Meet Chris Brown: The next King of Pop?
Meet Chris Brown:
The next King of Pop?
By Walt Mueller
There’s a little secret I’ve always known was floating around out there somewhere. It has to do with how some pop stars are made. Yes, that’s right, made. This secret took on greater significance for me when I heard it straight from one of the “horse’s” mouths.
When I attended the Kid Power marketing conference last spring—a conference designed to share marketing secrets and strategies about successfully marketing to two- to 12-year-olds—I sat in on a seminar featuring a gal from Jive Records. She wasn’t just any gal. She was the gal—very young I might add—who claimed responsibility for creating and masterminding the Britney Spears phenomenon back in 1999. Her seminar was titled, “Grabbing Kids’ Attention in a Competitive Marketplace: Creating the Next Pop Icon.”
Just recently, I went back to find the notes I had scribbled furiously during that seminar. My notes reminded me that she showed us a video of an unknown 16-year-old artist they’d signed to the label who they were aggressively working to market to kids. The song was called “Run It!” Remember, the conference was about marketing to kids 12 and under. I made some notes about how the video clip was very sexual and that it objectified women. She then showed a clip of Britney Spears that chronicled her evolution as a pop star. My notes read, “scary and sexual.” She then went on to tell us how the record company shifted their marketing into high gear when they met 16-year-old Britney back in 1998.
Their secret formula for turning Britney into the next pop icon? First, they put her out in the public eye as an all-American girl. She was featured in ads for Claire’s Accessories placed in the Just Nikki magalog popular among pre-teen girls. Included was an offer to kids. Kids who responded got some free Britney Spears music. They also sent out free Spears’ samplers with Scholastic Book Club orders. You’re probably familiar with that organization. They sell books to elementary school kids. Other strategies included giving out a CD sampler at Sunglass Hut, enclosing a free CD inside Seventeen magazine, placing Spears in a Hilfiger ad campaign just after her first album was released, and the placement of a flyer in the back pocket of every new pair of MUDD jeans. Brilliant, huh? It’s all about saturation, or, as the gal from Jive said, working to “cut through the clutter to grab kids’ attention.” Well, it worked. As of May of last year, Spears had sold 60 million records over the course of her short career.
In hindsight, what did the folks at Jive records learn about creating a pop star? Here’s what the gal at the conference said: First, you’ve got to have an artist who’s willing to take risks and be unpredictable by pushing the envelope. Thanks for that bit of advice. Experience observing pop culture has made it possible for the rest of us to accurately predict that emerging pop stars will be unpredictable, or in other words, always pushing the envelope by revealing new surprises around each corner. Second, your artist has to understand his/her audience. Sounds like a prerequisite for effective cross-cultural missionary work to me. And third, you have to maintain “edge.” Since kids are naturally in the process of growing up and breaking ties from mom and dad, they want their own music and their own stars. How did that work with Britney? She was initially shaped and marketed to be a darling of mothers of young girls. But as those young girls grew up, they didn’t want to be listening to music that soothed mom’s ears and worries. So, Britney started the process of going over the edge, over and over again. In the words of our friend from Jive, Britney’s success—and the long-term success of any pop star—comes from the fact that, and I quote, “she’s constantly pissed parents off.”
Now you know Jive Records’ dirty little secret. So why did I go back to dig around and find my notes from that seminar? Because there’s an emerging young 16-year-old pop icon by the name of Chris Brown who—in the last four months—has become a darling of young pop music fans. When I first heard his name and spotted his presence on MTV, there was something about it all that sounded awfully familiar. My seminar notes revealed why. After telling us about Spears, our seminar presenter asked the question, “Who’s the next pop icon on the horizon?” She confidently told us, he’s a young man by the name of Chris Brown. She then went on to lay out Jive Records’ plan to unleash young Mr. Brown onto the pop culture landscape, turn him into the next Usher, and secure his place at the forefront of the popular music industry for a long, long time.
Twenty-twenty hindsight tells us that the plan, while not yet complete, has been remarkably successful. Because of Chris Brown’s age and recent fast-growing popularity, he’s a voice and personality who deserves our attention. His music, message and persona serve as both a map for and a mirror of today’s youth culture and teen population. But why? What is it about Chris Brown that goes above and beyond the marketing plan to make him “stick” as a fixture on our cultural landscape? What’s the worldview and message he communicates to his audience of young peers? Is he as innocent and safe as we’re led to believe and as he seems to be, or should we be concerned about where his music might someday go? Is there anything we can learn from his growing influence and rapidly expanding audience? Is there anything he can teach us about the realities, cares, and concerns of teens living in these unique times? And, does Chris Brown issue any necessary challenges or helpful insights to those of us who long to see our children and teens move into a spiritually healthy adulthood?
