Chris Brown’s recent announcement that his upcoming album X will probably be his last is a completely normal reaction to a life that's spun out of control and a music industry that, as I alluded to in my last article, is quite frankly a cesspool. Brown has experienced an inordinate amount of scrutiny and criticism since an incident of domestic violence with Rihanna marred his career at the age of 19. After weathering the storm for several years he’s decided to seek refuge from a career that has come to be defined by this “mistake.” I’m not here to come off as an apologist or demand that we forgive him for his actions, but this is just another example of how much undue pressure these public figures must endure. These individuals’ only reprieve is to hide from the world and hope that you'll forgotten what they've done.
It’s something that seems to happen very subtly and gradually. One moment you’re able to walk the streets without being recognized, the next moment you’re being swarmed by thousands of fans. The intrusion from the outside makes it harder for those to deal with the everyday problems that arise from within (i.e. self-esteem, insecurity, etc.). To adapt, these celebrities turn to substance abuse, self-harm, and other coping mechanisms. The most harmless method (for the individual at least) is to evade the public eye and regain their anonymity.
Once an artist disengages from his or her peers (through death, seclusion, etc.), that artist’s work accrues a value that it might not otherwise have. Such was the case with an emotionally volatile and neurotic painter who cut part of his ear clean-off with an open razor. That’s right: The famous Vincent Van Gogh was viewed as a subpar artist who created paintings using unorthodox methods. Only after his death in 1890 were his pieces taken seriously and did his name become the stuff of legend. The same thing is set to happen to Chris Brown, except, you know, without the death part (okay, and probably the legend part too).
This phenomenon happens with nearly every profession in the entertainment industry, especially musicians. Every so often we’ve seen the work of talented musicians receive a moderate level of acclaim, only to ascend to immortality after the musician has passed away. Bob Marley and The Beatles have attained a legendary status that neither could’ve predicted while they were still walking the earth. Brown's potential departure from the music industry opens up the possibility of his music becoming embellished. Considering this, it wouldn’t surprise me if his sixth studio album, X, becomes his best-selling album.
This law of art (i.e. a prerequisite for the greatness of an artist is the artist’s death) has been prevalent for some time. There have been accounts where artists would spread rumors of their own death and disappear for awhile so that their work would receive a level of success that had eluded it previously. So it is within the music industry, when a musician has their album advertised as their last or declares that they’re retiring altogether. Though, for the record, I don’t believe this is the intention of Chris Brown.
The notion that Chris Brown may never perform another live show or create another song again is more than enough to drive fans to believe it to be true. A similar situation arose when Jay-Z announced his retirement from rap in 2003;, the same year that he was set to release his eighth studio album, The Black Album. This record was meant to be his last album ever — and it was marketed that way — except that it wasn’t: He released Kingdom Come 3 years later. This didn’t stop the fans from viewing The Black Album as a classic, nor from it being one of Jay-Z’s highest grossing albums. It had the second best first week of all his releases by moving 462,500 copies.
All this considered, though Chris Brown may be retiring to retreat from the notoriety he helped build for himself, unintended consequences may include sold-out shows and career-high record sales. For the record, I don’t expect X to be his last studio album.
Fame is a hell of a drug and some only realize that once they’ve lost it.