Chris Brown is having a good week, possibly his first in ages. For about the last year and a half, ever since he brutally assaulted his ex-girlfriend Rihanna, his name basically has been mud — and his sales have been just as desirable. His third album, Graffiti, has yet to go gold since its release last December, and none of its singles were major hits on Billboard‘s Hot 100. Brown didn’t take the reversal of his fortunes too well. After Graffiti got off to a slow start, he griped via Twitter that he was being blackballed by U.S. retailers, who were not stocking the album — “the industry can kiss my ass,” he tweeted — and eventually shut down his account for three months when his complaints were poorly received and dismissed as a bad case of sour grapes.
Lying low for a few months may have worked in his favor. Last week, a Los Angeles judge commended him for doing a “great job” on his probation. Then this past weekend, the movie Takers, in which Brown has a featured role (he even gets the coveted “and” billing, usually reserved for seasoned stars), opened at No. 2, with a North American box-office gross of $21 million, and a whopping per-screen average of $9,519. Only $300,000 separated it from the No. 1 movie, The Last Exorcism, which opened on 668 more theaters and had a smaller per-screen average ($7,411).
Meanwhile, his current single, “Deuces,” from his Fan of a Fan mixtape with rapper Tyga, is looking like a comeback hit as it jumps from No. 39 to No. 29 in its eighth chart week. It’s already hit No. 2 on Billboard‘s R&B singles chart, making it his biggest hit there since “No Air,” his 2008 duet with Jordin Sparks, went to No. 4.
I’ll admit, I’ve been furious with Brown since he had the nerve to raise his hand to Rihanna. I cheered when Graffiti flopped, and I applauded when British immigration officials denied him entry into the U.K. for his promotional tour there, due to his U.S. conviction in the Rihanna case. (He was sentenced to six months of community service and five years of probation.) I’m still not ready to forgive him, and I don’t know if I ever will be, but I can’t deny a great song.
“Deuces” is everything all of the singles from Graffiti were not: tuneful, sexy, judiciously produced (not an over-the-top flourish in earshot), and commercial while maintaining more than a hint of edgy. It’s also beautifully sung, and unlike practically every other song in the Top 10, the guest raps — by Tyga and Kevin McCall (who gets demerits for referencing Ike and Tina Turner in his verse) — don’t feel obligatory or intended to increase its chart potential but actually enhance the song. When Brown breaks into his crunk-dancing routine in the video, he reminds why he was at one point R&B’s most promising newcomer. If “Deuces” had been released two years ago, pre-Rihannagate, it probably already would be No. 1 on the Hot 100.
I’ll try not to read too much into the lyrics — which mercilessly cut an ex-love to ribbons — or the fact that the production is vaguely reminiscent of “Te Amo,” a track on Rihanna’s Rated R album. It probably will be a while before we can listen to a new Rihanna or Brown song and not look for clues about their relationship, or suspect ulterior motives in their every move, particularly in Brown’s case. His road to redemption unofficially began on June 27 at the 2010 BET Awards when he broke down during his tribute to Michael Jackson, but some still wondered whether the tears he shed onstage were real or a play for audience sympathy. I doubt that his sincerity would have been in question had his reputation not already been in tatters.
Perhaps it still is. Who knows if the current success of “Deuces” is a limited-time-only surge, and people will return to resenting Brown next week, or if the song will go all the way? But for the first time ever, I find myself rooting for a Chris Brown single, which in itself is a little miracle. May it live long enough to prosper and join Rihanna in the Top 10.