The Comeback Trail
After something as detrimental as the incident with Chris Brown and Rihanna, how does a manager (assuming he/she is still believes in this artist) deal with the situation to help the artist bounce back and regain his/her fan base?
Colonel Tom Parker, the legendary manager of Elvis Presley, is often quoted as having said,"There is no such thing as bad publicity." That may have been true in the golden days of Hollywood when movie studio publicity departments carefully fabricated stories and arranged relationships to accommodate the promotional needs of the "star" system. The media traded the truth for access and played along in order to lure patrons to the box-office. The fan magazines perpetuated the mythology and a gullible public believed everything because they wanted to.
Only the most heinous violations of moral and legal standards of the day burst through the veil of protection provided by the movie studios. Fatty Arbuckle paid for his peccadillo's, Robert Mitchum was arrested for smoking pot, Errol Flynn was criticised for being a Nazi sympathiser and Elvis was goaded into a bar room brawl, Ray Charles was a heroin addict. Sometimes the incidents incited public animosity and sometimes they were greeted with acceptance and humor. The public is very fickle and the bond with its heroes is thin and fragile. The long term effect of bad publicity varies from case to case.
Behavior that is acceptable from one artist may be totally detrimental to another. Careers are like fingerprints, from a distance they all look the same, up close each is different. Fatty's career evaporated, Mitchum became a superstar, Flynn shook off the stigma and Elvis incorporated the incident into one of his movies. Ray cleaned up his act, was declared a genius and became a legend. All of these incidents created huge negatives in the media, each with different results.
Back then, there was a certain naivete attached to the print media and how the fourth estate was manipulated by the system and the advertisers. With the advent of multi channel television and twenty-four hour news the game has drastically changed. Throw the paparazzi and the Internet into the mix, add ubiquitous photography, reality programming and universal video and the dynamic changes completely. Where there was once a shadow of a doubt in the stories of the past, today there's recorded proof of just about everything that ever happens in the life of a media star.
Artists have stories to tell in support of their career advancement. The seeds of these stories are sewn by managers and publicists to achieve a certain image and to stimulate interest in the act. The fans digest the seeds and evolve mental illusions about their personal relationship with their idols. Hero worship is the driving force. In the minds of the fan base an entitlement grows with the bond. The fan expects the artist's lifestyle to conform to his vision of what is "supposed" to be.
The story never overlaps the truth. When an artists sins are discovered and exposed in the media there is a moment of pause, while the fans love is tested. What one believes depends on who it is, what happened and weather or not it is acceptable to the fan. If the action is compatible with the artist's image the attention will not have a deleterious effect. When the artist's behavior is completely out of character with the fans perception of the person, it can cause permanent career damage.
Social mores are constantly changing and what may have been okay in the past, could be destructive today. Brittany Spear's "sans panties" incident was shocking, but not out of character. It didn't cause her any long term harm. Chris Brown's assault on Rhianna was completely unacceptable behavior. His fans didn't like it, her fans were outraged and their mutual fans were devastated. Since the O.J. incident domestic violence has a very definite connotation in our society. Men battering women is about as low as it goes. Nobody condones it for any reason.
Personal managers are responsible for how an artist relates to the media. It is a double edged sword. The acts court the media to get the "good" publicity, but fear and hide from them when their is "bad" news or something to hide. They cooperate to get their promotional licks in, pretend to not want it when out in the world and abhor it when they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. We all swim in the media ocean and sooner or later we all get wet. Sometimes when the "truth" hits the fan it is best to just walk away and let the dust settle. A career must be built to last a lifetime,showbiz is a marathon. Nobody dashes to the finish line. Fix it tomorrow.
Artists are seriously affected by the exposure of their weaknesses and flaws. Fans don't build those elements into their view of a star. The person they imagine the artist to be is idealized in the mind of the beholder. The bursting of that illusory bubble can be the end of the relationship or the beginning of a new era of affection and alliance. The difference is in how the problem is initially addressed by the artist, how it is handled in the long run and the degree of culpability.
A personal manager in a successful business relationship with an artist should not jump ship because his client gets in trouble. Untoward "incidents" provide opportunities for managers to prove their worth. Very often managers stand between the act and the law in dealing with potentially embarrasing situations. Sometimes containment and control will dictate the survival of the artist's career or personal liberty. In the case of Bobby Brown, there is a lot of power and money at stake.
In the shame of discovery, one's natural instinct is to deny everything regardless of innnocence or guilt, as Bill Clinton did in the little blue dress debacle. However, if there is absolute, irrefutable proof because that is your picture and you are doing "it," there are two ways to go. Come forward immediately and confess as Hugh Grant did in the Hollywood hooker matter. Grant defused the bomb before it went off. Yes, he looked foolish for a minute but it all blew over, no harm, no foul.
In the face of absolute guilt, it is often better to exercise one's right to freedom "from" the press, as in the case of Tiger Woods. He did it, there is no room for denial, and he is very wise not to throw fuel on the fire. I experienced this personally when my late brother Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife a decade ago. The media was instantly stirred into a feeding frenzy.
Reporters descended on our world like locusts and they were insatiable. We became a form of prey and were forced into hiding to conceal out tears and protect the dignity of our family at a very difficult time. We were all dazed in the first days following the tragedy and any statement would have projected only anger and pain. Despite a continous inquiry from every possible source, we said nothing for four and a half years. There was no flavor that would turn that pill sweet.
It always shocks me when the day after the incident the survivors are displaying their grief on television for all to see. This happens because they don't know that it is their right to say nothing. They don't owe the media a story or an answer; not a lie, not the truth or anything in between. Reporters are in business to sell their papers, magazines, TV shows and blogs. You do not have to participate in the process. The less you contribute, the smaller the historical archive will become.
The good news is the fickle public has a short memory. If Bobby and Rhianna show up on enough red carpets the fans will forgive and forget. After all, they are the only ones who know what really happened and why. If she can forgive him, so will the fans. If he keeps doing good work his career will survive and he will continue to thrive in The Music Renaissance. Bobby is young, and kids make mistakes. He has plenty of time to recover and if he was talented and driven enough to make it once, he can certainly do it again. There will always be room for talented artists on The Comeback Trail.