It was some years before his conviction for assault Chris Brown found his way onto my shit-list. Every Wednesday, an instructor named Karen screamed “squeeze those peaches” to myself and a dozen other hausfraus at a gym that seemed to play nothing but ‘Run It!’
If you have never heard Brown’s breakout hit, do not be at pains to put this error right. Musically, it has all the value you’d expect from the soundtrack to a Body Pump class. Lyrically, it seems to be endorsing (a) reckless grammar and (b) reckless sexual hygiene. The clean-and-press tended to deaden my focus, but I did note that Brown was a campaigner for what some people call a “team cream”.
I was never sure who 'Shawty' was, but I remain fairly certain that her consent was immaterial to a boy who sang “I got friends, and you got friends. They hop out, and you hop in” to an imaginary brotherhood. The singer was, as he revealed in his lyric, all of 16 at the time of orgiastic writing. This made his claims of virtuoso “all night long” performance with multiple Shawties more difficult to take than squat-thrusts.
For the next few years, I attended classes and heard many of the stanzas Brown dedicated to his penis. Eventually, I chose running over synchronised torture with Team Breezy and forgot all about Brown, his penis and his modest musical gifts.
Then, in 2009, anyone with a passing interest in the pop culture learned that Brown had savagely beaten his partner, Rihanna; an artist, by-the-bye, whose superior pop was very effective in reshaping my own arse and the arses of a dozen Melbourne hausfraus. Yo. Shawty.
At the time of his arrest, Brown’s notable apologists included Mary J Blige and Lindsay Lohan who offered perspectives every bit as useful to our understanding of domestic violence as “squeeze those peaches”. Then, when a redeemed and platinum-selling Brown accepted a Grammy this year on behalf of his penis, the apologies were ignited again.
As Brown packs his penis to play Supafest here in Australia, there is much talk of “second chances” and “not knowing what really happened”. As someone who regularly fails to maintain a fitness regimen, I can cop the former plea but, as someone with eyes, I have no truck with the latter. What really happened is that (a) someone beat someone’s face to a bloody pulp and (b) the droning hive mind decreed that the bloody pulp had asked for it.
If you have not seen this much-shared torrent of folly, perhaps you should not click. Honestly, this compendium of tweets from (purported) women is even creepier than the lyrics of ‘Run It!’ Here, we see girl-cretins bend-and-snap to the rhythms of a subculture to whom the dream of riding in a shitty singer’s donk is valued far above keeping all one’s teeth. “I’d let Chris Brown beat me up anytime,” Tweeted a girl with comprehensive dental cover.
These comments, which do point to a larger ill, have been multiply unpacked by many good writers. As expert and necessary as these readings of ugly victim-blaming are, perhaps the “beat me up anytime” beat-up says as much about our expectations of R&B/Hip Hop as it does our denial of Rihanna’s bloodied face. That is, for many of us white folks, the pleasure we take in redeeming black artists is considerable.
Using my microscopic sample at morning gym, I’m going to go ahead and say that Brown tracks particularly well with honkies. I’m also going to go ahead and say that much of the pro-Brown commentary was honky in origin. And I am going to conclude that Brown functions as a sort of charity craft project for oddly intentioned honkies eager to save him from the ghetto of their own imagining.
Anything that is plausibly gangsta excites a white audience not only for its frisson of distant danger but in the mission it inspires. Etched deep into my colonial skull is the fallacy of the White Man’s Burden; the urge to shepherd the natives into the light. Brown is black ergo he doesn’t know any better. What he does not need is censure but the kind assistance of a nice white church lady.
It’s a weird condescension that redeems Brown from violence, 50 Cent from vending crack and the memories of Biggie, Tupac or Jam Master Jay from the ignominy of pointless death. In hip hop and R&B, crime pays. For white fans, it pays our way into a cheap fantasy where we see ourselves as saviours.
I wonder if Karen is still pumping iron with the ladies of Melbourne’s south-east. I wonder if she ever wore a ‘We Love Your Chris’ shirt to class. I wonder if she’ll ever separate a Grand Theft Auto white-girl fantasy of abuse as something ‘hot’ from the reality of full dental cover.