For a time, just about anything involving Chris Brown met with controversy. Sunday night was no different, though technically, the blame belongs to Tyga.
Tyga was the one, after all, who handed the microphone to a little boy during “Loyal,” Brown's hard-hearted hit in which the R&B star insists “these hoes ain’t loyal,” and encouraged him to sing along before a full house at the Forum.
Still, there’s no doubt that Brown set the table for such a discomfiting moment. First, with “Loyal,” he helped (further) normalize casual misogyny to the point that a kid who looked to be about 7 happily embraced the song’s sentiment. Then, on Sunday, he selected the track as the appropriate moment to introduce the boy he said was his nephew.
Ground duly softened, Tyga merely provided the shovel.
Such troubling optics are something of a habit for Brown, who since his assault of Rihanna in 2009 has rarely passed up an opportunity to look like the aggressor.
Think of a tune such as “Songs on 12 Play,” from last year’s “X,” in which Brown promises to show a woman “what it means to be a victim of love.” Or consider the brawl he allegedly got into with Drake in a New York nightclub in 2012.
Still, the episode at Sunday’s concert — part of the singer’s so-called Between the Sheets tour with Tyga and Trey Songz — felt especially egregious, given that the show came days after reports began circulating that Brown, 25, had secretly fathered a child and was unhappy with the mother for revealing his involvement.
Brown didn’t mention these rumors at the Forum, but it was hard not to infer his thoughts on the matter as his young nephew parroted words about a gold-digger.
Which may have been the idea. Though Brown is often described as a polarizing figure, the singer commands an ultra-devoted fan base, one whose allegiance he sometimes seems eager to test with each new provocation.
He got right down to that business on Sunday, opening his set with the title track from “X,” a remarkable abdication of responsibility in which he attributes his bad reputation not to his actions but to the company he keeps. In “Look At Me Now” he addressed his critics with a petulant sneer.
Even a ballad about seeking atonement for mistakes — “Don’t Judge Me” — ended up leaving a sour aftertaste as Brown insisted that the world is against him.
Yet nobody inside the Forum seemed to be. Brown received a hero’s welcome from the audience, never less than when he was showing off the lithe dance moves that brought a hint of sensuality to music that could be strident, even belligerent.
And though many fellow artists distanced themselves from Brown in the wake of the Rihanna incident, most have returned to his side: Sunday’s show featured unannounced cameos by Miguel, Big Sean, ASAP Ferg, French Montana and Snoop Dogg, whose arrival for a medley of familiar hits led Brown to announce, “I’m ’bout to turn into a fan.” (Kevin Hart showed up too, bouncing around the stage alongside Brown’s nephew during “Loyal.”)
That’s an impressive list. But discounting Jhené Aiko, whose recorded voice accompanied Brown in “Drunk Texting,” it was also one with no women, which only deepened the decidedly dude-centric vibe of Brown’s set.
Perhaps that’s why he recruited Songz as his touring partner. As unashamedly raunchy as Brown is preoccupied with power, this 30-year-old boudoir specialist presented himself as a satisfier of female appetites in steamy slow jams like “Dive In,” “Neighbors Know My Name” and the immortal “I Invented Sex.”
And for his surprise guest, Songz produced Nicki Minaj, who sent the audience into even more vocal hysterics than Brown had triggered.
Truth be told, Minaj kind of whiffed, cracking up as she seemed to forget half the words to her verses in “Bottoms Up” and the delightfully bawdy “Touchin, Lovin.”
But I’ll take that over a kid spewing borrowed hostility any day.