On Wednesday, one day after performing a concert in Manila, the American R&B singer Chris Brown was scheduled to fly to Hong Kong, where he was to play that evening. The Philippine government, however, had other ideas.
Iglesia ni Cristo, a powerful religious organization, has filed a fraud complaint against the rapper and his manager for failing to appear at a show scheduled for last New Year’s Eve. The group charges that Brown took $1 million in payment for a show that never happened. Brown says his absence resulted from a misplaced passport. Nevertheless, he remains barred from leaving the Philippines until the situation is resolved.
Getting stuck in the Philippines is only the latest high-profile incident in the checkered career of Brown, who pleaded guilty for a felony assault on his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009 and finished his probation just this year. But Brown is not the first famous Western musician to have problems departing the Philippines. Forty-nine years ago this month, after the Beatles performed a show in Manila during their final international tour, the band was invited by then-First Lady Imelda Marcos to the presidential palace for a luncheon attended by various political and cultural dignitaries. However, no one conveyed the invitation to Brian Epstein, the group’s manager, and instead the musicians spent the day resting on a boat in the Manila Bay. Upon arriving at the airport for their departure, The Beatles were greeted by a throng of outraged fans. Abandoned by their security detail, the group pushed through an angry crowd at the airport to reach the plane on the tarmac. John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Brian Epstein all sustained minor injuries in the fracas. Soon after their departure, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos absolved The Beatles of any responsibility for the miscommunication. But the band, shaken by the experience, vowed never to return to the country.
Foreign artists continue to run afoul of the Philippines’ strict standards. In 2012, a Lady Gaga concert attracted widespread protest due to supposedly anti-Christian lyrics in one of the singer’s hits. And earlier this year, two members of One Direction paid bonds of roughly $4,500 before their performance in Manila, due to their casual admission of marijuana use in a video released last year.
Such disputes are perhaps inevitable in the Philippines, a rapidly modernizing country with a longtime affinity for American culture that nonetheless adheres to deeply traditional values. But Brown’s offense has less to do with his volatile reputation than for simply butting heads with the wrong organization. Iglesia ni Cristo’s 2 to 3 million members tend to vote as a bloc and are thus politically influential. Last year, the organization made a splash by constructing the Philippines Arena, the country’s largest concert venue, on the outskirts of Manila.
Brown’s unexpected sojourn in the Philippines is one of a few problems for his Asian tour. A concert promoter in Hong Kong told The New York Times that Brown’s concert, originally scheduled for Wednesday and then delayed to Thursday, will now be postponed indefinitely. A scheduled performance in Jakarta for July 25 has already been canceled, apparently due to unrelated security concerns.
Despite the canceled concerts, though, Brown is still performing. “Please, please, let us leave, please,” he said in a video posted to Instagram. He then did a back flip.