The Chris Brown story
The girls love this 6’1” 16-year-old from the little town of
His ability to dance blossomed early on as well. When he was only two years old, Brown was watching, admiring and imitating Michael Jackson’s dance moves. His talent for song and dance shone brightly as a third grader when he held the lead role in his school’s Christmas play. People, including his mom, took notice. Seeing his potential, Joyce took him to church to get him into the choir. By the time he was 11 his musical aspirations had him loving and singing rap. He also began mimicking the sounds and styles of two musical influences that can still be heard in Brown’s singing style today—Michael Jackson and Usher.
It was his ability to woo and impress the girls with his voice that convinced Brown that singing was something he could do for a living. “I would go to school and sing for the girls, and they were feeling me,” says Brown. “That’s when I knew I could do this and I knew that I wanted to have a music career” (USA Today, 12/14/05). He signed on with a local
Today, Chris Brown still describes himself as a typical 16-year-old boy. He likes to play basketball (as a sophomore he was a starting guard on his high school team) and video games. He’s also an accomplished graffiti artist, something he’s quick to explain he does legally. He spray paints T-Shirts, not walls. He says of his singing, “At the end of the day, this is just a job. I love what I do and it’s a great job. But it’s like my alter ego. There’s Chris Brown the singer. And there’s Christopher Brown, the down-home Tappahannock boy that plays video games and basketball and hangs out” (
Brown’s mother goes out of her way to keep her young son grounded. When the money started rolling in and he wanted to buy a Land Rover, she only allowed him to purchase a Ford Expedition. She makes sure that he travels with a tutor to keep up on his schoolwork. Brown says he doesn’t drink and doesn’t smoke. The young man who aspires to sing, act and have his own clothing line says, “I’ve just been taking it one day at a time and trying to live life like a 16-year-old kid, and at the same time, make good music” (USA Today, 12/14/05).
Chris Brown’s music
“With his incredible voice and a debut CD laced with clever lyrics, hypnotic tracks and impeccable vocals, he’s someone that the world will soon know,” at least that’s how Brown’s Web site (www.chrisbrownworld.com) describes the 16-year-old’s music.
Some of Brown’s success can be attributed to the fact that his musical style is the most popular style getting radio airplay today. His urban-flavored R&B combines with hip-hop in a mix that runs the spectrum from sounds that are slow and seductive, to high-energy dance tunes. In reality, it’s the simple, danceable and repetitive music that plays well to a young teeny-bopper crowd hungry to find their next teen idol. That said, it could be called “formulated pop R&B.” The music is intentionally catchy and infectious, a deliberate formula that these days assures commercial success.
Vocally, he’s been described as “rich” and “precociously soulful” (People, 12/5/05). At times, his voice bears a striking resemblance to a young Michael Jackson. At others, he sounds like a more youthful version of R&B star Usher. In spite of the comparisons, he wants to be his own artist.
When performing live, Brown is someone who makes his young female audience scream. He’s a great entertainer who has natural stage presence. He dances well, doesn’t lip-sync and has youthful good looks. All in all, he’s a music marketer’s dream.
Chris Brown (Released 11/29/2005)
Thanks to an effective pre-release marketing blitz, Brown’s self-titled debut album hopped right onto the Billboard album charts at #2 and sold 586,000 copies in its first month of release. To date, the album’s eclipsed the one million sales mark. The disc’s liner notes include a very long list of “thank-you,” which begins with “God” and ends with “Thank You! God, God, God, God, God.”
Because he’s so new to the world of popular music, Brown kicks off the disc by introducing himself to the world in the appropriately titled “Intro.” Happy and laughing with joy, he says his sudden fame is a surprise and the result of God’s plan: “Who’d thought that this little dude right here, Chris Brown, pissy boy from Tappahannock, Virginia … I ain’t think this voice would get me this far, God pulled a fast one!” He goes on to tell his family and friends that he’ll make them proud.
The album’s first single release, “Run It!” (Read CPYU's 3-D Review, See lyrics below), featuring rapper Juelz Santana, hit #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Radio Single Airplay charts. Brown describes the phrase “run it” as slang for being eligible and available to be a boyfriend or girlfriend. The song’s setting is a party where Brown spots an older girl who catches his eye. Filled with lots of double meaning (Is he singing about dancing or is he singing about sex?), he comes on to the girl in bold fashion. He justifies their lusty connection in a true postmodern manner—by it feeling right. He hopes to connect with her for the entire night: “I was thinking when I saw that body gotta get shawty” (“shawty” is hip-hop slang for an attractive person). Again, listeners are left wondering if it’s an entire night of partying and dancing, or hopping in bed.
Brown describes the song this way: “It’s basically about saying to the girl, ‘If you’re at the party by yourself, show me how hard you get down. But if your mom’s here, tell me first.’ So basically it’s talking about runnin’ it. Go ahead, do your thing” (chrisbrownworld.com). The basic message of “Run It!,” described as “a mix of smooth seduction and cunning come-ons” (Christian Hoard, Rolling Stone, 12/1/05), is that if you’re physically attracted to someone, pursue it with reckless abandon. The video treatment (in heavy rotation on MTV) clears up the lyrical confusion as it tells the song’s story by portraying Brown and his peers dancing together after sneaking into the school gym. He pursues the scantily clad girl, and at one point, they are shown alone in the hall leaning up against the lockers as she seductively thrusts her hips into his while he holds her and looks into her eyes. It’s obvious the song is about an encounter marked by lyrical and dance floor foreplay that will result in a sexual encounter.
