Hong Kong-bound Chris Brown talks fatherhood, celebrity and his evolving sound
Ahead of his appearance at Dragon-i next week, Brown says becoming a father has given him a new perspective
Notoriety seems to stalk Chris Brown like a shadow, but since the arrival of his daughter, Royalty, last year, the American R&B and hip-hop artist claims he is a changed man.
"It definitely puts life in perspective," the 26-year-old Brown tells 48 Hours ahead of his performance at Dragon-i on July 22. "My little baby girl has helped me learn a lot in the past couple of months. Not only about being a father but about me as a person. She has helped me in so many ways already I can't begin to list them."
As a chart-topping singer — and sometime actor — the modern 24-hour media cycle seems tailor-made to fit the story of Brown and his rise to fame and fortune — as well as his well-publicised legal issues.
Here's the youngster from a tiny US town in Virginia named Tappahannock (population just more than 2,000), who sang in the church choir and taught himself to dance by watching Michael Jackson. His self-titled debut album — released in 2005 when Brown was just 15 years old — made it to the second spot on the Billboard charts in the US and offered up a single ( Run It) that went straight to the top and made him a star.
Twelve Grammy nominations have brought one win (for his 2012 album F.A.M.E ) and all seven of Brown's studio albums have made it to at least top 10 on the charts. So you might say the man has been a bit of a story, but Brown says he is comfortable with celebrity and with the way genre fans has followed his every move for the past decade.
"I don't think [people today] put too much emphasis on celebrities," says Brown. "Celebrities, a lot of the time are artists in some way — musicians, actors, painters, even athletes. Growing up, I idolised celebs like Michael Jackson because of his amazing dance skills and singing talent. Celebrities are role models, as well as just normal people. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that."
While Jackson is an obvious influence, as Brown's career has developed the singer has expanded his range — and hardened the edges of his music. He says he is always listening out for new sounds.
"My music is always evolving and changing," he says. "I find influences for my music everywhere. My sounds and tastes have changed over the years due to the industry changing. New artists and new sounds are always being released. I think it's very important for any musician to be able to allow new sounds and influences of the day to change their music."
Hence from the sweeter soulful sounds of his debut, Brown has over the years moved between genres, as on last year's X, where he was found experimenting more with electronic sounds. It is simply a sign of the times, Brown says.
"At the beginning of my career there was very little EDM and electronic music, and now it is one of the music industry's largest and highest-grossing genres," Brown says. "I would never classify my music as EDM but certainly the work of Diplo and other musicians like him have influenced me. I am sure my music will continue to change as I grow and the music industry grows."
Which brings us to the gig at Dragon-i and the rather intimate setting that will greet a performer more used these days to playing to stadiums holding thousands of fans.
"They are vastly different experiences," Brown says. "Playing at a small venue is much more intimate and personal. You can really feel and understand the crowd when playing at smaller clubs. Playing large venues like arenas is always exciting. You have 100,000 people singing along to your songs — there is nothing more powerful than that. I have to say I have some of the best fans in the world. Team Breezy are always at my shows, showing me more love every time."
Brown says the best way he can find to repay such support is to continue producing music.
"I love creating music, plain and simple," Brown says. "There are always constant challenges — creating an album, putting together a tour. But to me these are not challenges — I just love creating music for my fans. They make all that effort in the studio and at rehearsals worthwhile."
I Love Wednesday presents You Can't Sit with Us, hosted by Chris Brown, July 22, 10.30pm, Dragon-i, The Centrium, 50 Wyndham Street, Central, HK$800. Inquiries: 3110 1222
For this story and more, see 48 Hours magazine, published on Thursday July 16