They were R&B’s answer to Britney and Justin. Young, gifted and famous, Rihanna and Chris Brown had become a favorite of the blogs and mags in 2008; pictures of them coupled up on the beach or just making a fast food run cropped up everywhere. Rihanna once remarked that Brown helped her to feel her age in a very grown-up industry.
But everything changed on the night of February 7, 2009. Brown’s assault on girlfriend Rihanna would change the career trajectories of both, catapulting one to superstardom and launching the other on an unlikely comeback trail. Three years later, with the two stars poised to return to the Grammy stage, MTV News looks back.
February 7, 2009: Rihanna hits the stage at a pre-Grammy party hosted by producer Timbaland in Los Angeles. The Bajan stunner performs her smash “Umbrella,” among other tunes. Earlier that night, she’s snapped looking cheerful with boyfriend Chris Brown at music honcho Clive Davis’ annual Grammy bash.
February 8, 2009: Reports surface that Brown and a female passenger was involved in a car accident. E! News confirms that neither Rihanna nor Brown will appear at the Grammy Awards ceremony that night; both were scheduled to perform. The Los Angeles Police Department begin investigating a felony battery report against the Virginia crooner.
February 19, 2009: TMZ posts a gruesome photo of Rihanna taken by LAPD just after the February assault. The image of the singer — bruised, eyes swollen and mouth split — confirms what had been rumor up until then. Then-19-year-old Brown becomes the subject of public outrage. The backlash is only beginning, though, as radio stations across the country announce bans on Brown’s music.
June 22, 2009: Brown has been mostly quiet, on the advice, he says, of his representatives. In May, Vibe publishes a cover story, “Tainted Love,” delving into how the young couple unraveled. It’s a more nuanced portrait that describes both Brown’s and Rihanna’s upbringings in households rife with domestic violence. It’s also announced that Brown will strike a plea deal giving him 180 days of community service.
The same month, the “Forever” singer uploads a video apology to the Web: “I’ve told Rihanna countless times and I’m telling you today, I’m truly, truly sorry that I wasn’t able to handle the situation both differently and better,” he pleads.
September 2, 2009: Brown tapes an interview with CNN’s “Larry King Live.” Accompanied by his attorney, the singer — seldom off-pitch onstage — struggles to strike the right chord. But even his unfortunate choice of neckwear comes under scrutiny.
November 6, 2009: Rihanna sits down for a “20/20” special, detailing for anchor Diane Sawyer her assault at the hands of Brown.
November 9, 2009: Rihanna tells MTV’s Sway she doesn’t want to be the “domestic-violence spokesperson.”
November 20, 2009: Rihanna drops the dark and introspective Rated R, sporting a razor-cut, tough-girl ’do on the album cover that sparks a frenzy of its own in Stateside hair salons. The LP is widely received as a rumination on her tragic relationship with Brown.
May 17, 2010: Unofficially on ice with his label, Jive, Brown joins with homey and YMCMB rapper Tyga for the Fan of a Fan mixtape. The project yields slow-burning smash singles like “Deuces” and “No Bullsh–.”
February 10, 2011: Two years after the assault, the “Russian Roulette” singer agrees to loosen a restraining order against Brown. Breezy also earns high marks for progress from the judge in his ongoing probation case.
November 12, 2011: Red-tressed Rihanna drops Loud, and the Grammy-nominated album is a sunny departure from the brooding R. That month she and Brown also take to their respective Twitter accounts and signal in a series of posts that they’re ready to move on from the assault.
March 22, 2011: Livid over questions about his relationship with ex Rihanna, Brown smashes a chair in an ABC green room after a “Good Morning America” interview. The outburst threatens to overshadow what will be a highly successful release, the F.A.M.E album.
2011: It’s a year of triumphs for the former duo: From awards to VMA performances, Grammy nods and critical acclaim, the Rihanna Navy and Team Breezy rally behind their idols.
January 19, 2012: After the blogosphere lights up with rumors that Rih and Brown are hooking up again, a rep for Brown denies the two have reunited, insisting the superstar exes are “just friends.” Brown’s representative also confirms he won’t be doing any press this year.
February 8, 2012: Recording Academy announces that Brown will perform at Sunday’s show; Rihanna has been confirmed for a collabo with rockers Coldplay. The revelation sets up the potential for a public reunion.
Chaos! Profanity! Wardrobe malfunctions! Don’t miss Sway and James Montgomery live from the Grammys red carpet this Sunday, February 12, for a full three hours of mayhem, starting at 5 p.m. ET on MTV.com. And the fun doesn’t end Sunday: MTV News has you covered until the Grammy hangover wears off!