“Yo (Excuse Me Miss)” is the second single release off the album. (See lyrics below.) It’s a continuation of the “Run It” theme as Brown describes seeing a girl he can’t let get away. “It’s about a girl that you maybe saw at a party or at a mall. You’re telling your boys, ‘I need to holla at her’ but you don’t know her name and you just say ‘Yo!’” (chrisbrownworld.com). This puppy love anthem that’s set at a dance has Brown wanting to dance, asking her to dance and then finally trying to keep her from leaving the dance. At the end he boldly proclaims her purpose in life: “Just let her know she was made for you.” In the song’s video, Brown spots and pursues a girl who welcomes his advances. Eventually, they wind up in the back seat of an SUV where she takes his phone number, he keeps singing to her and she embraces him seductively. This song is sure to connect with young listeners and will most likely become a staple at middle school dances everywhere.
Puppy love is the subject of the catchy R&B tune “Young Love.” Brown claims this tune will eventually take its place as “the new teenage anthem” (chrisbrownworld.com). The fact is that it’s catchy enough that he just might be right. Young love is defined and described as “Young love, love, love/A teenage love/Young love/A teenage love/Young love, young love, everything I need, I got my young love.” In the song, Brown sets the context for young love in a world that doesn’t understand what real love is: “Tell me what’s the definition of love/It seems like everybody done figured it out but every time they fall up it, they fall out, in and out again.” Brown and the object of his love set out to “prove em wrong/show em how it’s done.” He tells older listeners that teens can and do fall in love even though most adults think it’s not possible. Brown defines love as “forgiving,” “talk’n bout what we feel’n” and “just hanging out, keeping it real.”
“Gimme That” (See lyrics below) is the disc’s third single release and a boastful song in which Brown reveals his lusty intentions for a girl three years his senior. He’s attracted to her because of her looks. The sexual nature of his attraction is revealed as the song goes on. He says of the song, “It’s just explaining how I’m coming out, the typical bragging about yourself a little bit but not too much and telling the girl that might be older than you, ‘You may be three years older but you’re hot. Gimme that’” (chrisbrownworld.com).
Brown sings “Ya Man Ain’t Me,” a song that tells the girl to change her allegiance from her current lover to Brown himself, in a manner and voice meant to make young girls melt. He steps in at a time when things aren’t going too well for her: “You’ve been going through it, huh?/Yeah, I know/And I know your man ain’t been treating you right/But … your man ain’t me/Listen.” He proceeds to sweet talk her, encouraging her to let the other go so that she can then embrace Brown: “I bet he didn’t count on no nigga like me comin’ round … Since he ain’t trying to step it up, don’t you think you should give him up?/Cause he ain’t worth your love … When you wanna sneak out in the middle of the night baby I’m your guy.” He sets himself up as her savior: “Let him leave you’ll be doing yourself a favor/Girl I’m just tryin’ to save you.”
“Winner” begins with another boastful Chris Brown introduction to the music world: “Yo/It’s an honor to introduce the future of R&B/His name, Chris Brown.” The love song describes the evolution of a relationship in boxing terms, each round taking the relationship to another level. In round one, he meets her. In round two, they enter into a relationship. (“I was moving every way you move, bobbing and weaving.”) In the chorus, she’s the winner with the prize being Brown himself as she’s done him in and he easily gives into her love: “Baby, you’re a winner/Didn’t even take ya twelve rounds to do it/You got the title now.”
Boldness and desire combine in “Ain’t No Way (You Won’t Love Me).” He commits to make her love him: “Ain’t no way/I’m gone let you down/I know it’s hard right now/To see/But I’m gone make you say you love me.” Again, Brown’s attraction to an older girl is based on lust: “I ain’t never fell for a girl like you/With jeans and a body that curves like you/I don’t really care what they say/When it comes to difference of age/I can show you all the things I’ll do … Every time you walk past, Oh.” By the end of the song, the love seems forced and physical: “For you girl, I’ll buy you anything/Just to have you close to me … I ain’t like the ones you know/I’m gonna make you love me all night long.”
Rap singer Noah introduces Brown at the start of “What’s My Name”: “Yeah, I’d like to introduce you to the future/The young/The new R&B prince/Chris Brown.” After the introduction to the music world, the song describes Brown’s introduction of himself to an older girl (again) who he decides to pursue: “I know I’m just a youngin/But girl I’m in a good groove, right zone/I just need a year or two.” He promises to shower her with “so much diamonds you won’t know what to do with it.” His attraction is to her style, which is “so sensual” and he hopes that they will be able to sneak off to an island to “sip margaritas” and “creep” (hip-hop for have an affair) “while in ya pajamas.” The chorus is typically boastful: “C to the H to the R.I.S./I know you like it mama/Just say yes/And if you didn’t know now you know/I’m a pro and I can go on and on and on and on.” The song ends with Brown telling her, “You know who you want/You know what you need/And I do to.”
