Monday, March 25, 2013
I recently had a very bad break up. It was with a woman. OK, it was with several women.
The women of R & B to be exact.
What happened to all of those amazing women who scored the soundtrack of my life? My Sheroes. And what happened to artists like them?
For example, I was a die hard fan of Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. These were two whose music was so honest and so relatable. They expressed the good and bad of life and love in such a real way.
Jill’s lyrics were like poetry, life set to music. You had been where she had been, thought what she had thought. She said the things you were feeling and thinking and wondering. Sometimes she was strong where you were weak. She presented a woman who had figured it out and put it to music.
And Erykah, she was invincible. She faced life head on and laid out its complexities in a way we all could relate to. She was no angel, nor were we. She was smart. She was a woman who knew the power of her mind and wasn’t afraid to speak it. She had the courage to be herself in a world of cookie-cutter clones. She was daring, she was street, she was this unique spirit that seduced a generation of young quirky women and taught them that being clever was hot.
Most of us didn’t have it as rough as Mary J, and couldn’t relate to Beyonce’s freakishly good looks. And that’s precisely why female artists like this were important. Jill and Erykah and India and Latifah and TLC looked like us, they sounded like us, their lives sounded like ours. They made natural hair cool again. They took young female angst, and made it beautiful and funky.
And now it’s 2013, and I wonder where have all the R & B sheroes gone off to? Who is now scoring the lives of our young women?
I think of the young women growing up in R & B today. There are few artists that address the wide possibilities for the lives of our young ladies. Today, unless a young girl’s dreams relate to becoming a “star,” generically “making money,” having sex, going to a club, or getting hers before she gets got— her dreams are generally unrepresented in pop culture. Too many of them are conned into believing those are the only options they have for their lives.
Think about it, who can an 18-year old listen to today, that will make them feel like they can do anything? Like the possibilities for her life are endless? Who tells them that a man leaving her to raise a baby alone is not some rite of passage we all must inevitably go through? (I swear, it’s not!). Who lets them know that a fantastic relationship with someone who loves you is absolutely achievable? That you can have a great life without ever once popping your booty for a cell phone camera? That busting the windows out of the car is never an acceptable form of conflict resolution? Of all those female artists on the Billboard charts, who can a young women listen to in those moments when she’s feeling fat or ugly or rejected?
We are desperately missing the diversity among popular female artists that once made us all excited about our particular place in the world. We need the weirdos and lesbians and hippies and divas and ho-types all coexisting in a world where we actually have options about who we identify with, who moves us.
Yes, this is a very broad generalization. Absolutely, there are some great songs out there and great artists. Of course Ledisi is awesome and Janelle Monae is fantastically weird–but too often, these exceptions aren’t the ones shaping our young people at the time of their lives when music is most influential. Artists like those aren’t played 30 times a day on Radio Dumb One.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think there is no place for the edgy and fucked up Rihanna or Prostitute Barbie, Nicki Minaj. I just fear, that’s all we ever get anymore.
If you listen to the radio for one hour you would never know that we all don’t aspire to have baby daddy drama, rough sex or butt implants. (OK maybe rough sex, occasionally). And wouldn’t it be so nice to see our individual uniqueness and weirdness and fabulousness and eccentricities played out in song? For those are the things that make each of us special.
But perhaps these days, its just too much to ask. Let’s face it–Rihanna’s a mess, Mariah Carey is creepy now, and Keyshia Coles is always yelling at you. OK sure, Beyonce is wholesome, but she’s also creepy-perfect and rich and if I see her in that body suit one more time I’m gonna scream. Plus, it’s extraordinary that a woman who has gleaned her success from a largely young female audience would release a song called “Bow Down Bitches.” I now choose to bow out. When Beyonce resorts to a hook telling bitches to bow down, the Endtimes can’t be far behind.
Meh. I don’t know. I just long for a day when I could choose to listen to freaky bad songs, harmless nonsense songs, sad love songs or profoundly inspiring songs. I’m afraid our girls today just don’t have much of a choice. Mess and sex as far as the eye can see. And knowing how broadly music shapes our popular culture, its a little scary.
Or perhaps, I’m off-base and everything is fine. And these are just the musings of a mean old lady, longing for that elusive pastime paradise, who is now waving an angry fist, telling contemporary music to, in essence, get off her lawn.
Either way, it’s time for my nap.