Yesha Callahan

There Really Can’t Be Five Black Girls Winning In Music — And That’s A Problem

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 1.04.23 PMAretha vs Patti

Whitney vs Mariah

Rihanna vs Beyoncé

For as long as we can remember — or maybe for as long as Diana Ross and Florence Ballard proved you can’t have two lead singers in one group — there has never been a moment where more than one (maybe two) black women could be winning in music. And that’s a problem.

This point was recently raised by Tinashe in an interview with XONecole in which she talked about audiences’ reluctance to accept her talent — a condition she chalks up to colorism and the industry standard that only one black female singer can be on top. She said:

“For me, I feel like I still have to represent the [Black] community. That has been what has been my struggle because people do feel like there is only room for one. There is a Beyoncé, there is a Rihanna, there is Zendaya, there is a Jourdan Dunn. There is a Black girl in all of these positions and we don’t need another one.

“It’s just kind of ridiculous because there are like a hundred blonde, White actresses and leading ladies. There are a hundred rappers that all virtually look the same, sound the same, and dress the same and no one cares. But for some reason, when it comes to young women, they want to pit them against each other. There can’t be room [for us all]. There can’t be five Black girls winning. It’s weird.”

For years this had been the case in the acting world as well. Two years ago, Oprah held a black Hollywood roundtable with Gabrielle Union, Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, and Viola Davis in which they talked about the competition for roles among African-American actresses — a reality Union had admitted prior to the “Next Chapter” special made her a “mean-girl” who reveled in gossip and rumors about other women. But in 2015, it’s almost as though the TV heavens opened up and spit out a diversity angel, blessing us with four leading black women on four hit shows on four different networks. And when one of those women, Davis, made history at the Emmys earlier this year, the outpouring of support she received from other women in the industry — not the least of which was Taraji P. Henson, her competition in the very same category — was talked about as much as her win. Think there will ever come a day when Beyoncé loses her mind (in a good way) over Rihanna taking home a Grammy? Not likely. But that’s not entirely black female singers’ fault.

The music biz is far more fickle than the acting world in which, by and large, talent still holds a great deal of weight (as does whiteness, of course). But, these days, in music we’ve seen time and time again personality outweighs singling ability and when that becomes the basis of whether you make it or not, things get personal real quick. If you want to win, you have to be a character, a personality rather than a person who has an eff you attitude toward the competition — or else you’re basically handing them album sales and endorsements. Did you ever stop to think why Serena Williams and Misty Copeland don’t have names for their fans or Kerry Washington followers don’t go around calling themselves Gladiators, but if you like a singer you must pledge an undying oath to their fan club? Either you’re a Tamartian, in the Rihanna Navy or a member of the Beyhive and there is no room for cross contamination. The same goes for the Katy Kats, Swifties, and Beliebers as well, so it’s not just us. But it is us who are too marginalized to play by these singing crabs in a barrel rules.

When we write think pieces questioning why black singers don’t sell out like Adele, we have to think about how much power is in our hands versus the industry’s. If black female singers won’t unite and put one another on and shine bright like diamonds together in an industry that’s not really here for them anyway, black female consumers at least can. We can stop tearing down the Tinashes of the world because they aren’t Beyoncé and ask ourselves is it more important that we have one universal “queen” that appeases the masses or a court full of diverse brown talent that speaks to the various interests of our people? Maybe if we take the lead, the entertainers we support will follow suit and not feel like they have to pit themselves against one another just to gain instafame or sell a few downloads. Who knows, we might even get back to the days of the female R&B duet — or at least see a lot lest shade thrown around on the ‘gram.

  1. December 31, 2015 - Reply

    Your not black so stop forcing it. I get it in the US people will see you as black if you look black even though you are mixed, but it then seems to me then saturates black people’s life experiences. If you say black people don’t get accepted, do not be surprised when white people turn around and say yes you do look at this counterfeit Janet Jackson speaking on your behalf. In the UK if your mixed your mixed and that is the way it is, I really don’t see why that is such a hard concept to grasp. Mixed black and white people benefit from both sides of the spectrum if they are lucky enough to pass for white or are just light enough, they are accepted by white people, if they want to seem hip and down with black people they go the extra mile to prove they are black. Zendaya, this counterfeit Janet Jackson and Amanda Stenberg will always be accepted by white people just based on their looks and praised for just that and second maybe comes their talent. How many black women have been hailed out as outstanding by whitestream media as being gorgeous and intelligent and a role model for girls all over the world? I get it if your mixed you can still be an advocate for black people and their issues but then do not sit there and ignore the fact by you being mixed your more favoured the world over. Yes there seems to be an issue with only one black women being allowed in the spotlight, but let us not forget how hard it is for other races as well to even be graced into the room. It is always white women who will always be in the limelight and they always will be as the mainstream media is catered to them. Please counterfeit Janet Jackson please let me hear you speak up on at least some of the black issues in your country; it seems to me some mixed people want to be black but are not hear for the black issues and are just as bad as white people. I could write a book about the fuckery I have read and heard from mixed black and white people.

