The Washington Post

Riffs: Chris Brown and other badly behaving chart toppers

Breezy lashes out and goes straight to the top of the charts. (AP Photo/ABC, Ida Mae Astute)

We took a look back at some recent moments of pop star malfeasance to find out. First, two rules: 1) There had to be an actual, defining scandalous event — one that divides an artist's career into "Before" and "After," not just a Miley Cyrus/Amy Winehouse-style series of mini-implosions. 2) Dying doesn't count. Improved post-mortem sales is pretty much a given.

1. Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs

What happened: Kanye doesn't let her finish.

Before: Both were leaders in their respective genres whose previous discs had debuted at No. 1.

After: Both artists' next albums debuted at No. 1. Swift's deft handling of the incident didn't hurt her, though the widely circulated idea that West did Swift a favor by exposing her to a new audience is a tenuous one — she was pretty famous already. The only certifiable casualty: the cancellation of West's "Fame Kills" tour with Lady Gaga, set to launch that November.

2. Justin Timberlake vs. Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, Super Bowl XXXVIII

What happened: Timberlake "accidentally" exposes Jackson’s breast during the halftime show.

Before: Jackson's sales had been slipping for years. Timberlake's star had been ascendant.

After: Things got worse in a hurry for Jackson: No big singles from her post-nipplegate disc, "Damita Jo," hit the Top 40 and sales of her last few discs have been spotty. Timberlake, who distanced himself from Jackson in a hurry after the show, saw his next disc debut at No 1. It has since gone four-times platinum.

3. R. Kelly vs. Illinois , 2002-8

What happened: R&B singer R. Kelly is acquitted on 14 counts of child porn.

Before: When Kelly was arrested in 2002, his disc "" was on its way to four million in sales.

After: Kelly released four discs during the time he was facing charges (three of which went to No. 1), and two less successful discs post-acquittal. That Kelly's sales were better during his time of greatest notoriety makes sense: Many fans rallied around the singer, who they felt had been railroaded. And at the time, Kelly was still making really great songs. It was likely Kelly's increasing weirdness, not public outrage, that slowed his sales. Too much "Trapped in the Closet, Chapter 17," not enough "I Believe I Can Fly."

4. Dixie Chicks vs. President Bush, 2003

What happened: Dixie Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines disses President Bush as America prepares for war with Iraq.

Before: The trio's 2002 release, "Home," debuted at #1 and sold six million copies in the US alone.

After: The Chicks' reputation with traditional country music fans will likely never recover; eight years later, audiences still seem really, really mad, and the trio has made it clear that the feeling is mutual. The Chicks made a virtue out of necessity, using the publicity from the scandal (and the sympathy from more traditionally liberal, non-country listeners) as a bridge to mainstream audiences. Their first (and only) post-scandal disc, "Taking the Long Way," debuted at Number One, and won five Grammies. Worldwide, it has sold less than half as many copies as the band's last pre-scandal release.

5. Chris Brown vs. Rihanna, 2009

What happened: Rihanna's then-boyfriend Chris Brown is arrested for assaulting her; he later pled guilty.

Before: Rihanna's "Good Girl Gone Bad" went double platinum in the U.S. After: Sales for Rihanna's next two discs have dipped significantly, though that may be attributable more to the lack of a mammoth, "Umbrella"-type hit than to any post-scandal fallout.

After: Rihanna will likely find endorsement deals harder to come by. On a purely financial basis, she may have suffered more than Brown. Until sales figures for his new album come out, it's too soon to tell.


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