An older girl is again the object of Brown’s love in “Is This Love?” He asks her, “Can I take you out?/I’ll pay for it” after revealing what it is about her that catches his attention: “17, tight jeans … white beater T, pretty teeth.” He wants to know if this is really love. If it is, he promises he’ll give up all his other girls and his “playing days is over” because he “ain’t never, ever felt like this.”
“Poppin’” is a tribute to a girl’s physical attributes. In this song, attraction is all about appearance: “See this is the first time I had a girl/Who looks set me on fire … She wearing her hair/She working them jeans … The way you wearing that top got yo boy so hot.” He says to her, “We gon do, sumthing/Sumthing is gon get done/And we gon get crunk/And have a lot of fun.” By the end of the song, she’s worked him up into a lusty sweat: “Let me put my hand around your waist while the background sing … Cause we gon do sumthing/Sumthing is gon get done … I’m about to have a fit/Cause you’re my number one.”
Brown sounds eerily like a young Michael Jackson in the post-breakup song, “Just Fine.” After telling the girl he thinks they’ve done everything they can to save their relationship, Brown cuts it off and tells her, “I think God will give you someone much better than me/Trust me, your life will be O.K./It will be alright/You’ll be just fine.”
The breakup theme continues on “Say Goodbye,” a tune that’s bound to show up on a movie soundtrack as the background to an onscreen teen breakup. Again, Brown is the initiator: “Baby come here, sit down, let’s talk/I got a lot to say so I guess I’ll start by saying I love you/But you know this thing ain’t been no walk in the park for us/I swear it’ll only take a minute/You’ll understand when I finish/And I don’t wanna see you cry/But I don’t wanna be the one to tell you a lie … so … “ Then Brown drops the bomb: “There’s never a right time to say goodbye/But I gotta make the first move/’Cause if I don’t you gonna start hating me/’Cause I really don’t feel the way I once felt about you/Girl, it’s not you, it’s me.” He says the song captures the reality of wanting to be with her when you can’t.
The disc includes a remixed dance version of the hit, “Run It,” followed by “Thank You” (See lyrics on next page.), Brown’s litany of gratitude to those who have helped him get to where he is today, including God, his family, his friends, and his fans.
What’s the draw?
Chris Brown has connected with a significant and growing number of young listeners and their record-buying parents. But why? There are several reasons.
First, he’s the beneficiary of an aggressive marketing blitz. There’s nothing haphazard here. Virgin Records’ execs know that today’s generation of children and teens are immersed in a media world that fires marketing at them with machine-gun speed and sniper-like precision. Kids love music, they’re looking for something new and they’ve got lots of money to spend. Hitting the target means getting kids to adopt and buy your brand. The Chris Brown “brand” is doing well by design. Long before the album’s November release, Brown’s status as a new pop idol had been cemented through the April pre-release of the hit-single and video “Run It,” along with a series of concert appearances. Consequently, it wasn’t a matter of releasing and advertising a new album. Rather, it was a matter of releasing a long-anticipated album that had been advertised long before its release.
Second, Brown’s been deliberately dropped into youth culture as an average teenage guy. His fans know he’s only 16. They also know he loves basketball, video games and girls. There’s a sense “he’s one of us,” a perception played up by the record company and their marketing of Chris Brown. To teenage guys, Brown’s one of them. To the girls, he’s a peer who plays well as the object of romantic daydreams and wishful thinking. As a result, Brown’s made a natural connection with young listeners.
Third, he’s stylistically plugged in to the latest teen music trends. Chris Brown’s blending of R&B styles and urban flavor reflects the hottest trends in popular music. His style plays well to audiences, young and old alike, who are attracted to the danceable and catchy sounds that have been topping the charts for the last few years. Your kids will be hearing and dancing to Chris Brown’s tunes at middle school dances for months to come.
Fourth, Brown sings what teens feel. Pop music best serves as a soundtrack to teenage life when it reflects and puts into words what teenagers are experiencing and feeling in their own lives and relationships. Because he’s one of them, Brown has been embraced by teens who hear echoes of their own story in his musical stories. Teens are going through a developmental period marked by confusion, questioning and trying to make sense of the many new emotions that pulsate through their being. When Brown sings about what adults refer to as “puppy love,” he’s singing with precision about a consuming reality of teenage life. Teens are embracing Chris Brown because he’s verbalizing their thoughts, feelings, questions and aspirations. They know he understands them and their reality.
Fifth, teens value passionate authenticity marked by vulnerability. Brown’s emotionally charged voice gives him credibility. He sounds like he believes what he sings. The reality is that Brown does sing his reality, a reality that’s shared by his young listening audience. He says, “When I hear these songs, I feel something I know I can relate to them” (chrisbrownworld.com). Today’s teens are turned off by fakes and drawn to authenticity. Brown has connected well because listeners see him as opening and sharing his life with them, a life they know because they’ve seen it and lived it everyday.
