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Can Chris Brown save career with plea deal in assault on Rihanna?

June 22, 2009 |  3:58 pm

Chris Brown has pleaded guilty to the serious charge of felony assault against his one-time girlfriend Rihanna. The charges came after an altercation in February left Rihanna battered and bruised. While Brown will not serve any jail time, he has been assigned to six months of community service in his home state of Virginia. He will serve five years on supervised probation with quarterly California court visits and complete a domestic violence counseling program.

Brown has been ordered to stay at least 50 yards away from Rihanna at all times with the exception of music industry events they are both attending. At such times, her zone of privacy is limited to 10 yards. Rihanna did not seek any such restrictions on Brown.

Brown and Rihanna were the top male and female pop singles artists in America last year and both were nominated for multiple Grammy Awards earlier this year. Indeed, they faced off for the second year in a row in a collaboration category.

But their relationship ended just hours before the Grammys were handed out on Feb. 8. The pair had spent the preceding evening together at the star-studded party thrown annually by recording exec Clive Davis. Then in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, Brown assaulted Rihanna as they drove home.

Brown canceled his appearance on that night's kudocast where he was scheduled to perform "Forever." Today with his admission in court, Chris Brown lost forever his carefully cultivated image as a teen idol. His core fans were young girls who swooned over his boy-next-door good looks and charm.

Soon after the incident Brown was in contention for the third year in a row as favorite male singer at the Kids' Choice Awards. In the face of mounting negative attention, he eventually withdrew from the race. Brown won the award last year after losing to Justin Timberlake in 2007. This year he was nominated against 2006 winner Jesse McCartney, Kid Rock and T-Pain.

However, the Grammy Award – the music industry's highest honor – has eluded Brown. Last year, Rihanna and Jay-Z won the best rap/sung collaboration Grammy for "Umbrella" over, among others,  Brown and T-Pain for "Kiss Kiss." This year, they competed against each other for the pop vocal collaboration Grammy. Brown and Jordin Sparks were nominated for "No Air" while Rihanna and Maroon 5 were up for "If I Never See Your Face Again." Both duos lost to the night's big winners Robert Plant and Allison Kraus for "Rich Woman."

Of the two, Rihanna has competed for far more Grammys. Last year, "Umbrella" contended in two of the top four Grammy categories — song and record of the year. She lost both races to Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." Her dance recording contender "Don't Stop the Music" was bested by Justin Timberlake's "LoveStoned." And her R&B duo with Ne-Yo on "I Hate That I Love You" lost to Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige ("Disrespectful") and lost a R&B song bid to "No One" by Alicia Keys.

At this year's Grammys, Rihanna lost dance recording again, as "Disturbia" was bested by Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." And her long-form video ("Good Girl Gone Bad Live") was edged out by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers ("Runnin' Down a Dream").

Brown remains a Grammy loser despite five nominations. Besides those two collaboration defeats, he also lost R&B male vocal for "Take You Down" to Ne-Yo ("Miss Independent") this year while last year he also lost best contemporary R&B album for his self-titled debut to Ne-Yo ("Because of You") as well as best new artist to Carrie Underwood.

And now that he's tinged by scandal, can he ever win with the Grammys? As Gold Derby often notes, bad boys don't win Oscars. Russell Crowe hasn't been nominated since he attacked that BAFTA producer and Manhattan hotel clerk. (Crowe apologized in the first incident and settled a lawsuit in the second.)

Since the Grammys are music's equivalent to the Oscars, the same issue applies. These academies represent the more conservative wings of their industries and they don't like to give awards to people who reflect poorly upon them. True, in music — especially in the R&B, rap, metal and hard rock genres— a rebellious, anti-establishment spirit is tolerated, sometimes celebrated, but that's because edginess drives mass music sales. That's not true of movies or TV, so that's why the Oscars and Emmys are even more mainstream than the Grammys.

But the Grammys can still be a bit fuddy-duddy. Rap artists who tend to win, for example, are more likely to be of the safe Will Smith or Jay-Z variety (four Grammys each) than the thuggish kind like Snoop Dog or Notorious B.I.G. (none). When gangsta rappers triumph, they tend to be of the establishment kind like Dr. Dre (four). Just a few years ago, music critics widely hailed 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Trying" as the best disc of the year, but its music couldn't break into the top Grammy races. 50 Cent's been nominated for Grammys but only in those second-tier slots. He's never won. When he was nominated for best new artist of 2004, he lost to Evanescence.

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