John Lennon and Chris Brown Have Something in Common

When activists plastered Chris Brown albums with the warning "This Man Beats Women," the Internet (rightfully) cheered. But now that John Lennon albums are also getting stickered, the online response is a lot more conflicted. Abuse Sticks Out, the guerrilla campaign that flagged Brown's latest album Fortune in British retailer HMV, picked an easy first target. Pretty much everyone already hates Brown, and for good reason. There's even an app that conveniently makes him disappear from the Internet. Words like "nice" and "Fab!" were common reactions to the stickers.

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But people have mostly forgotten that Lennon was also physically abusive towards women. "I used to be cruel to my woman," he said, citing the lyrics to "Getting Better" in a Playboy interview near the end of his life. "Physically—any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women." In his biography The Lives of John Lennon, Albert Goldman also maintains that Lennon was guilty of spousal abuse.

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The reminder has been met with a fair amount of surprise, including from a content editor at The Telegraph. Others are surprised that everyone else is so surprised. "Why's everyone angry about the 'This man beats women' sticker on John Lennon albums?" asks Anna Warnaby. "It's true. He's still an amazing musician, but he did." Instead of denouncing Lennon's abusive history, an NME editor remarked that the stickers were merely "interesting" (it's an awkward story for the music publication to have to deal with on the same day they crowned Lennon their Ultimate Icon). By shifting from Brown to Lennon, the campaign has made listeners consider a disturbing fact about pop musicians: many of them hit women, from James Brown to Phil Spector, Dr. Dre to Sid Vicious. Even Lennon, widely beloved as a symbol of peace, wasn't innocent.