    • December 31, 2015 - Reply

      @mywordsaremypower

      I see you’re one of those people that consider mixed black/white/other “not black” regardless of how they identify and have always identified but if said persons call refer to themselves as “mixed” instead of “Black”, people like you will scream blue murder. We see/read it all the time and frankly, it’s tiring. Were you not part of those that dragged Taye Diggs for saying his son will be referred to as mixed and not Black?

      In good ol’ USA, mixed Black/other is referred to as Black by everyone even if they biologically and/or culturally are not, regardless of the “lightness” of the melanin. I don’t see that changing any time soon. Heck, I’m not what the USA considers African-American, but I tick the census boxes and those voluntary questions that list race/ethnicity because I am considered that here. I grew up in the UK and yes, mixed is called mixed and everyone accepts it because it is what it is. Only in America you’re dragged for referring to yourself as such, or in this case, as Black. Smdh.

      What she said is true regarding the industry wanting one of each BW in a genre or role but for Caucasians, rappers etc there are hundreds of the same in a genre even though a few talented/entertaining/popular ones dominate.

      • December 31, 2015 - Reply

        @AfroCapricornette

        Same thing in west africa. If you’re a mixed, you are considered mixed. It’s not heralded because mixed race isn’t fetishized there. I think the one drop rule has caused a lot of unnecessary confusion and identity crises concerning what we should consider black.

        • December 31, 2015 - Reply

          @Yabbyrella

          Absolutely! I’m Naijan and there are mixed folk there born and bred and all over W/Afr too…not just Black/White even, and they refer to themselves as [insert African nationality here]. I think Asians are the only ones that prefer a “pure bloodline” (see Japan and their hafus) as even mixed Asians (of 2 different Asian countries) are usually shunned. See Japan/Korea.
          It’s so darn confusing here in America what to call them and even they can’t refer to themselves what they want to be called as people drag them.

        • January 2, 2016 - Reply

          @Yabbyrella

          Mixed people are not fetishized in Africa? Lies you tell.

          • January 2, 2016 - Reply

            @Myllee

            I can only speak from my personal experiences. I’m proudly Nigerian and most Nigerians you meeet will tell you they are as well. But with some (not all black people) they will tell you they are part Puerto Rican, native American, my great great grandma on my mama’s side is Irish) if you ask them where they’re from. I’ve encountered many people who brag/flat out lie about mixed lineages to appear exotic. Black Americans have a rich history and culture without having to add other races into the mix. That’s why you see so much cultural appropriation from whites, Asians, Latinos. White Americans want black people to feel replaced by mixed people but at the same time don’t accept mixed people. That doesn’t happen where I’m from.

      • December 31, 2015 - Reply

        @AfroCapricornette

        It is dependant on their skin colour, I did say that. if they happen to look like Tinashe then yes she is going to look mixed and not black, just look at her features. If she is a lot darker then yes I can see why they would say black as they look more black then they even do mix. The reason why I say people should just say mixed as it becomes very problematic when you have mixed people light washing or white wishing roles within the industry for black women. It also shuts down that black is not beautiful in the mainstream unless she is a certain colour and can also look racily ambiguous. How do you think this makes black women feel? That is when the low self-esteem issues start.

        First of all you assume I would get mad if they said mixed instead of black, erm you don’t know me so why would you lump me in with a group of people your clearly trying to force me into. Just to make sure you understand, I was not in the group that dragged Taye Diggs for his comments on his son being mixed. It seemed strange to me why people were bashing him as here in the UK it is not a big deal over here. I did take issue with how Mr Diggs went about it and I’am fully aware of his self-hating ways which is problematic. So when he opens his mouth about race and declares his son mixed because of X,Y and Z and for the reasons of A and B then it brings a spotlight to his self hate in himself and the choices he made to date women of other races that are not black.

        Well mixed is not just black and white, that is why I clearly said mixed black and white. I love how when people say mixed they can only see black and white most of the time and nothing else.

        Tinashe could not pass for black even is she tried to, she is so unaware culturally that she pretty much dismiss colourism being an issue to her and that being light skin has nothing to do with her fame -_-. She is mediocre at best but to pretend her being a mixed lightskinned has nothing to do with her being in the spotlight, please come again with it. Not many mid-dark black women are thrust into the spotlight like she is.

