As speculation continues to swirl around Chris Brown's arrest on suspicion of making a criminal threat, industry executives are wondering about the R&B singer's future.
The 19-year-old Brown was booked and released Feb. 8 in Los Angeles after reports that he was allegedly involved in an assault on a female the night before. Though police haven't named the woman, several publications have identified her as the R&B star Rihanna. Both singers, known to be dating, cancelled their appearances at the 51st annual Grammy Awards.
"It's solely up to the fans who buy and listen to music to decide where his career goes from here," says Jeff Anderson, OM of Radio One's urban WCDX Richmond, Va. "In my personal opinion, his clean image has been bruised. But with damage control of an apology and anger management, he'll find a way to bounce back ... if his music is hot."
Some radio stations have already decided that, at least for the time being, Brown's music is anything but. Even though few details about the alleged incident have come out, several top 40 stations have stopped playing Brown's music, including WKST Pittsburgh; KWNZ Reno, Nev.; and CHUM-FM Toronto. After polling listeners, Clear Channel's top 40 WAKS (96.5 Kiss FM) Cleveland decided to temporarily ban his music.
"We are fans of Chris Brown's music and this is not something that will last forever," WAKS PD Bo Matthews told Billboard sister publication Radio & Records. "But it appears that Chris has made some poor choices. We are following the lead of our listeners and we will not be supporting him on 96.5 Kiss FM until the alleged situation gets resolved."
Other stations have handled the situation differently. Pulling Brown's music is "a little too extreme right now," according to WCDX's Anderson. "A good percentage of the industry has had its run-ins with the law, and we still play their music." DJ Law, PD of Clear Channel's urban WOWI-FM Norfolk, Va., says most of his listeners are waiting to hear more details about the alleged altercation before making a decision. "Most of them are reluctant to turn their backs on him before having all the facts placed before them."
Even so, several advertisers have already backed away from the singer, including Wrigley's Doublemint gum and the Body by Milk moustache campaign. "Those are the real challenges brands face when they align their products with individuals," says Jay Coleman, CEO of Entertainment Marketing & Communications. "You look at their history and make a calculated analysis of risk, but you never know."
Brown, a native of Tappahannock, Va., was named Billboard's No. 1 male pop artist for 2008. His career ignited in 2005 with his first single, "Run It!," and since then he has notched 18 Billboard Hot 100 hits, including "Kiss Kiss," "With You" and the Grammy-nominated "No Air," which featured Jordin Sparks. His two albums, "Chris Brown" and "Exclusive," have sold 4 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Until the legal process is further along, it's hard to tell how much damage has been done to Brown's career. His representatives were unavailable for comment, and the singer said he won't appear at the NBA All-Star events set for Feb. 13-15, according to an NBA representative.
David Linton, formerly senior VP of urban promotion at Capitol Records, believes Brown will regain his musical footing, although his image has lost some of its luster. "The public has become used to celebrities having a variety of legal or public relations issues," says Linton, executive VP of Atlanta-based CO5 Music. "But I do believe he's hurt his image as an acceptable -- by parents -- teen idol. That innocent, squeaky-clean image is gone."