But Brown does have supporters who believe he deserves a chance to pick up the pieces. There’s the fans, of course (his fifth album, Fortune, hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts last summer) and life survivors such as Sir Elton, who champions redemption as much as he does rhythm. John (who isn’t as meek as the feathered boas may suggest) made a point to personally invite Brown to the party and make a great show of his support by mugging with Brown for photographers (they compared bejeweled wristwatches and traded backslaps) and taking the young singer on the rounds at Table No. 33, where Steven Tyler, Quincy Jones and Jim Carrey were clustered near Bono’s seat.
“It was an honor for him to personally invite me and it’s a blessing to be here,” said Brown, the Grammy-winning son of a Virginia corrections officer and a day-care center director. “And this is great event to raise money and awareness about AIDS [promotes the message that] people with HIV are people too, there shouldn’t be discrimination against them or any discrepancy or any fear about being around them. At the end of the day, I’m not homophobic in any way and I don’t focus on the negative that people bring to it.”
Some of that was likely a reference to the singer’s recent dust-up with Frank Ocean and the back-and-forth that followed it. Then the talk of sunny spirits and fresh starts continued: “I only love people. I’m focused on music now. I’m working on my album. I want to surprise you know, I want fresh ears. I want people to hear my new music. The fans and the naysayers, the peers out there and everybody. The new music I want to surpass the [expectations] and surprise them and set the bar.”
Before Brown could elaborate more he noticed Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich nearby. The singer’s expression lit up. “This is my man, he’s been looking out for me since I was f—— 15!” Ehrlich responded with an embrace and then straightened the singer’s shiny lapels. “He’s the real deal,” said the man who has produced the music awards since 1981. Afterward, Brown was reminded that Ehrlich booked Elton to perform with Eminem on the Grammys while protesters outside the Staples Center decried the rapper’s rhymes as misogynistic and anti-gay. John emphatically raised Eminem’s hand that night, a gesture of support, defiance and triumph – and also a statement that talent and music set their own agenda in a messy world. Is that integrity or is it hypocrisy? That, like music, depends on who you ask and how much they want to sing along.
“Yes I remember what Elton did that time, I think he does what he thinks is right and finding the positive while a lot of other people focus on the negative,” Brown said, scanning the room. “A lot of people say one thing but, you know, they don’t let things go, either.”