Last night’s American Music Awards officially kicked off music awards season, giving us a good idea of what might play out come February when the Grammy Awards roll around. The star-studded musical event was pretty standard fare — big performances, some fashion hits (and misses) on the red carpet, and K-pop supergroup BTS trending on Twitter — but one thing that wasn’t on our award show bingo card was people trying to cancel singer and actress Kelly Rowland after defending Chris Brown to a booing crowd.
The AMAs took place in Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, with thousands packing the performance arts space to celebrate 50 years of the special event. Modern day renaissance man Wayne Brady hosted the awards show, and celebrities and fans alike got to watch their faves be honoured for all of their achievements in music. First-time Grammy nominee GloRilla hit the stage with Cardi B (fun!), Lionel Richie won the AMAs Icon Award (well-deserved!), and Stevie Wonder and Charlie Puth duked it out in a battle of the keys (random, but surprisingly fun!). We were having a pretty good time.
Things took a turn when it was time to announce the winner in the super stacked Favourite Male R&B Artist category. Onstage, Rowland revealed that Chris Brown (who holds the record for most nominations in the category with 12 nominations over the years) would once again be taking home the award, beating out Brent Faiyaz, GIVĒON, Lucky Daye, and The Weeknd. Brown, who had initially been scheduled to appear at the AMAs and perform a tribute in honour of the 40th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, was a no-show, so Rowland took it upon herself to accept the award on his behalf — and people were not happy about the results. The crowd erupted in a mix of applause and audible boos as Brown’s name was announced, much to Rowland’s dismay.
“Excuse me,” she frowned at the audience. “Chill out.”
“I wanna tell Chris, thank you so much for making great R&B music, and I wanna tell him thank you for being an incredible performer,” Rowland continued. “I’ll take this award and bring it to you. I love you. Congratulations, and congratulations to all the nominees in this category.”
Rowland’s speech ruffled quite a few feathers on the internet, causing her name to trend alongside the AMAs hashtag on Twitter. Many people were disappointed and frustrated by her public praise given of his controversial and problematic past. In 2009, Brown pled guilty to physically assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna the night before the Grammy Awards, and similar allegations of physical violence and harassment followed in the years that followed; several other women, including actress Karrueche Tran, accused him of physical abuse, threatening behaviour, and even sexual assault. He’s also been accused of rampant colourism — multiple women have claimed that the R&B singer is notorious for discriminating against darker skinned women in the nightlife scene.
The optics of Rowland, a dark-skinned Black woman who has been candid about her own experience with intimate partner violence, using a public platform to praise someone with such a checkered past, aren’t great, and the internet is split on where they stand on the viral moment. Some feel like it was yet another example of the Black community coddling Black men (see Trey Songz, R. Kelly, and Bill Cosby) who have harmed Black women, while others feel like Rowland’s support of Brown was warranted given his talents and the fact that these incidents took place years ago.
y’all agree with Kelly Rowland over a million things but get mad and wanna drag her because she doesn’t feel the same way you do ON ONE THING???? shut up.— AMERICA’S PROBLEM (@FUCCl) November 21, 2022
Brown was also trending online after news broke that he wouldn’t be performing his Thriller tribute despite preparing extensively for it. Sharing footage from his rehearsals for the would-be performance on his Instagram, the singer blasted AMAs executives for the last minute move.
“WOULD’VE been the AMA performance but they canceled me for reasons unknown,” Brown wrote in the Instagram video’s comment.
The AMAs tribute would have marked the first time that Brown would perform on national television since the 2017 BET Awards. A Variety article revealed that the AMAs’ move to trash the performance came after intense behind-the-scenes deliberation on whether it would be appropriate to have Brown, a man convicted of felony assault, pay homage to Jackson, a man accused of inappropriate behaviour with minors. The show’s executive producers Jesse Collins and Stephen Hill allegedly strongly objected to having Brown take the stage, so the tribute was ultimately canned.
“Live shows change all the time, it’s the nature of this business,” said a rep for Dick Clark Productions, the company that produces the AMAs. “Unfortunately, this element of the AMAs didn’t come together as we couldn’t align on the performance, to no fault of Chris Brown.”