LOS ANGELES – At this point, Chris Brown would have been better off getting caught with a bong. At least then, the scandal enveloping his white-hot career could have been dismissed by some as a youthful indiscretion.
But Brown's arrest in connection with an alleged assault of a woman has potentially devastating implications for the 19-year-old heartthrob because it unravels the charming, wholesome image that fans know and love.
"If it's true, his career is probably over," said Billboard magazine's editorial director, Bill Werde, although he cautioned that "it's important to withhold judgment until all of the facts are known."
On a night in which Brown was supposed to deliver a prime-time Grammy performance, he was instead being processed in a Los Angeles police station on a charge connected to an alleged assault on a woman reports have identified as Rihanna, the 20-year-old pop princess. Brown was booked on a suspicion of making a criminal threat after he and a woman had an argument that escalated into a fight in a ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood, according to police; Rihanna and Brown pulled out of the Grammys hours before the Sunday telecast.
Brown nor his representatives have made statements about the case, and the only comment Rihanna's publicist has made was to say that the statuesque star was doing "well."
Already there was immediate fallout from Brown's arrest, with Wrigley stopping all ad and marketing campaigns tied to Brown, who had been their Doublemint gum pitchman. The singer also withdrew from planned appearances at the upcoming NBA All-Star Game, scheduled for this weekend in Phoenix, NBA spokesman Tim Frank said in an e-mail.
"Wrigley is concerned by the serious allegations made against Chris Brown. We believe Mr. Brown should be afforded the same due process as any citizen," the company said in a statement. "However, we have made the decision to suspend the current advertising featuring Brown and any related marketing communications until the matter is resolved."
Brown rose to fame as a sweet-faced, 16-year-old with an engaging voice and amazing dance skills with the 2005 smash hit "Run It!" Since then, his popularity has mushroomed; he's been featured in movies such as dance flick "Stomp the Yard," had top-selling tours and a string of hits, including "Forever" and "No Air" with Jordin Sparks, for which he was nominated for a Grammy on Sunday.
He was named Billboard's top artist for 2008 and won three American Music Awards last fall, including artist of the year.
Rihanna's star is just as bright. The pop singer had one of 2007's most popular songs with "Umbrella" and the string of hits has not stopped: She has a Top 10 Billboard pop hit right now with "Live Your Life" with T.I. and a few others still on the charts.
Her stunning looks have made the Barbados native a cover girl for magazines, as well as a pitchwoman for Cover Girl cosmetics.
The pair started dating about a year ago, and while they never officially confirmed their romance, they were often spotted together, cuddling or holding hands.
"I don't think anyone saw this coming."
Perhaps the most recent pop star to face a legal crisis was Brown's record-label mate, R. Kelly, who was charged, and later acquitted, of child-pornography charges. He continued a multiplatinum career even as the legal saga dragged through the courts for years.
But Kelly never had a wholesome image and built much of his career on coarse sexual songs.
Brown, on the other hand, has been pitched at a teen idol who, while having considerable sex appeal, is still ultimately safe. He's recently been nominated for Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Awards and last December was the headliner at a concert thrown by New York radio station Z100. Geared mainly toward squealing teens, he drew ear-piercing shrieks as he closed out the concert, a gig that featured a cameo appearance by Rihanna.
Ford said it was "it's really too early to tell at this point" what will happen with his career.
"He certainly missed an opportunity last night at the Grammys to take his career to the next level," she said. "I'm not sure whether or not it's going to completely hurt him yet."
Brown was near the end of promoting his platinum-selling "Exclusive" CD and was concentrating on filming movies.
As for Rihanna, she will likely emerge from the incident with more fans, and sympathy, Ford said.
"It might actually help Rihanna, to a certain extent," she said. "She's definitely being viewed as the victim at this point."