The Menace to Black Virtuosity: Politicizing and “Urbanization” of Music Genres
On April 23rd, 2016, Beyoncé dropped her sixth studio album LEMONADE. The world stopped again as she continued with including strong and gritty visuals for hard hitting songs; but, there was a certain stillness in the air about how to define the album. While some turned to calling LEMONADE R&B, including the Grammys Recording Academy, others were puzzled as the project touched on different genres.
Beyoncé gave us a taste of an artist’s ability to bounce from genre to genre on each song. She gave us smooth R&B with “Pray You Catch Me,” a touch of Reggae with “Hold Up,” some rock with “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” (one of my personal favorites) and southern-fried country with “Daddy Lessons.”
But, like with all things, not everyone was happy. During her promotion of the album, Beyoncé performed “Daddy Lessons” with the Dixie Chicks at the Country Music Association Awards Show (CMAs). Many Country music fans turned to Twitter to argue that Beyoncé should not be performing at the awards show, mostly due to her stance on police brutality and Tr*mp.
Which brings us to the obvious reason why I’m bringing this up: racism and discrimination runs wild in the music industry and works overtime to keep Black artists locked out of spaces.
There is no surprise that racism permeates the music industry. It controls the the artists’ success and fall, especially for newer artists. From the minute they sign to labels, they are locked into contracts to produce specific kinds of music. But, those who don’t fall into this category, also face racism through fan reception and award shows.
Normani is an artist who has fallen victim to this. When she began to release music on a mainstream level, Normani was a part of the biggest girl group of the 2010’s, Fifth Harmony. Their primary genre was Pop music, like most music at the time. Some of their well known hits are “Work From Home”, “Down”, “Worth It” and “BO$$”. As of now, the group has moved on and all of their members are solo artists, each releasing music in their respective genres. However, Normani’s project is the most anticipated of the group. She released her debut single as a solo artist with Khalid called “Love Lies” which was a sultry R&B song. Her follow up singles “Waves,” “Checklist,” and “Slow Down,” all range from alt-R&B to club music. Even her covers of Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky” and Drake’s “Fake Love” and “Sneakin'” garnished praise for her affinity for R&B. However, the single suspected to be from her debut album, “Motivation,” was heavily pop-infused.
From that point on, fans of the artist began to speculate what the genre of the album will be. Many are stuck in the mindset that she has to release an R&B album, but why? Yes, R&B is a Black-dominated genre. However, why do we box our artists into categories that may not entirely register with them. As stated earlier, Normani has the prowess to release strong R&B albums, but her main lane was Pop to begin with. We should not bar her going down this lane, if she chooses to. At the end of the day, it’s artists choice of the kind of music they want to represent them. Whether it’s country, rock, EDM or R&B.
We’ve seen it with Lizzo and Normani, but there are definitely other artists, underground and mainstream, who suffer from the general public dictating what genre they fit under. For Black artists, this struggle is hard to overcome.
We’ve seen it at popular award shows and on streaming services. The Black artist is often thrown into the category of R&B, or Urban.
This is a more common issue for Black women in music. Beyonce, Rihanna, Tinashe, Normani have fallen into this trap by the public. But this does not stop them, and up and coming artists, from breaking the mold.
Award shows often push artists into the politically correct “Urban” category, looking at you Grammy’s. But we don’t allow artists to freely express themselves through the genre they feel a connection to. Any time an artist does it, it is looked at as taboo or they do not get enough traction to take off. Even if they do get the traction, it is a fight.
Genre’s a very strict and boring. Artists should be free to explore other genres of music whenever they want without feeling like people are pressuring them into comforting within a set genre.