An upcoming performance in Halifax by controversial American R&B artist Chris Brown has stoked an outpouring of anger on social media, prompted corporate sponsors to pull their support and inspired the city’s mayor to speak out, leaving the concert’s promoter shocked.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Stephen Tobin, owner of the concert promotion company Drop Entertainment Group.
“I believe it’s a very slippery slope when we start trying to censor or to dictate who can or cannot perform in this province.”
Brown is scheduled to headline a summer music festival at Alderney Landing along the Dartmouth waterfront on Aug. 31. The Grammy Award-winning musician is also set to perform in Toronto and Winnipeg, where the response so far has been “nothing short of electric and overwhelmingly positive,” Tobin said.
“The stark difference between the markets is astonishing,” he said Monday.
Halifax-based spa A Touch of Radiance announced Monday it was pulling its support for the concert, two days after telecommunications giant Rogers did the same following the public backlash on social media.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, what happened,” said Jose Martins, who co-owns the spa with his wife.
“We just found that his past and what happened with him does not align well with our values as a company.”
Brown, 24, pleaded guilty to assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in February 2009. He hit, choked and bit the R&B star during an argument in Los Angeles following a pre-Grammy Award party. He was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of community service.
Mayor Mike Savage also weighed in, saying he was disappointed Brown was invited to perform.
“I don’t think he’s a good model for people,” Savage told The Canadian Press. “I quite frankly wish he wasn’t coming.”
Savage said there is little the city can do to stop the show from happening, but added that he wants to ensure the municipality will not support it.
He said the growing opposition to Brown’s visit is to be expected.
“It shows that we have a real concern about his past and I think that’s appropriate,” said Savage. “At the end of the day, people have to make their own decisions. ... but I hope people think twice.”
Tobin said Brown was invited because of his musical talent and popularity, adding that the company does not condone or endorse his past behaviour.
“When you’re dealing with an artist of the size and calibre of Chris Brown, there’s bound to be conflicting opinions,” Tobin said.
“He is as controversial as he is talented, there’s no denying that.”
Despite the outcry and loss of corporate support, Tobin said the concert will go ahead as planned. He said the companies who have withdrawn their sponsorship were grandfathered into the event and whose involvement does not have any impact on whether it takes place.
“If you’re smart, you don’t proceed with shows like this if you’re 100 per cent reliant on sponsorship,” he said. “These are Halifax-centric sponsors and they’re having a knee-jerk reaction to a social media push by a vocal few.”
Such a reception for Brown, whose rocky relationship with Rihanna and abrasive presence on Twitter have earned him a bad boy reputation, is not without precedent.
He was scheduled to perform at a stadium concert last year in Guyana but cancelled after drawing the ire of women’s rights groups and opposition lawmakers in that country over his history of violence.
The controversy in Halifax came as prosecutors in Los Angeles sought Monday to revoke Brown’s probation after he was charged last month with misdemeanour hit-and-run and driving without a valid licence.