WHY IS THE INDUSTRY SO UNFORGIVING OF BLACK WOMEN ARTISTS?
I was in the bookstore recently browsing through the magazine section for my favorite publications when my eyes fell on a recent issue of Vogue. Upon seeing Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter (I refuse to give her name any more life) on the cover, I rolled my eyes, found the magazines I wanted, and settled in a comfy chair to read. While thumbing through one particular mag, I ran across an article featuring a woman whose claim to fame was teaching this young woman how to “twerk”. She went on and on about how she was the first to teach her as if this Noble-peace prize worthy information. I was angry at the article and her for reducing herself to nothing more than a stage prop for fifteen minutes of fame, while Billy Ray’s daughter reaped the benefits.
Some time later on that day, I thought about that Vogue cover and how quickly this celeb seemed to bounce back from the now famous and equally terrible MTV VMA awards show performance. Her oversexualized and equally disturbing performance was a hot topic for weeks. The aftermath included her Twitter followers skyrocketing, CNN and news stations across the world covering and analyzing the “latest dance craze”, her singles rising to the top of the charts all while magazines scrambled to have her on their covers. Her appropriation of what she considers to be black culture and blatant disrespect of black women was overlooked. But had she been black, would the outcome have been the same?
White women artists and entertainers have always been able to rise above any type of controversy. From Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera’s threesome kiss with Madonna at the VMAs ten years prior, to Britney’s even weirder public meltdown, to Lindsay Lohan’s drug/alcohol abuse and now Billy Ray’s daughter recent stunts for attention, this is nothing new. After controversy and backlash, they are rewarded with book deals, TV shows, movie deals, multi-platinum selling albums, concert tours, and endless magazine covers. Unfortunately, black women aren’t allowed those privileges or liberties.
For those that think I’m talking off the top of my head, remember Janet Jackson and her infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII performance? During one segment of her performance with pop singer, Justin Timberlake, she had what was later explained as a “wardrobe malfunction”, that included her nipple being exposed for a few seconds to millions around the world on live television. Although Timberlake was the one who exposed her breast (and partly responsible for what occurred), he was able to slither away unscathed. Meanwhile, Janet was blacklisted in the industry and by MTV for years. Radio stations and music channels all over banned her music. She was also banned from the 2004 Grammys that same year (although Timberlake was able to attend) and her career was never the same. Oh, and Justin? His acting and music career soared, catapulting him into the realm of superstardom.
Another example is Whitney Houston. Known as THE VOICE of a huge chunk of the 80s and 90s, she belted out hit after hit breaking records worldwide. Her influence can be seen and heard in many artists white or black. However, although she had a successful career, it was stained by her tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown and drug abuse until her death. Her talent and music stopped being celebrated. She became a celebrity punching bag and was reduced to nothing more than a drugged has-been. Sadly, it wasn’t until her death that the industry began giving her flowers again but of course it was too late.
Another thing that bothers me about the current music industry is the lack of promotion that black women get in comparison to other artists. Outside of Beyonce and Rihanna, there are great artists like Janelle Monae, Emeli Sande, Jill Scott, Esperanza Spalding, Chrisette Michele and Ledisi that get little to no promotion, most often from the same labels where the Lady Gagas and Katy Perrys thrive. Their music gets hardly any play on Top 40 with their only shot being Urban Adult Contemporary (or Urban AC) which doesn’t have as much reach as the former. And that’s if they’re lucky. Most of these artists don’t have the big budgets that their white counterparts have, so most of their music efforts often go unheard, unnoticed and underappreciated. Gone are the days when black women artists could be celebrated and successful based on their talent alone.
Don’t even get me started on the stigmas of black women in hip hop. Where is the U.N.I.T.Y.? Currently, the genre of women mainstream hip hop is monopolized by one or two female rappers now. In order for a woman emcee to break through the glass ceiling, she has to a) create or initiate beef with an already established artist, b) be white and co-signed by a major black rapper or producer (i.e. Kreyshawn and Iggy Azelea) or, c) as Erykah Badu once stated in an interview, “do some ho- sh-t.” Emcees like 3D Na’Tee, Nitty Scott MC, Farrah Burns, and Rapsody won’t be heard or seen in mainstream media because they’re not perpetuating the stereotypes of female rappers that have been around for almost twenty years. It’s unfortunate that unless black women artists are bending it over or dropping it low, beefing on Twitter or Instagram, or causing some type of controversy, then they’re not taken seriously as artists.
While it’s easy to place the blame solely on artists themselves, black or white, when things go wrong in their careers, you have to understand that at the end of the day it’s still a white-owned and operated business. The images, stereotypes, and music that you see and hear depicted and enforced are no accident. From the way black women are depicted in rap videos and reality tv shows to the music you hear on the radio, it is all strategically planned and marketed. I, for one, am over the stunts mis-appropriation and all out war against black women in this industry. I’m tired of our sisters being used for financial gain and exploitation and am doing my part to fight against it.
As for Billy Ray’s daughter? Twenty years from now, she’ll be hailed on The Rolling Stones’ list 100 Best Artists Of All Time, while many of our black women artists won’t even get an honorable mention. Her rise from Disney princess to pop star to wanna-be Lil Kim career path will be mentioned as revolutionary or innovative. She’ll be listed on the same list as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, and Marvin Gaye as one of the greats. Hopefully, for the sake and integrity of all black women in this industry, I hope my prediction is wrong.