On Monday, Chris Brown’s lawyer struck a plea deal in his assault case. Brown pleaded guilty to felony assault and received a sentence of five years of supervised probation and six months of community labor.
But that is only one area of concern for Brown.
Robert Rosen, a photographer who tried to snap a photo of Brown while the R&B star played basketball at a health club, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming he was roughed up by one of Brown’s bodyguards. Said Brown’s attorney Mark Geragos at the time:
“This is a specious and frivolous lawsuit by one of the paparazzi seeking publicity and a payday. He’s done this before and lost. We will vigorously defend against this.”
Whether the photographer’s lawsuit has merit or not will be sorted out in court. But the timing is interesting. The incident with Brown and Rihanna took place on Feb. 8. The one with Rosen happened on March 13. That’s less than five weeks from one legal difficulty to another.
Obviously, that pace has not continued. Brown hasn’t been slapped with one lawsuit every five weeks or so. Yet the suit serves as a warning to Brown — and to anyone else in a similar predicament — of what may be to come as he tries to rehabilitate his image.
“He’s gained notoriety now,” said Glenn Gamboa, music critic for Newsday. “Like Kanye West at LAX, if you’re a big star whose photos can bring a lot of money to the paparazzi, they’re going to antagonize you anyway they can. He’ll just have to expect that.
“The antagonism will get extra ugly as the trial proceeds.”
In the case of hip-hop megastar Kanye West, he was charged earlier this year with misdemeanor battery, grand theft and vandalism in connection with the destruction of a photographer’s camera while at Los Angeles International Airport last September. West’s road manager, Don Crawley, was also charged in the incident.
But while West had not been charged before in any such incident, he developed a reputation for being hot-tempered. He blasted President George W. Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and also complained in an expletive-filled rant after he failed to win anything at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
Sold as ‘the antithesis of R Kelly’
Brown, by contrast, had achieved the best of both worlds in music: He had a clean-cut image, yet was also respected by edgier factions of the business for his talent.
“Clearly,” he added, “they sold him as a mainstream pop artist, the antithesis of R Kelly. But they also knew he had to have street cred to cross over in a significant way.”
But Neal said after the Rihanna incident, he may have stepped over the line into bad-boy hip-hop territory, and he will now have to accept the negative consequences of being hounded by outsiders.
“It will happen more so than it did before the incident,” Neal said, referring to potential paparazzi and fan confrontations. “That’s just the reality of the new notoriety he has.”
Neal feels that one of the best tactics Brown can do for himself now is step out of the public spotlight. “He needs to disappear,” Neal said. “That’s one of the things I give R Kelly credit for. He disappeared. You didn’t see R Kelly at a club.
“For Chris Brown, that’s part of the recovery process. He has to take the right kind of movie roles, recording jobs, focus on his talent, but he has to also better manage his personal life. The less people who have access to his personal life, the more he’ll advance in his professional career.”
‘They’re waiting for him to mess up’
Brown hasn’t exactly gone completely incognito, however. In March, Brown caused a stir after some photos of the singer were taken while he was jet-skiing in Miami. He flexed his biceps and smiled. Since those photos emerged so closely after the incident with Rihanna, it created the perception in some that he didn’t take his legal problems seriously enough.
Christine Acham is an assistant professor of African and African-American studies at the University of California-Davis. She said the topic of Brown has created some heated debates in her classroom.
“If he is trying to recuperate his image, he has to understand that TMZ and other outlets will be following him with incredible intensity,” she said. “The shots of him in Miami on the jet skis show that there is intense focus. They want him to trip up. They want him to seem cavalier about it all, like on the jet skis. They want to confront his bodyguards.
“They’re waiting for him to mess up.”
And that’s where his management comes in. “To keep up the Chris Brown persona,” Acham said, “they’re really going to have to think ahead and ask, ‘Do you want the paparazzi to follow you around while you’re on jet skis, or do you want to make a serious statement about your life?’”
‘At the end of the day, he’s a brand’
These are questions that Devyne Stephens addresses on a regular basis. Stephens is the founder and CEO of UpFront Megatainment, an Atlanta-based firm that manages artists, including the Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Akon. Part of Stephens’ responsibilities, he explained, is to counsel young artists and direct them along the proper path.
“He’s in the public eye. He’s a superstar,” Stephens said of Brown. “He’s a product. At the end of the day, he’s a brand. He always has to represent himself in the proper manner. He’s definitely a role model.
“He’s also young and really doesn’t have the experience to deal with adversity. It’s probably hard enough to deal with success at that age. He definitely has to be careful.”
Stephens said he would remind Brown to “stay grounded” and to be “thankful for the many blessings.”
“He has to focus on rebuilding himself,” Stephens said. “He has to understand that he’s Chris Brown 24/7, and his personal life and business life now become one, based on his success.
“He has to understand that and stick to the business of making records and remember that he’s a role model and people look up to him. As simple and as clichéd as that is, he’ll get it from that point.”
And just a footnote: Rihanna was recently sued by her Los Angeles neighbor because he claims she parks her cars on his property, and he also claims a security camera installed in her home points onto his property. So Brown is not the only half of a celebrity pair serving as a magnet.