Sixth, Chris Brown’s got talent. Like him or not, there’s no denying the fact this is one 16-year-old who’s been blessed in many ways. He can sing, he can dance and he’s got charisma. Virgin Records identified these qualities early on, making Brown a sure bet for their investment. They knew early on that Brown was a musical package that contained all the ingredients for star quality and teen-idol status. The recipe’s worked.
Seventh, good looks grab attention and spark sales. Chris Brown has sex appeal. Billboard’s Chuck Taylor says that “the heartthrob-in-training’s fancy footwork and boyishly good looks are sure to help him find his way into the hearts of teen girls everywhere” (8/13/05). In many ways, Brown’s connection with the girls is fueled by his own adolescent obsession with members of the opposite sex along with his ability to melt young female hearts as he sings. “I’m girl crazy,” he says. “I can’t help it. I didn’t have to have any game to talk to girls—all I had to do was sing, and they’d be like ‘Ooh, you can sing!’” (People, 12/12/05). Couple this fact with the reality that a premium’s placed on good looks and celebrity status in our culture, and his popularity is not too hard to comprehend.
Eighth, Chris Brown’s music of “adolescent romance” is straightforward and easy to understand. There’s nothing cryptic or confusing in Brown’s lyrics and themes. The lyrics and stories are simple. Comprehension is never an issue. Younger kids are not looking for lyrical complexity that requires deep thought and analysis. Instead, they want someone to sing in understandable ways about issues, problems and feelings they understand. Brown delivers the goods by straying no further than simple and repetitive ditties about adolescent desire, lust, romance, love found and love lost. He’s become their friend, their confidant and their voice.
Finally, his relative innocence makes him a darling of mothers and fathers. Today’s children are developing interest in popular music at a much younger age than children from previous generations. This reality is facilitated by marketing efforts that target them with musical choices about the same time they start to walk. As a result, parents of even our youngest children are facing the pressure to feed their children’s musical hunger through their purchasing power. Naturally, parents concerned about musical content promoting sex, violence and profanity will look for musical options void of these elements. Sadly choices are often made based not on music’s thematic innocence, but on music’s relative thematic innocence. In other words, finding stuff that’s not as bad as that other stuff. In this type of environment, it makes sense that Chris Brown, who is young and relatively innocent, would be embraced by parents as a healthy music choice for the youngest of children. Add to that his overt expressions of faith, and Christian parents see Brown as a positive pop music option.
How should we respond?
What, then, should parents, youth workers and educators make of Chris Brown and his music? Can we use his music and his rapid rise to success as a tool for understanding and reaching the mission field of today’s youth culture? What does he teach us about our children and teens? Does his story offer any insights into cultural shifts taking place in today’s world? And, how should we respond if our kids express an interest in Chris Brown? Let me offer the following analysis and suggestions.
First, we must affirm Chris Brown’s musical gifts and abilities. Without question, this young man has talent. He’s been gifted by God with a tremendous singing voice and the ability to make music. While we might not like what he sings, he reflects the image of God with his talent and creative ability. It’s both possible and correct to affirm one’s God-given talent, even when that talent is not used to promote messages that bring honor and glory to its Creator.
Second, we must celebrate his resolve to be a role model for clean living. Far too many celebrities deny the obvious fact that their lifestyles speak loudly as an example to those who have embraced them as heroes and role models. Chris Brown, a teenager who by virtue of his age most likely embraces numerous celebrity role models of his own, shows great maturity when he recognizes that his own celebrity status has caused him to be embraced by a generation looking for role models. He knows he’s got tremendous power. He should be applauded for stating his desire to model a healthy lifestyle void of smoking, drinking and using drugs. Granted, he’s still a minor, making some of these activities illegal for a few more years. But by obeying the law and choosing this lifestyle, he’s bucking some dangerous trends that are popular among his peers. But a word of caution is in order. While it might sound a bit pessimistic, we should wonder if his current commitment will carry over into his adult years. This isn’t based on any signals Brown’s currently sending out. Rather, it’s simply based on the past track record of other young celebrities who have entered their adult years only to turn their backs on past lifestyle commitments.
Third, Chris Brown offers us a window into adolescent realities. It’s a window we should be looking through. The complaint we most often hear from our kids is usually justified, that is, we (parents, youth workers, the church) don’t listen and understand. Consequently, our parenting and ministry efforts are sometimes targeted to a world and issues that don’t exist. In order to get to really know our kids, we must be listening to them and to their music. A teenager himself, Brown offers a great peek into the issues, cares and concerns of kids, particularly as they relate to relationships, desires and romance. These are huge issues for kids that we must discuss with them, listening to their thoughts and affirming their struggles. This is what kids feel. They are obsessed with relationships, dealing with the emotional highs of young love and the emotional lows of young love lost. We must lovingly help them wade through these issues by pointing the light of God’s Word with pinpoint accuracy onto the very places where these issues intersect with their lives.
