Only [artist id="1961441"]Chris Brown[/artist] knows what caused him to choke up on Sunday night at the BET Awards during his tribute to Michael Jackson. Was it paying tribute to his late musical and dancing idol? Was it the emotion of performing on a major TV event for the first time in over a year in front of his peers? Was it the song's lyrics, which are about staring in the mirror and willing yourself to make a change?
Brown, whose career has stalled in the wake of his plea a year ago to felony assault on ex-girlfriend Rihanna, grabbed a lion's share of the headlines in the wake of the emotional performance, earning higher placement in most reports than the return to the show of T.I. after spending nearly a year in prison on weapons charges and another major awards-show resurrection: Kanye West's first live set at an awards show since he interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at last year's MTV Video Music Awards.
"The question is: Do people think it's real?" said veteran publicist and crisis manager Howard Bragman about the latest scene of a celebrity welling up on national TV. "If [the audience] bought it as authentic, then it might give him some sympathy, or there will be people who will roll their eyes because they feel like it's a PR stunt because we live in a cynical world."
Many of the respondents in an MTV News story about reader reaction to the Brown performance expressed a desire to forgive the singer and allow him to move on from the Rihanna assault. Even one of the star's most virulent blog attackers, Perez Hilton, put the knives away for the first time in more than a year and said the performance "seemed genuine" because the low-key wasn't "crying pretty," but rather seemed to honestly break down and lose his composure.
While initially skeptical, Hilton said upon further viewing the breakdown seemed real. "It was ugly and raw and I think a lot of different things were going there, from his love and tribute to Michael, to having exerted a lot of energy and emotion earlier, to thinking about the Rihanna incident, to probably relief and joy over getting the opportunity to perform again on television at a big awards show," he said.
As to whether a publicist would ever counsel a client to cry on cue in order to gain sympathy, Bragman not-so-sheepishly admitted that he did once tell a thespian, "You're a really good actor, I wouldn't mind seeing a few tears." And Bragman said the person in question was a good actor and it did work, though Bragman would not divulge their identity.
With tepid album sales for his latest LP, Graffiti, little interest at radio and the cancellation of a recent U.K. tour due to visa issues tied to his felony plea, Brown has been struggling to put his career back on track following the Rihanna case.
Holly Baird, a publicist at Sitrick Brincko Group LLC, the crisis-management group that worked closely with Brown, his mother and the singer's label in the aftermath of the Rihanna incident (but which no longer represents him), said she was very proud of Brown's performance on Sunday night and thought that it felt very authentic.
"Sunday's BET Awards performance was an opportunity for Chris to pay tribute to one of the world's greatest musicians of all time," she wrote in an e-mail to MTV News. "Chris has always stated that Michael Jackson has been an inspiration for him since he was a child and has musically been compared to Jackson in the past. Nothing about his performance was manufactured. It was an awesome tribute by a man that has for the past year, publicly dealt with a tumultuous phase in his career that has forever changed his life. Chris' breakdown was not just emotional, but sincere. I even started crying ... Chris broke down crying out of emotional exhaustion and in no way was this an attempt to redeem himself, but rather it showed the world that Chris is human and he too has emotions."
Baird said the choice of "Man in the Mirror" was fitting, since the inspirational, life-affirming song speaks to the importance of the global community taking responsibility for its actions and looking "in the mirror" at how we treat each other and our environment. "I believe the song alone spoke to Chris and we were witness to that on Sunday during his performance," she said.
What did you think of Chris Brown's Michael Jackson tribute at the BET Awards? Did it make you feel differently about him? Sound off in the comments below!