Sunday night should have been an evening of celebration for [artist id="1961441"]Chris Brown[/artist]. He was supposed to sing "Forever" at the Grammys, and girlfriend [artist id="1940303"]Rihanna[/artist] was expected to be by his side and perform on the show as well.
But something went terribly wrong early Sunday morning, and neither made it to the show. Instead, Brown turned himself in during the broadcast to be booked on suspicion of making criminal threats. The singer, 19, was released from jail on $50,000 bail.
Though police have not confirmed the name of the victim, reports have stated that it was Rihanna, 20, and that she suffered serious, visible bruises on her face and bite marks on her arms. Brown has not made a public statement yet about the incident, but several entertainment experts agreed that if Brown — who has had a squeaky-clean reputation since debuting at age 16 with the hit "Run It" — owns up to his actions and apologizes, his once-promising career might be able to survive the current firestorm.
"Chris Brown's entire career is based on being the nice boy next door. ... He's the kid that 14-year-olds are obsessed with and their parents aren't freaked out by that," said Julianne Shepherd, executive editor of The Fader, who noted that the case is further complicated by the public's love for Rihanna and the aura of cool the young, talented couple exuded. "So for this to come out ... that's why it is so shocking. Because everyone thinks they know him and his entire career is predicated on this sweetness."
Prior to the alleged incident, Brown and Rihanna — who had two and three Grammy nominations, respectively — had attended the Clive Davis pre-Grammy gala on Saturday night. Reports from the event depicted a couple in the throes of another rough patch, reportedly due to a text message Brown allegedly received from another female that night.
Howard Bragman — longtime public-relations expert, author of "Where's My Fifteen Minutes?" and founder of the Fifteen Minutes PR firm — said the first thing anyone has to do in this kind of a situation is exactly what Brown and his team have done.
"Everyone wants a quick response," he said, alluding to the fact that Brown, who has not been formally charged in the case, has not made any statement. "We all want to hear from Chris about what happened or hear an 'I'm sorry.' But when you're representing someone in a tough situation, what you have to do is take a deep breath and understand exactly what happened and understand that what has been reported and the whisper campaign are not necessarily 100 percent accurate."
If Brown did the things he is reported to have done, or is charged with a crime, Bragman said the singer might have to face judgment in two courts: the legal one and that of and that of public opinion. "It's a delicate, delicate balancing act," Bragman said, noting that if pictures of a battered Rihanna or video of the alleged incident leak out, or if she speaks out against him, it could do serious damage to his potential court case and image. "The good news for Chris is that if it did happen, we will forgive him. It will take a lot of time, it will take him to acknowledge that he did something wrong, it will take a catharsis, something like anger management, or some kind of rehab if there is a substance involved."
But, Bragman speculated, this is not the end of a "very talented young man's" career, and if Brown talks about the impact of the alleged domestic abuse he witnessed in his home growing up, it might help his public image and his career, while making him more sympathetic in the face of these shocking allegations. "This is a very serious charge," Bragman said, suggesting that community service, such as volunteering at a battered women's shelter, might help Brown revive his now-damaged public image. "The only things more serious are murdering and hurting animals."
In a 2006 interview with MTV News and a 2007 sit-down with Giant magazine, Brown claimed his mother had been physically abused by his stepfather, a claim the stepfather has denied. But that alleged history of domestic abuse, which Brown said angered him so much he wanted to kill his stepfather, might make him a bit more sympathetic to the many young fans he's likely disappointed. "Chris Brown has a lot of young fans, so I don't think this will derail his career," said Giant editor in chief Emil Wilbekin, who added that the implication that the singer harmed his girlfriend sends a "really bad message" to his many young fans.
"Because he has talked about [domestic abuse] before, it will depend on how he handles it," he said. "If he is very transparent about it and very honest about it, I think consumers and fans will be more forgiving." Wilbekin said the best way for Brown to handle the fallout is to be honest, get some help and apologize to his fans. "If he apologizes and seeks help, I think fans will forgive him."
In addition to losing a lucrative deal to promote Doublemint gum, Brown has been forced to drop out of a pair of club appearances in Arizona this weekend in connection with the NBA All-Star Game, and some radio stations have begun pulling his songs from the air.
But Bragman said Rihanna also has to think about how speaking out on the incident — or not — might impact her career and image. "I don't think either of them should let this incident define their music — they're both incredibly talented, they've both done a great job of defining themselves, of standing out in a very tough music market that we live in, and they're both making a lot of money and successful, so I think they should continue to do what got them there," he said. "What she has to do is take the next few days and weeks and absorb this instant that happened to her and understand how she feels about it and how she wants to go forward with it and what her relationship with Chris is going forward."