For $25 on Chris Brown's One Hell of a Nite Tour, you can buy a T-shirt that reads, "Team Breezy since the very beginning."
Really? Team Breezy AT the very beginning, I could believe. But SINCE the very beginning? Through all the terrible things we know he's said and done?
I don't know who's buying these T-shirts. But I do know this: Here in 2015, #TeamBreezy is absolutely living, breathing and getting turnt among us all.
A decade into the most volatile and divisive career in recent pop history, Brown can still pack Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on a rainy Friday, singing, dancing and sweating through a star-studded concert for 14,000 delirious fans.
To enormous swaths of the populace, he's one of the most unlikeable celebrities alive. To those 14,000 fans, he's a god.
Start, perhaps, with this: The Brown we all see on TV and in the tabloids isn't entirely the same one you see on the live concert stge. Sure, he rose into view from behind a wall of Mephistophelean flame, as all the best devils must. But he otherwise looked just like a dude on laundry day – jorts, white socks, sweatshirt, baseball cap tugged low.
Brown was no ball of warmth, barely smiling or speaking except briefly to thank the fans and his fellow artists. But he wasn't rude or diva-like, either. At the end of the night, he even grabbed his dancers' arms to take a bow.
Tough-guy handsome and cut like an Olympian, he exudes total confidence behind the mic – not some sort of overcompensatory machismo, either, but a confidence that implies Brown knows he could give 80 percent and still topple all comers.
At times, he seemed content to do just that. He sang to a backing track most of the night (although for whatever credit it's worth, he never leaned on it as hard as others might've). And his choreography, which in his teenage days felt revolutionary, was tight but unspectacular, save for a few choice maneuvers here and there (a rubber-legged men-vs.-women crew battle after Look At Me Now; a spinning 720 on She Ain't You). Perhaps, at 26, the years are catching up to him.
As a recording artist, at least, Brown hasn't lost a step of his work ethic – and that's the real reason he's remained in our lives for so long. He releases so many songs, and features on so many others, that his live set feels like it was pulled straight from the playlist of a Las Vegas nightclub.
Starting with his decade-old first hit Run It!, which opened the night, Brown's best songs were still irresistible to the screaming, singings masses – the guilty pleasures of Strip; the millennial come-ons of Drunk Texting; his Pendergrassian runs on slow jams 2012, Take You Down, No Bulls--- and Don't Judge Me.
But as with all things Breezy, for every pro, there's a con. He immediately followed the saccharine, G-rated With You, with its lyrics about hugging his "sweetheart," with blooping and clicking new single Liquor, the chorus to which includes the line, "All I wanna do is drink and f---." In the encore, he followed gleefully cathartic 2015 hit Ayo with the misogynistic Loyal, singing "These hoes ain't loyal" as his scantily clad backup dancers twerked behind him. Cringeworthy.
Musically, the smartest thing Brown did on this tour was assemble an all-star lineup behind him.
Rapper Kid Ink added a jolt of rock-star electricity with hits Be Real and Body Language, and plunged into the crowd for a victory lap on Delirious (Boneless). Singer Omarion rousted the many ladies in the crowd with Bump, Bump, Bump, from his days with the boy band B2K, as well as his current hit Post to Be. Trap outfit Migos earned the first massive cheers of the night, despite half-sleepwalking through their 15-minute set.
None of them, however, were a match for Fetty Wap, the Patterson, N.J. oddball who took radio by storm this year with his omnipresent hit Trap Queen. Joined onstage by an entourage of at least 20, Wap swung his chain and golden dreads on My Way, grinned and stomped around the stage on 679 and tore the house down with a half-a cappella take on Trap Queen. Most importantly, he exuded the likeable energy of a man who knows he just won the summer, and is not ready to let it go.
Late in the night, Brown brought out most of his opening acts, plus "surprise" guest French Montana, for a buffet of all-star collaborations, including Show Me with Kid Ink and Moses with Migos and Montana. At point, the concert became sensory overload, with every artist – not least of all Brown himself – getting lost in a flurry of famous faces.
It was cool and all, but there was a tiny moment earlier in the show that I think said even more about why Team Breezy remains so strong in 2015.
Between All Eyes On You and Take It to the Head, Brown stepped back from his microphone and looked down. Slowly, he leaned over and deliberately re-laced his untied shoe.
Chris Brown sweats through his jorts when he dances, and his shoes sometimes come undone. Despite what we might all like to believe, he really is human. This, Team Breezy has believed since the very beginning. And they're buying the T-shirts to prove it.
-- Jay Cridlin