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Since assaulting girlfriend Rihanna in February of 2009, Chris Brown has repeatedly tried, and failed, to convince the public that he is sorry. On Aug. 31, 2009, Brown told Larry King: “When I look at it now, it’s just like, wow, like, I can’t believe that that actually happened.” On Nov. 16, he told Wendy Williams “the steps that I’ve taken to show that I’m sorry probably have been perceived wrong,” adding later in the show that he loves women. And Brown’s tribute to Michael Jackson at last night’s BET awards failed to correct the public perception problem.

In case you missed Brown’s performance, the R&B singer was tasked with performing a medley of Jackson’s greatest hits on the award show. He started with “The Way You Make Me Feel,” continued with “Smooth Criminal,” and sailed through “Billie Jean” before finally arriving at “Man in the Mirror,” at which point he collapsed in tears, fist-pumped the air, and exited the stage without finishing the song. Commenter Lizrd described the spectacle this way: “Chris Brown did the Michael Jackson tribute, and then proceeded to cry throughout ‘Man in the Mirror’ in what I can only assume is a delicious truffle filled with creamy irony, descended from heaven as a gift for me.”

Today, commentators are speculating as to whether Brown’s tearful denouement was authentic or staged (smooth criminal indeed). The real question is what on earth Brown is meant to be expressing sadness about here. Is it Michael Jackson‘s premature death? Pelicans covered in oil, which appeared on the big screen during the song? That he assaulted his girlfriend last year? Maybe it’s Haiti.

The Washington Post‘s Celebritology column asks if whatever that was means it’s time to forgive Brown for assaulting Rihanna. I can’t tell the music-listening public when (if ever) it ought to extend its forgiveness to Brown. But I would suggest that the guy needs to do a little bit more than cry indiscriminately over an undetermined source of sadness in order to get our money back.