Last night’s Grammy Awards marked two momentous occasions: the first public memorial for Whitney Houston, who died in a Beverly Hills hotel room on Saturday, and the first time rapper Chris Brown was allowed to return to the ceremony after being blacklisted following charges for beating the crap out of his then-girlfriend, Rihanna, in 2009.
For the Grammys, it was a moment of respectability and shame—though maybe not for the reasons you’re thinking.
Just hours after news of Houston’s death was released, Grammy officials announced that Jennifer Hudson, who accepted her 2009 Grammy from Houston and memorably performed “I Have Nothing” on American Idol, had been added to the evening’s lineup to honor the diva. The show opened with LL Cool J, the evening’s emcee, offering up a prayer for Houston and then using Obama-like oration to bring mood back up and remind viewers and the in-studio crowd that the night wasn’t about mourning, it was about music.
After the standard “In Memorium” portion of the show, a visibly emotional Hudson belted out “I Will Always Love You,” adding Whitney’s name to the last chorus. It was moving and sweet. The performance hit melancholic notes without being overwrought. It was a gentle way to remember the voice of a generation and strengthen the fans and friends who loved Houston.
All of it would’ve seemed honorable in the face of tragedy had the evening not also been marred by a statement from Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich about the return of Chris Brown.
“I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened,” Ehrlich told ABC News Radio.
Second chances are one thing. In Philadelphia, of all places, we get it. (See: Vick, Michael. Stein, Neil.) Perhaps Brown, who was nominated for three awards last night and has undergone counseling and performed community service, should have been allowed to attend the ceremony. But to clarify: Ehrlich considers the Grammy Awards—not Rihanna—victims of Brown’s abuse.
This sentiment—disturbing to start—is even more alarming in the wake of Houston’s death. Though autopsy results have not yet been released, it’s difficult to argue that Houston’s disastrous relationship with Bobby Brown—marred by drug abuse and domestic violence—didn’t contribute to her eventual downfall and perhaps her death, though autopsy results won’t be released for some time.
To use the occasion to theatrically mourn Houston without mentioning the irony of the evening also honoring one of the world’s most famous wife beaters was a mistake. To take the focus away from Brown’s victim—and the other victims of domestic violence—was downright disrespectful. Ehrlich, on behalf of the Grammys, owes apologies: To Rihanna, for undercutting the trauma she suffered through; to the family of Whitney Houston, who needn’t be reminded of the horrific effects of spousal abuse; and to all victims of domestic violence, who need support, not showboating.