When Jamie Foxx, Ne-Yo and New Edition were performing tributes to Michael Jackson during last year’s BET Awards show, Chris Brown was nowhere to be found, even though many felt he was an obvious choice to honor the fallen legend. Brown’s assault on Rihanna several months earlier presumably kept him out of the show.
On Sunday night (June 27), Brown finally got his chance to publicly honor the man he idolized — and while his dancing was flawless, when the time came for him to sing, he simply fell apart.
After being introduced by Jermaine Jackson, Brown beautifully channeled Michael as he danced to “Remember the Time,” “Smooth Criminal” and “Billie Jean.” Yet when he grabbed a mic to sing “Man in the Mirror,” he choked up, visibly weeping.
“I’m gonna make a change for once in my …” Brown’s voice trailed off. He was out of breath and sounded hoarse. Tears stained his cheeks as he paced the stage, holding the microphone by his side. “This … wind is blowing my … Who am I to…” He clearly knew the lyrics but they failed to come out.
Brown faded in and out of the song, closing his eyes, grimacing, trying to soldier on. Whether it was the emotion of the moment or the past 16 months, Brown struggled and failed to find his voice, even though the pre-recorded backing vocals played on.
Finally, he gave up, raised a bandaged finger to the sky and fell to his knees as Michael Jackson’s voice could be heard saying, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.” The camera cut from Brown to an audience member who clearly uttered “Oh my God,” in shock.
The audience loudly sang the words that Brown could not. Their aid seemed to move Brown to rise from his knees and mouth the words along with Jackson’s voice, while gesturing along with the mic as tears rolled down his face. In the audience, actress Taraji P. Henson could be seen mouthing, “That’s all right baby,” as Brown walked offstage to Jermaine Jackson, who moved to console him.
Brown’s emotional performance echoed through the rest of the show. When Niecy Nash came onstage to present the Video of the Year award, she said, “When Chris Brown started crying I got choked up.”
Backstage, “a lot of folks were getting misty-eyed, understanding that he was overwhelmed with emotion,” BET publicist Zabrina Horton said. “Me, personally, I think ’Man in the Mirror’ was great for him to do because I’m sure he still feels bad about Rihanna and wants to be forgiven. He has to make that change himself for himself and he knows that.”
Later in the show, when accepting the AOL Fandemonium prize, which measures an artist’s “online and mobile fan power,” Brown spoke briefly.
“I didn’t really prepare a speech because I didn’t really think I was gonna be backstage,” he said. “But bottom line, I couldn’t never do this without my fans. Team Breezy, all the support I’ve been getting from day one.
“I just wanna say one thing,’ he concluded. “I let y’all down before but I won’t do it again, I promise. I love y’all, good night.”
What did you think of Chris Brown’s Michael Jackson tribute at the BET Awards? Let us know in the comments below.