So far this month, Chris Brown has released a new single and sat front row at Paris Fashion Week, where he attended Yohji Yamamoto’s fall 2019 menswear show. He’s also been accused of rape. Following a complaint filed by a 24-year-old woman who alleged that Brown raped her just over a week ago, after she met him and his friends at a club near the Champs-Élysées, Brown was detained in Paris on Monday. And then, without bail or charges, he was released and granted permission to leave France the very next day.
The Paris prosecutor’s office has made it clear that investigations remain underway, and the Internet has made it clear that it’s not going to let this go. Brown himself refuted the charges to his 50 million followers upon his release: “I WANNA MAKE IT PERFECTLY CLEAR…… THIS IS FALSE,” he captioned an image of a post that read “THIS B!TCH LYIN’,” which has since been deleted. “NNNNNNNNEEEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEERRRRRR!!!!!! FOR MY DAUGHTER AND MY FAMILY THIS IS SO DISPRESPECTFUL AND IS AGAINST MY CHARACTER AND MORALS!!!!!” (After his Parisian lawyer announced that Brown “vigorously challenges the charges” and intends to sue the woman who accused him for defamation, which he proceeded to do on Thursday, the singer headed out for another night of clubbing in Paris. He’s also now filming a music video there, while staying at the same hotel where the alleged incident took place.)
This is not, of course, the first incident in Brown’s history of legal troubles, or in his history of violence against women. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to felony assault against his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, admitting to the gruesome events described in a warrant that’s since been made public, along with the infamous photo of Rihanna’s bruised face. In 2013, Brown was charged with misdemeanor assault. In 2017, the death threats he allegedly made against his ex Karreuche Tran led a court to grant her a five-year restraining order. In 2018, he was arrested on another charge of felony battery. And those are just some examples.
This is, however, the first such incident to follow the fallout from Surviving R. Kelly, the new Lifetime documentary that covers decades’ worth of allegations of Kelly’s sexual abuse of young women—a significant moment during which Kelly was held publicly accountable after decades of an existing whisper network about his reportedly predatory behavior. (Beyoncé’s father and mother took extra steps to make sure she was never left alone with the singer when she was a young member of Destiny’s Child.) And, seeing as celebrities suddenly can’t seem to stop coming out against Kelly and his alleged actions, the similarities between Kelly’s and Brown’s cases have not gone unnoticed—by either side of the campaign to cancel Brown. As one commenter on Brown’s Instagram put it: “WE GAVE YALL #Rkelly YALL NOT GETTING #ChrisBROWN.”
For years it was possible to publicly love R. Kelly and to have it go unchallenged because no one with power, celebrity, and influence had spoken out to denounce him. And while publicly loving Chris Brown in the age of social media and MeToo is significantly more fraught, it does feel like we’re repeating the sins of our past when celebrities are actively showing Brown support for their tens of millions of followers to see—and, by the dictates of influencerdom, giving them reason to do the same.
So, then, who will be the John Legend this time?
It’s apparently not Justin Bieber. On Wednesday, he left a comment on a video that Brown posted of himself, expressing his unequivocal support for the singer: “No one can touch you ur the GOAT.” In less than 24 hours, the comment racked up nearly 15,000 likes and 2,000 replies, ranging from quick comments like “AMEN to that” to lengthy responses like “the fact that you’re supporting a racist, a know [sic] abuser, makes me sick to my stomach. i looked up to you, this is honestly so disappointing … please educate yourself on the topic.” (At some point within those 24 hours, the hashtag “#JustinIsOVERParty” was also apparently trending in Brazil.) Then again, Bieber’s support for Brown isn’t that surprising, given that he and his fiancée, Hailey Baldwin, have reportedly already invited him to their wedding.
The 22-year-old singer Austin Mahone followed suit, commenting on the same post with two winged wads of cash emojis. Nick Cannon opted for prayer hands and a raised fist to accompany his message: “Stay Focused King!” His comment comes less than two weeks after Cannon joined the many celebrities who issued an apology for working with R. Kelly, and even went a step further by calling out misogyny and “male chauvinistic behavior” in the music industry in general, which, Cannon said, he’s “DEFINITELY turned a blind eye to.” Meek Mill, meanwhile, took the matter to his main feed: He posted the same screenshot that Brown did to announce that he’d been released without charge, but his caption focused on the repercussions of false allegations and how Brown’s life “could of easily been ruined.”
T.I. weighed in by sharing not one, but two posts addressing the matter with his nearly 10 million Instagram followers, which have since racked up a combined total of around 450,000 likes. Aside from expressing support for Brown, T.I. also made his stance on the woman who made the allegations known, referring to her as “the FALSE accuser” while stating that “she should face the same scrutiny and punishment as [Brown] would have if he did it.”
It’s here that we should inform everyone: Statistics show that only an estimated 0.5 percent of rape allegations are false. They also show that only one in four cases of sexual assault in the U.S. are ever even reported in the first place, with the No. 1 reason being survivors’ fear of retaliation.
The thing with these public statements of support for a problematic artist? Celebrities could simply choose to not say anything at all. And yet, even someone like Bieber—who doesn’t tend to speak up on these things and should know the impact of a seemingly innocuous comment on Instagram (he got himself into a week’s worth of drama last month after commenting on a photo that a 15-year-old posted of her car, demanding that she burn it)—jumped into the fray. Why?
Then there are the stealth Brown supporters. They’re intentionally trying to straddle the social media fence because they know all too well what they’re doing—which makes what they’re doing even worse. Drake, for example, has not deleted a carousel of photos of himself and Brown that he posted on Instagram more than a week before the alleged assault—but he has disabled the comments section. (He also made headlines for inviting Brown to join him onstage at a concert last year in L.A., especially notable given his very public history of fawning over Rihanna.) Drake may not have explicitly cried Brown’s innocence, but by promoting and endorsing him, Drake—like DJ Khaled, who commented with a prayer hands emoji on Brown’s Instagram and posted his own photo of them together on his Stories—is sending a loud message to his tens of millions of fans.