So when Brown posted a photo of him and Rihanna over the weekend, it wasn't exactly shocking — and neither was the caption that accompanied that pic, one that rather rhetorically asked, "What would music today sound like if these kids didn't exist?"
And while we're reasonably sure Brown doesn't really care about our answer to that question, well, he asked (and it's kind of a fascinating thing to ponder). So what would music sound like today if he and Rihanna had chosen to do something else in their teens? Would Omarion or Cassie have more hits? Would Katy Perry have sung "We Found Love" instead? Would Scott Storch have given "Run It!" to Usher? Would EDM ever have happened?
In a way, the question conjures up a sort of Bizarro Pop Universe, one bereft of Rihanna's 12 #1 hits (or Brown's two). It's almost impossible to think that a vast majority of those songs would have happened without them — Could Britney Spears have gotten "S&M" all the way to #1 by herself? Did T-Pain have enough clout in 2007 to guide "Kiss Kiss" to the top of the charts? — and songs like "Umbrella" or "Look at Me Now" seem so custom-made for each artist that, if they were sung by someone else, they probably wouldn't pack the same punch.
Then again, given the incestuous nature of pop (Kelly Clarkson's "I Do Not Hook Up" was originally intended for Katy Perry's album, Lady Gaga wrote "Telephone" for Britney spears, etc.), it's entirely possible that "Umbrella" could have been given to some other pop ingénue, and become their breakout hit. "Run It!" might have replaced "Baby" as Justin Bieber's signature song. And given the rise of YouTube sensations like Psy, well, it seems like the role of the "star" has been almost entirely eliminated from the pop-music equation.
If Brown really wants to know the truth — and despite what his legions of diehard fans might think — he and Rihanna could be nothing more than glorified mouthpieces, the vessels through which truly great pop songs merely passed. One only needs to look at the success of writer/producers like Max Martin, Linda Perry or Dr. Luke, each of whom make it their business to be chameleons, changing their colors to fit to a myriad of artists, for proof.
And to that end, would pop music actually sound any different without Brown or Rihanna? Probably not. Sure, the stars make the headlines, but it's the men and women working behind the scenes that make the hits. Whether it be with electro-heavy bangers or swooning, sonorous ballads, producers like Martin or Perry have unquestionably shaped the way pop music has sounded over the past decade, and given the global appeal of dance music, one could reasonably assume that pop would have eventually caught on to the trend, much in the same way Hollywood studios now count on foreign markets nearly as much as the domestic box office to fuel their bottom lines. The music industry is a business after all.
So while Brown probably doesn't want to hear it, music would more than likely be in the exact same place in 2012 without him or Rihanna. Sure, some of the players would have changed, but the show would remain the same. Would it be a much less interesting production? Undoubtedly, but at the end of the day, we'd all still be doing "The Pony" to "Gangnam Style." Some things are inevitable.
Would music sound different without Chris Brown and Rihanna? Let us know in the comments below!