Breaking Down “Fine China”

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.

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One thought on “Breaking Down “Fine China”

  1. The classic conundrum when one loves the art, but hates the artist.

    Ask Marshall Mathers, he’s built a career by being loved for his lyrical prowess while also being despised for his overtly misogynistic lyrics. The difference between the two is that Slim Shady’s persona was/is not pretending to be a nice guy. It’s ‘acceptable’ such as it is, because you know Eminem knows exactly what he’s doing. And he know you know it.

    Chris Brown’s duplicity in his actions and words, is somehow more egregious, as he clearly does not get where and why he’s in the wrong in the semantics of his lyrics, when folks are bopping their heads to his rhythm. If he does not -or choses not to- get it, it can be dangerous as we all wait for the unfortunately inevitable, next shoe to drop.

    I have a friend who will not buy anything R.E.M. because he vehemently disagrees with Michael Stipes’ political views. “Losing My Religion” drove him crazy because he loved the song, but felt buying the song meant he was supporting Stipes’ views and he just could not do it. On the other hand, while I may disagree with certain artists’ views, it will not stop me from appreciating his/her work if something moves, touches my core.

    The creation does not stop being *fill-in-positive-adjective-of-choice-here* because we are not enamored of the creator. Had you heard the song before you knew it belonged to Brown you would still groove on the nuisances of its chords even as you grimace at the lyrics. What’s the classic line? I don’t know what’s art. but I know what I like. If there is no wrong or right in art creation, then that logic must follow through to its appreciation or depreciation for that matter.

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