Fourth, our kids need to see love modeled and hear love taught. Where will our kids go to learn about the nature of love? Sadly, the world of media is typically the place that sends out the messages on love that are embraced and lived by today’s children and teens. Chris Brown and his music are a loud voice that commands a loyal and growing following. His love messages are no different than what we’re hearing and seeing through most media outlets. Love has been confused with feelings of infatuation. At times, it’s reduced to the act of “making love,” as a couple or group of people—some who may not even know each other—engage in all kinds of sexual activity and perversions. This understanding of love is incredibly shallow, very much off base, harmful and downright wrong. No wonder people encounter so many long-term relational problems as they move out of adolescence and into adulthood. We must go out of our way to teach and model the biblical definition of “agape,” that self-giving committed love Christ has showered on us in His grace.
Fifth, we must deliberately address the dangerous, yet popular notion of “sex at first sight.” This promises to be a monumental task as this idea is so embedded in our culture. You’ll be labeled as “odd” or “hopelessly old-fashioned” if you challenge it with biblical thinking. This is the reality we face in a world where a premium has been placed on physical appearance, the free pursuit of hormonal impulses and sex without bounds. Even the youngest of our teens are encouraged to “hook up” and pursue “friendships with benefits.” In today’s world, physical attraction justifies physical connections. Chris Brown’s music and videos fuel this prevailing notion: “If she looks good, I’ve got to have her, and I’m going to get her.”
Sixth, we must teach our kids that people are people, not objects. Our teens need to know that every person is unique and created in the image of God. This includes both others and themselves. We should be concerned about a world where our kids learn that attraction is based on physical qualities rather than inward beauty and character. Our boys need lessons on how to treat a female with dignity and respect. Our girls need to learn that they are more than objects or “eye candy,” existing solely to pleasure those who see them as “things” to use, rather than people to respect. If we do not address this reality that’s so pervasive in today’s youth culture, we will see a growing number of children, teenagers and adults treated and treating others as means to selfish sexual ends.
Seventh, we must challenge arrogance and teach Christ-like humility. Our postmodern world promotes individualism as a virtue and personal opinion as authority. Consequently, it becomes easy for people to develop a sense of entitlement marked by selfish arrogance. In the world of popular music—particularly urban genres—this translates into in-your-face braggadocio, male superiority and the flaunting of all things “bling-bling.” Sadly, Chris Brown plays into this all too often. It’s our responsibility to compare and contrast Brown’s music to Christ’s teaching and example regarding the virtue of humility. We need to show our kids how music has turned God’s order and design on this issue upside down.
Eighth, our teens need to learn what it means to respect the wisdom and experience of those who are older. Teens, by virtue of where they’re at developmentally, tend to believe they know more than they really know, while believing that older folks know far less than they really know. Brown reflects that tendency when he fights the notions of older folks towards young puppy love. In a perfect world, we older folks would only have to tell our kids that we’re worth listening to because of our wisdom and experience—and they would listen! But we don’t live in a perfect world. The responsibility lies with those of us who are older to engage young people in a manner that allows them to freely communicate their feelings without fear of insensitive judgment, correction or scoffing in response. Then, we must validate the reality of their feelings. But we must go a step further. We must communicate truth from our years of accumulated wisdom and experience in a manner that invites them to listen to what we have to say, without fear of condemnation.
Ninth, we must teach our teens that human love is not redemptive. Sadly, much of Brown’s music leaves listeners with the impression that one’s meaning, purpose and hope in life can be restored and maintained through human romantic love. Those who have believed that lie and tried to travel that road eventually learn that the road never ends. We must point our kids to Jesus Christ as the only one who can fill the God-shaped void. It’s only because He lives that we can live—both fully now and for eternity—too.
Tenth, Chris Brown offers an example of embracing stated faith versus integrated faith. The Scriptures are clear: those who come to faith in Jesus Christ will be transformed in their mind and desire to live their lives in accordance with the will and way of the Father. Like so many in our postmodern world, Chris Brown is outspoken about his faith. He thanks God in his liner notes, not just once, but several times over. He gives praise and glory to God for his abilities and success in “Thank You.” But if Chris Brown’s music offers clues to Chris Brown’s life, his “Thank You” doesn’t extend fully into his lifestyle, particularly at the level of love and relationships. Chris Brown and his young followers need to understand that the change from spiritual death to spiritual life brings about an ongoing life change marked by a growing desire to live a life pleasing to the Lord. Whether you minister to children at home or through a youth ministry, you must address the current cultural reality of dis-integrated Christian faith, by modeling and teaching what it means to consciously and prayerfully integrate faith into all of life.
