Is it okay to leverage a past checkered with domestic abuse, televised psychotic episodes, and violent confrontations against the plea of it’s alright, I’m not dangerous if it creates a genuinely compelling piece of art?
I’m gunna dial it back real quick. “Fine China” is an expertly executed Michael Jackson update that juxtaposes the creepily squeaky-clean MJ persona over whatever the hell Chris Brown is now. He’s wearing a bow tie in this video. Does he hang out with Bieber on the weekends? I’m actually asking, because I exist almost completely outside of the contemporary Top-40 advertisers’ reach and am writing this
thinkpiece five months after the video dropped. But really, he assumes the image of a gentleman gangster about as well as a cartoon wolf pretending to be a kindly human around Porky Pig.
But I think that’s a huge part of what makes this an interesting song and video. I must have listened to “Fine China” 50 times in the last two weeks, and little lines have started asserting themselves with each review. When he’s finished does he step back and adore you? That was the first red flag. But later verses offer a more full fledged insight into Chris Brown’s particular brand of unbalanced. Favorite/ You’re my favorite/ It’s like all the girls around me don’t have faces is nuts, right? That’s a flat-out failure of a romantic gesture and a hilariously telling Freudian slip of a line, right? Zoom out on this thing and you get a way more unsettling message. To his thinking, this woman is a possession for display, a fetish object, a passive actor in the reality she exists within. And even after all that begging and pleading, by the end of the song what he’s asking her for is to save him some time and effort and just get down to loving him. The guy can’t even make it a whole song without demanding of her. Damn.
And all that while he looks kind of like Mickey Mouse done up all in H&M and maybe 5 hours into some really heavy withdrawals.
But the song’s so good! Where did that bass line come from?! The whole thing starts out so aggressively, then slides into such a slinky little groove. The melody on the pre-chorus is top-notch, particularly the second time around with that impossibly bendy worth the chase you’re putting on. That has to be auto-tuned. And yes, this is some borderline Oasis-level theft. The de-de-de-de’s are straight out of “Human Nature”. He full on woo-who’s, a la “Beat It”. I’m surprised he doesn’t slip a shamone in there. But he makes it work. The song is incredibly well produced and arranged. He dances and sings his balls off. He pulls it all off with the little wink of his past violently highlighting the preposterous construction.
The sheer complexity of the concept affords it an enhanced staying power uncommon in contemporary pop music. Reluctantly, I’ll say hats off to Mr. Brown, Leon Youngblood Jr., G’harah “PK” Degeddingseze, Eric Bellinger, Amber Streeter, & RCA Records & Tapes.