On Sept. 2, hours after Cee Lo Green pleaded no contest to a 2012 case alleging that he secretly slipped Ecstasy into a woman’s drink, the singer took to Twitter to blow off some steam. Among the topics he decided to tackle with virtual strangers: his definition of consensual sex. “People who have been raped REMEMBER!! If someone is passed out they’re not even WITH you! The WITH implies consent,” he wrote in a string of tweets that has since been deleted. (Green, 40, also deactivated his Twitter account, but restored it the next day minus the offending tweets.) He then compared the sexual assault crime to a home invasion. “When someone brakes [sic] on your home there is broken glass where is your plausible proof that anyone was raped.”
It was a surprisingly self-immolating moment for a 20-year industry veteran whose soft image — draping himself in velvet, petting a fluffy white cat while seated in his coach’s chair on NBC’s The Voice, serenading the girl who jilted him with the Grammy-winning viral single “F— You/Forget You” — took him from singer/rapper for Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley to bankable TV star, earning an estimated $20 million in 2011, according to The New York Times. But in the last year, following his exit from The Voice after four seasons (chemistry with the other coaches and likeability were the issues, suggests an insider of the network’s view; indeed, Green’s most recent Q score was 9, while the other judges’ are 6.2 points higher on average) and mixed reviews for the Las Vegas run of his musical Loberace, it seems the entertainment industry — and TV in particular — isn’t taking a wait-and-see stance; it’s seen and it’s out. Not even a reality show that could potentially air the drama seems a possible path to absolution, as TBS’ The Good Life, featuring the reunited Goodie Mob, has already been canceled. (Sources say it was yanked due to bad ratings; it drew a disappointing 403,000 viewers on average, according to Nielsen).
But while contemporaries of Green’s, including T.I. and Chris Brown, have successfully weathered jail stints and major public blemishes, why the harsher sentence for this singer? “It doesn’t seem there’s that much goodwill out there, because his comments were so wildly inappropriate,” says a media insider, noting that Green’s half-hearted apology statements aren’t enough. “Cee Lo needs to demonstrate remorse.” UltraViolet, the women’s-rights activist group behind the petition to cancel The Good Life, suggested Green donate to an organization that helps rape survivors. Or six months of silence could also do the trick, the source adds.
To that end, the music industry isn’t the worst place to hide out, and has been known to be more forgiving. Green in particular has two decades of critical acclaim to lean on, from his first appearance on Outkast’s 1994 breakout, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, to his place alongside Danger Mouse as Gnarls Barkley (their ubiquitous single “Crazy” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made U.K. chart history after hitting No. 1 from digital sales alone) and his 2010 solo album, The Lady Killer, which has sold 518,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Green hasn’t had a single on the Hot 100 since “F— You” in 2011, and his next album isn’t due until 2015. (An Atlantic Records rep says a solo single could be out by year’s end; Green’s personal rep did not respond to requests for comment.) But that may be an advantage when it comes to winning back an audience. Offers veteran publicist Michael Pagnotta, who has represented Morrissey and the Olsen twins: “Cee Lo is a brilliant songwriter and performer. He needs to not get caught up in the back and forth, stay focused on music, plan his next project and deal with the questions as they come.”
This story originally appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of Billboard.