Eleventh, we must address the problem of theological illiteracy. Again, this trend has been fueled by a postmodern approach to faith that allows wide parameters within which to redefine, reinvent or reimagine faith. Yes, our culture is changing. But the truth has remained the same. Some of the blame for the advance of this new way of thinking can be laid at the feet of the church—a church that has not taken seriously the need to teach students biblical truth. If we would begin to teach truth and lead young people through the process of applying that truth to life, they (and perhaps Chris Brown) would be more discerning as they engage with ideas while living out their everyday lives.
Twelfth, recognize that Chris Brown is a product of our postmodern times. This 16-year-old is a typical teen and his music reflects that fact. While his values, attitudes and behaviors may appear to be consistently inconsistent to us, that’s not what he (and his young followers) think. Brown and his fans are a product of their times who are simply being true to their worldview. It should not surprise us that he’s embraced a postmodern faith, equates lust to love, objectifies females, etc. He offers us a picture of who kids really are in today’s world.
Thirteenth, use Chris Brown as a case study on marketing’s manipulation and power. Tell your students the Chris Brown story. Help them to see and understand how the Virgin Records marketing strategy that worked so well with Britney Spears has been enlisted in the company’s effort to market Brown. Educate them as to the specific techniques that have been used to promote Brown and turn him into a pop icon. Even though Brown has legitimate talent, your students need to see how they’ve been duped. Parents need to hear the story too. Marketing history shows they’re easily duped as well.
Fourteenth, keep an eye on Brown. It’ll be interesting to see where he’s going. Remember, Britney Spears was designed to first be a darling in parents’ eyes, and then to be a devil. While his music certainly isn’t squeaky clean, Brown has been packaged and marketed as fairly innocent. But if the plan’s followed, expect Brown to go through a major metamorphosis that takes him out on the lyrical, thematic and lifestyle edge—all in an effort to sell more records. Be forewarned: there’s a good chance today’s Chris Brown won’t be recognizable tomorrow. Chris Brown will be re-invented over and over again in an effort to generate sales.
Finally, music like Chris Brown’s requires a critical and discerning look as much as—if not more than—any other type or genre of music. Since this is “entry-level” music that’s aggressively marketed to the youngest of music listeners, this is the type of music where kids usually get started. It’s crucial that as their interest in music grows, we take the time to instill in them the skills necessary to evaluate music biblically and Christianly. The perception that this is relatively clean and worry-free music sometimes creates a lax attitude on the part of parents as we assume there’s nothing in the music that warrants our attention. But don’t be fooled. All music communicates a worldview and advice on how to live in God’s world. That said, it’s crucial for us to engage in the process of critical evaluation, even when we think there’s no reason for it. Chris Brown offers a wonderful opportunity for lively and profitable parent/child discussion about the power of music and the need to make wise music choices. I would encourage every parent and child to filter Chris Brown’s music through CPYU’s How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart: A 3-D Guide To Making Responsible Music Choices. (For more information, visit the resource center on our Web site at www.cpyu.org). It’s a great way to practice thinking Christianly about music and media with a singer whose music is marketed as relatively innocent and void of objectionable content. Together, a decision can be made on whether or not to listen.
Chris Brown’s just getting started. At 16, he realizes “I’ve got a long way to go. But hopefully for me it will be a long run” (Billboard, 10/29/2005). He’s shown himself to the world. But is this the same Chris Brown we’ll know in one, three or five years? If he’s a parent-darling now, what will he be singing about and living for when he moves into Virgin Records’ “piss the parents off” stage? Only time will tell. Keep watching.
Run It! - Read CPYU's 3-D Review of this Song
Okay, check it, check it, check it out/It’s Santana again/Steppin’, Steppin’, Steppin’ out/One of them brand new big boy toys/I do big boy things/I make big boy noise cuz/I know what girls want/I know what they like/They wanna stay up/And party all night/So bring a friend
Let me talk to you/Tell you how it is/I was thinkin when I saw that body gotta get shawty/Tell her what the young boy gon do/Damn them chicks wit chu gotta be your kin/Babe pretty thick with the kick that’s sick that need to be hit/So tell me what ya’ll gon do
I got friends and you got friends/They hop out and you hop in/I look fly and they jockin (trans. “overly friendly, perhaps while looking for something in return.”)/The way you drop drop makes me wanna pop
Is ya man on the flo?/If he ain’t let me know/Let me see if you can run it, run it/Girl indeed I can run it, run it
You’ll see girl I can set you off/Don’t believe my age is gonna slow us down/I can definitely show you things that’s gonna have you sayin I can’t be 16/Once I get in you won’t wanna go/I’ll have yo girls wishin they were you/I know you heard about me/But guess what’s goin down if we leave
