As Rihanna and Chris Brown Reunite, Fans Fret

Rihanna, left, and Chris Brown are seen at the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday June 1, 2008 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Rihanna, left, and Chris Brown are seen at the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday June 1, 2008 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles) (Matt Sayles - Associated Press)
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pop star Chris Brown has a court date today in Los Angeles on allegations that he punched and threatened his equally popular girlfriend, pop diva Rihanna, although the proceeding may be postponed. But the 19-year-old Virginia native is trying to rehab his public image almost as fast as Rihanna has apparently healed.

One month after the Feb. 8 incident -- which occurred in a rented Lamborghini hours before both were scheduled to appear on the Grammy Awards broadcast -- the couple have reunited, reportedly shacking at rap mogul Sean Combs's Miami mansion last weekend, then flying back to Los Angeles on a private plane. A couple of corporate sponsors dumped Brown, but his record sales are steady, according to Nielsen Soundscan data. And the father of Rihanna (real name: Robyn Fenty) said he would support his 21-year-old daughter if she decided to get back together with Brown.

That view -- a baby love spat gone a little wrong -- is apparently beginning to be the view of several of Brown's friends in the entertainment business, too.

"Can't we give Chris a break?" Kanye West said to an audience on the VH1 show "Storytellers," according to the celebrity-gossip Web site Access Hollywood. "I know I make mistakes in life." (The site says the remarks were edited from the broadcast.) Actor Mekhi Phifer went the same route, telling E! News that "people make mistakes," and that it must be tough being a teenage pop star. And after Usher criticized Brown for cavorting on a Jet Ski for the paparazzi this past weekend (instead of being "remorseful"), he quickly backtracked.

"I apologize on behalf of myself and my friends if anyone was offended," Usher said in a statement. "The intentions were not to pass judgment."

Rihanna has made no public statement regarding the relationship, only assuring fans that she is "well." Brown's public relations firm, Sitrick and Co., said the singer had nothing to say since a Feb. 15 apology, although it was unclear what he was apologizing for, or to whom.

In pop music, there's often been some dysfunctional couple in the headlines -- Ike and Tina Turner, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown -- and this edition has shaped up as a messy and confusing soap opera, particularly for the iPod generation, which snaps up as many copies of Brown's "Run It!" as it does Rihanna's "Disturbia." Both performers have upscale, friendly images, far from this sort of ugliness. He was featured in the "Got milk?" ads. She is a model for Cover Girl cosmetics and has been featured in a campaign for the Gucci fashion house.

"She's so young, she's so modern, she's so iconic. . . . She really represents the Gucci woman," Frida Giannini, the company's creative director, says in an in-house video on Rihanna's Web site.

At least, that was the public image.

In real life, things aren't perhaps quite that way -- though her fans wish it were. Fans and Web sites beseech her not to go back to Brown. If she were really a "Gucci woman," the argument goes, she wouldn't bother with an abusive boyfriend.

"She's a brilliant young star and, as a fan, I certainly don't want to see her back in that relationship," says Juleyka Lantigua Williams, 33, a former managing editor of such teen-oriented magazines as Giant, XXL and Honey. "If she stays with him, I think she'll lose some credibility with her fans. She's pop, she's fashion, she's style. She doesn't need that 'street thug' cred."

Disappointment filters down the line.

"I thought they were a real cute little Hollywood couple, but it's a bad symbol," says Jacquelyn Hopkins, 23, a psychology major at Howard University. "Other young women see that, they'll think, 'Oh, my boyfriend hit me, but Rihanna and Chris Brown got back together and it's okay -- so maybe me and my boyfriend can get back together, too."

And, you know, there's always that media thing.

"Chris Brown was already getting overtaken by T-Pain and Lil Wayne," says Ben Braun, a 17-year-old from Omaha, while visiting Washington on a tour of colleges. "It's turned into a lot of publicity."

Shantel Nelson, a 20-year-old political science major at American University and native of Brooklyn, said she wasn't worrying about Brown, but did understand why the couple might get back together.

"I think it's probably love," Nelson says. "He did something he shouldn't have done, but there's probably room for forgiveness for one time -- just one time."

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