In a climate dominated by Adele, Chris Brown‘s recent release ‘Royalty’ was hailed a triumph after debuting at #3 on the Billboard 200 with sales of 164,000.
Considering this was a feat achieved with no hit single in sight, the project’s firm holding within the upper region of the US Top 20 is as impressive as it is surprising.
Suffice to say, it’s clear that the Virginia native has a loyal fanbase, who are willing, ready, and able to make their presence felt at retail.
However, a glance at the broader scope of Brown’s commercial standing, highlights why it’s arguably in his best interest to not revel in the momentary momentum but to instead remould his approach.
Follow us as we lay out why after the jump…
Upon landing on the charts with his self-titled debut eleven years ago, Brown immediately drew comparisons to ’New Flame’ comrade Usher.
Indeed, much in the way Michael Jackson was the modern manifestation of a James Brown/Jackie Wilson/Fred Astaire hybrid, Brown emerged as Pop’s post-modern version with the ‘U Remind Me’ singer as his closest comparator.
Less “competition,” the then-15-year-old’s arrival was timely. Usher, with his diamond selling ‘Confessions’ LP, had transcended into an adult superstar (both thematically and with his success narrative) and left vacant his spot at the top of the list of male acts churning out parent-pleasing Urban-Pop. Naturally, Chris glided into said position and proved a formidable force with hits such as ‘Run It,’ ‘Kiss Kiss,’ and ‘With You.’
All ground to the most screeching of halts, though, on “that” faithful night in 2009. The specifics and semantics of the Rihanna “incident” are well-documented, hence there’s little need to revisit. However, it’s important to signify the February 8th episode here as it dramatically changed the look, sound, and structure of Brown’s career.
Released later that year, apology album ‘Graffiti’ was the first component of what would be a tough and taxing re-ascend; one that was by no means linear. Peaking at #7 on the Billboard 200, the LP sold a then-lukewarm 102k copies first week (a significant drop from the 300k opening of predecessor ‘Exclusive’). The take-away here was that the talented star would have to do more to shine again.
And more he did.
Brown embarked on an all-out push on the collaboration front. Feature after feature after feature. The approach proved to be a smart play, as the strategy yielded him “hit after hit after hit after hit.” It also placed him back in the good graces of his record label, who were understandably uncertain of what the future held for the star following “that” night.
In staging his own comeback sans the muscle of the machine, Brown crucially secured what few major label artists ever achieve – independence.
With execs principally concerned with their profit margins (of which Brown contributes to handsomely), the 26-year-old has made no secret of the fact that he oftentimes is left to his own devices, self-funds much of his studio and video costs, and is largely in-charge of his operation.
But that’s where our problem ultimately lies.
As admirable and advantageous as the autonomy of Brown’s movement is, it’s birthed an array of issues that are affecting the fertility of his career; with the lion-share of said concerns stemming from modern day Chris Brown doing too much with very little counting or amounting to much beyond initial roll-out.
Omnipresence in music is a privilege, yet it can also a be a problem. Having simultaneous hits on the Urban, Dance, and Pop charts may seem surface amazing, but is it still so if the artist loses their identity in the process?
Let’s briefly gander C. Breezy’s post-incident album sales to color this in…
Graffiti (2009) – 102,000 (debut) / 350,000 (US total to date)
F.A.M.E (2011) – 270,000 (debut) / 872,000 (US total to date)
Fortune (2012) – 135,000 (debut) / 437,000 (US total to date)
X (2014) – 146,000 (debut) / 404,000 (US total to date)
Fan of a Fan (2015) (w/ Tyga) – 51,000 (debut) – / 85,000 (US total to date)
Royalty (2015) – 164,000 (debut)
Yes, this is somewhat congruent with the downward trend in music sales. However, we posit that it’s also the by-product of two realities:
- The Inconsistency of Chris’ Sound: music listeners need not be limited in their preference, but what is the incentive for a fervent R&B lover (for example) to support a full album or era from an artist that never seems set or certain on what sound or lyrical angle they wish to project from? Flirting with different genres is by no means a new phenomenon for Urban artists, but injecting a bit more method into the madness wouldn’t go amiss.
- Frequency of Release: it is a different marketplace to the climate of yesteryear. As such, today’s talent are tasked with maintaining the attention of an audience that will forget you with the blow of the wind. Clearly Brown understands this, but we feel he perhaps runs with it more than he should. Beyond the yearly albums (there were two last year), there’s the mixtapes as well (the latest of which, at a meaty 21 tracks, arrived weeks before his last LP). There’s feeding and there’s over-feeding.
With Chris, there appears to be a “more, more, more” motive at a junction of his career that would arguably benefit from a “less is best” approach. He has weathered the worst of the storm that was “that” night and its aftermath, hence he should refresh his strategy. In 2015 alone, he appeared in 40 videos and released even more music. How much of it do you remember?
Moving forward, Team Breezy are tasked with cementing the star’s unique selling point, his discography’s density, and ultimately his legacy. How they plan to accelerate with that remains to be seen. However, from our vantage point, we’d welcome a back-to-basics strategy; one that sees him…
- Embrace more structure.
- Record albums with clear themes and present eras with memorable imagery and iconography.
- If genre-jumping is a must, then – at the very least – package and market it better. Neater. Perhaps a double sided set (5-Urban tracks / 5-Pop) and tout the fact he has a genuinely wide fanbase that he’s keen to appease.
- Release a project and commit to working “that” project for the long-haul before cartwheeling over to something else.
Though many have forgiven Chris’ transgressions, there remains an air of unfulfilled potential from him — specifically as a Pop star. And that need not be a solemn note. Because, there isn’t a Trey, Derulo, or Jeremih able to veer anywhere near what Chris has achieved and is capable of. Heck, he’s more than giving Usher a run for his relevance these days.
All it reminds is that there’s still ample work to do and ground to cover. Here’s wishing him the ability, tenacity, and longevity to scale his career to higher heights.