Girl you feel right/Make me feel like/I wanna do a little something/Ain’t no thing let you do it fo sho/Girl the way that you’re wearin them jeans is turnin me on/I’m the hottest thing that’s in these streets so baby won’t you rock me
Make it drop honey/Make it pop honey/Whip, whop/Tick tock to da clock fo me/Don’t stop doin that/And shawty know what I mean what I say so she won’t stop doin dat/Plus I heard if you can dance you can bump (trans. “have sex)/Well dance time is up, let’s go, let’s go/We can get it in/We can gets some friends/Do it like the Ying Yang Twins and start/Wait til you see my/Wait til you see my/Let me fall back/You ain’t ready for all dat/Have you sleep late/Real late/Yeah takin a long nap/You tell your friends to get wit my friends/We can be friends/Switch and meet friends/We can do it all night long/And til the clock hit morning ya dig
Yo (Excuse Me Miss)
Yo, tell me fellas have you seen her?/It was about five minutes ago/When I seen the hottest chick/That a young’n never seen before/I said, Yo/Tell her girls I want to meet her/On a second thought that ain’t the way to go/I got give her name proper/Spit it (trans. “rap it”) so she’ll get it/There she is I got to stop her/Or should I talk about her smile?/Or what about her style?/I’m out of time/She’s out the door/I’ve got to go for mine/I think I’ll say
I don’t know your name but excuse me miss/I saw you from across the room/And I got to admit that you got my attention/You’re making me want to say yo/I know you’re trying to leave but excuse me miss/I saved the last dance for you/How I love to keep you here with me oh baby
Now shorty grab hold of my hand/And let’s pretend the floor is ours/You say you don’t really dance/Don’t worry about it/We’ll just 1, 2, step, 1, 2, step/Now if the music is moving too fast/Grab my hand a little tighter/Don’t be afraid to move a little closer/Girl there is something about you that makes we want to say
I want to be where you are/Ain’t nothing wrong with dancing/Baby it’s so romantic/Baby I can be in your heart/So many things I want to tell you/I think that I should start by saying yo
Now everybody just clap your hands like this/Just clap your hands like this/And if your shorty in the house tonight/Just grab her by the hand homie/Make her understand y’all was made to dance like this/Y’all was made to bounce like this/Just let her know she was made for you/And you want to everything she want to man/Whoo!
Chris Brown is in the building …
The young boy just turned 16/And I got 64’s and hot bikes that I rock/Keep 3 or 4 sweeties on my clock/But all that swingin’ in that bikini just make em dizzy?/Slow all the traffic down to a complete stop/’Cause you speakin’ that slang that I talk/That sassy tempo with that walk/Maybe the reason that all his teenies may never see me
Momma you may be like 3 years older but you hot, gimme that/You be talking like you like what I got (gimme that)/I know you like it how I lean in the ‘lac (trans. “Cadillac”)/You could be in the back sayin’ gimme, gimme, gimme
Ma, take a break, let me explain to you/What ya body got a young boy ready to do/If you take a chance to let me put them things on you/I could show you why I make them straight A’s in school/I’m a Hustla!/Trust my frame and age/Got you tinking that I’m just too young to turn your page/I can Picture!/Us switching lanes in the coupe/What you want girl screaming my name
Girl you serious and I been watching you/This is what your body’s saying/This is what your body’s saying
Man y’all don’t know what y’all do for me you see with out y’all none of this would matter I mean none of it so I say thank you listen
Out the gate I got it started alright/Daddy told told me you ain’t gotta beat around the bush (fa sho)/Deep inside I feel you lord/I come this far by faith/Bless me with the voice and gave me that extra push (push)/And dear momma (i love you ma) for the times I acted foolish/Popped me with the rulers/I didn’t understand (nooo) but I do now (now)/It said I got love for you Christopher
I just wanna thank you/You’re more than just a friend/With me to the end/It’s not official without (thank you)/I thank you lord I praise you lord/I’m nothing without you/I just wanna (thank you lord) thank you from my heart right to my soul/A cd to my show you make a difference that’s why (thank you)/I owe it all to you (ooo why)/I just wanna
I just wanna say thanks with all due respect (fa sho)/There some people I can’t forget (as i grow)/I may definitely do my best to reach out (to the kids)/Homies on the block (citizens)/Hustlers on lock (what it is)/The music bizz wont stop or change me (east coast)/East coat i wanna thank you west coast (uh huh) I wanna thank you (I owe it all to you)/I owe it all to you dirty south/I wanna thank you (ooo) midwest (I just wanna thank all yall)
When the song is over (it aint over)/It ain’t the end (noo)/I’m coming back to you (noooooo) to do it again/I’m loyal to the game so were gonna win (this is it)
Yea I would like to thank y’all tonight (thank you) for coming out (thank you) (I love you ladies) for chillin’ wit me (fa sho) all my fans (all my heart) I love y’all all them haters I love y’all too cause y’all making me do it more (uh huh) my family especially my mom (I love you ma) I love y’all but last but not least God/Have been there for me when nobody would (good looking out)/I give you the praise (thank you) (yea)/You mean so much to me/I just wanna thank you (I just don’t know what to do)/To my heart right to my soul cd to my show (good looking out)/Baby that’s why (I love you)/Thank you (oooo)/I just wanna say thanks
Related Article: 3-D Review - "Run It" by Chris Brown
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