        • January 1, 2016 - Reply

          @mywordsaremypower

          Well, glad to see you weren’t part of that group and I apologize if it seems I lumped you in. Taye has his issues, I know, but the way he was dragged was just silly considering that some ppl actually would agree with him.
          Yes, Tinashe is most likely ‘famous’ cos of her colour but as someone mentioned above or below, if you’re moderately talented, pretty, have some gimmick, a great beats producer and a great marketing/PR crew, you’re in! See Rihanna and Bey esp. She may be talented, I dunno, never even knew what she looked like till last week, but I never judge anyone based on physical traits they cannot help as I don’t want anyone to do same to me. You wouldn’t want same done to you either. Happy New Year!

    • January 1, 2016 - Reply

      @mywordsaremypower

      I agree. Nuttin to add.

  2. December 31, 2015 - Reply

    I don’t believe that everyone who is reluctant to listen to Tinashe’s music has antipathy towards her light skin complexion. Some people have different tastes of music, etc. Some people feel her music and others don’t. I don’t believe that anyone should be forced to listen to her songs. Tinashe omitted that in American society, there is light privilege where many people with her image has been given many privileges in society (from music, acting, job opportunities, etc. We can see how many dark skinned black people being discriminated against in Hollywood for decades to see an example of this). Her other points about how the industry will try to divide black women singers and how there are tons of white actresses in society are true. There is no question that some in the industry want to use a deplorable divide and conquer strategy against black women. So, there are the issues of corporate exploitation, of sexism, of racism, and of white privilege in the music industry. We know that during this generation, there are few people with talent (in the mainstream) in the midst of tons of people with lax talent in the mainstream musical world. There is nothing wrong with a strong united Sisterhood of black women expressing their talents to the world.

    Music is a gift and those, who are gifted in expressing great music, are blessed. The problem that we know about in the industry have existed long before Tinashe (who is a young biracial woman) was born. Also, I don’t agree with Tinashe on every issue, but I will not dehumanize her. A biracial person is a human being too. They or biracial people aren’t black, but they should be treated with dignity and with respect. My enemy isn’t Tinashe. My enemy is the system of racism/white supremacy. What we do want is a future where all black women can express their talents without oppression and without injustice. Black artists like Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Odetta, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, etc. have incredible talent and they inspire us. I have no problem with more Sisters using duets in outlining that solidarity. That is what we want. We want black women to win.

  3. December 31, 2015 - Reply

    One drop rule was forced on black Americans. People on here act like we created the one drop rule without reading Plessy vs Fergusson, the Virginia slave codes, etc,

  4. December 31, 2015 - Reply

    I don’t think Tinashe’s lack of mainstream success is about being light skinned or about race necessarily. The market is saturated with wannabe pop and R & B female artists, white, black and other. To be successful, you have to have a great team behind you and a gimmick. For most female artists, talent seems to be secondary. If you have a nice body, decent dance moves and singing ability, a great producer who has sick beats, AND if you’re willing to be sexual or edgy, you can make a name for yourself.

    Personally, I don’t think Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj or Rihanna are gifted vocally. They just have a gimmick and a star making team behind them. Shoot, if Taylor’s dad hadn’t bought her a record label, she probably wouldn’t have the success she has now. And to be honest, she REALLY exploded in popularity after Kanye acted a fool at the MTV awards. Katy Perry was a little known Christian singer-turned-pop-artist who hit the big time AFTER she released a song about kissing girls. Nicki has a very sexual image and butt implants, and Rihanna is a pretty Carribean girl with great videos and slick studio producers who know how to update her image continuously. Plus she’s backed by Jay Z.

    Is there a race and colorism problem in the music industry? Hell yes. But the industry suffers from the promotion of vocally lackluster singers and artists as well. It’s all about what’s hot and what catches people’s eyes and ears. That and the fact that the music business has changed alot because of technology. There used to be a set number of big record labels churning out stars and pretty much everyone listened to the same popular artists. Now anyone with a laptop can create music under their very own music label and post their music to Youtube or Soundcloud. Not everyone will be Beyonce.

    • January 1, 2016 - Reply

      @shybookworm

      You said it all

    • January 1, 2016 - Reply

      @shybookworm

      Magnificent Points.

  5. January 1, 2016 - Reply

    Yes there is a tendency to have a unspoken “quota : of black women who are supposed to be on top at any one time
    Unfortunately Tinashe is not the best example to make this point , she may believe she is a legend in her own mind and apparently she has been on her grind for a while the bottom line is however she is not in the same league as Beyonce .RiRi and needs to stop speaking as if she is (something she keeps doing )
    She is more in line with 3rd , 4rd tier Jjhenel Aiko, Ciara and the other I have a light voice , the right look and can dance set
    I mean two articles in a week stop trying to make Fetch happen

    • January 1, 2016 - Reply

      @blogdiz

      Love the Mean Girls reference, lol!

    • January 1, 2016 - Reply

      @blogdiz

      LOL@ “Stop trying to make fetch happen” Mean Girls is one of my favorite movies too.

  6. January 3, 2016 - Reply

    Again, what is a Tinashe?

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