Emulating the artistic panache of the late Michael Joseph Jackson is a smart business move. You can't fault Justin Bieber and Usher for borrowing from the King of Pop, who was a veritable M-80 of an entertainer. Fifty years from now, he will still be a beacon for young musicians trying to figure out how to move the masses.
But alas, MJ also left us some troubling trends to ponder in the 21st century, primarily how creativity can mask demons and sometimes, in the eyes of a forgiving public, even erase them. This leads us to Chris Brown, hip-hop's Kid Who Would Be King, a 22-year-old problem child who brought his double-take skills to the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre on Friday.
From a physically abusive relationship with Rihanna to frequent bouts of anger and impatience, Brown is a dude with serious issues. But as 7,500 local fans can attest, he is also an otherworldly talent, making himself, and myriad others, gobs of money no matter his disturbing actions.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance. But do we as a (pop) culture forgive too soon? And is that the best thing for Chris Brown and the young people who emulate him?
If the first part of rebuilding an image is working your tail off, then, at the very least, Brown is on his way to redemption. His 90-minute set was a frenzy of dance and harmless R&B hits, all performed on a mondo four-tiered stage that looked a cross between Tron (ooh, spacey) and Solid Gold (ooh, 1982 strip club-y).
Brown was a human special effect from the start, gliding, floating, singing (or at least mouthing along to) Say It With Me and Wall to Wall all while wearing combat boots. I repeat: COMBAT BOOTS. Let's see Baryshnikov do that!
Brown shines where others don't. He had three openers, none of whom came close to matching his glow. Rappers Tyga and all-grown-up Bow Wow excelled at stripping off their shirts and shouting "Tampa make some noise!" Tallahassee hook king T-Pain was a good-time hype man, trying to live his post-Buy U a Drank life without Auto-Tune. It was hard not to like T-Pain, especially when he deadpanned: "We don't have a lot of stuff to do in Tallahassee. It's kind of a terrible town for things to do. We do have a fair every year though."
If it was a boys club onstage, it was girls-night-out in the crowd, and the ladies unleashed a piercing carnal wail when it was time for Brown, who now sports more tattoos than De Niro in Cape Fear. CB played up to his target demo, comnstantly thrusting his hips as if working an invisible hula hoop. At one point, he simply ran a video of him taking a shower. The women went crazy. I guess they've forgiven him for the Rihanna incident, huh?
Oh well. It should be noted that the crowd wasn't huge (they didn't bother selling lawn seats), but it was fervent. And when Brown broke into Top 5 hit She Ain't You, which rather overtly samples Michael Jackson's Human Nature, you caught a glimpse of what could be, the total package of talent and fandom. Will rage get the best of Chris Brown? Or is he destined for royalty? The answers will say a lot about him — and even more about us.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.