work with. When her, Chris and myself were in the room, it's fun. That's when the music isn't work at all. It's all freestyle. Chris comes up with an idea; I come up with one. Rihanna will weigh in. And we build. We actually did a lot more records that hopefully will be coming soon."
Brown and Rihanna's relationship status remains uncertain as of press time.
Brown is scheduled to appear in court March 5 for arraignment on one felony count; his lawyer had no comment when his office was contacted Monday afternoon by MTV News. Representatives for both artists have declined to comment about the situation.