Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Are We Too Hard On Today's Black Artists?



















This question just popped in my mind as I was watching the BET Awards (of all things lol.) Anywho, in reading reviews of the show I've heard the usual things--"It was a bunch of crap," "Today's artists have no class/talent/love of music," "They're just out to make a quick buck," or some variation of that.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm extremely critical and picky when it comes to music. I consider music an art and won't just shell out $15 for a crappy cd with one good song that I'll might halfway remember six months from now. And I'll also admit that I'm critical of the current musical landscape.

Most of the mainstream hip hop scene seems to be dominated by disposable dance tracks by no name artists (i.e. The Stanky Leg, Ricky Bobby, You A Jerk). Granted there have always been and will continue to be do-this-dance type songs. But you can still do dance music and be creative and artistic. Missy Elliott and Naughty By Nature are perfect examples of this. "Work It" or "Feel Me Flow" might be feel good party music, but I would still blast them and dance to them outside of the club. I definitely couldn't say the same for "Turn My Swag On" (chile don't get me started) or the songs mentioned above.

Also when it comes to R&B, most of the male artists seem more concerned with being hard and thuggish than really being sensitive and emotional, while the female artists seem to fall into one of two categories: hood chick or glammed up diva. I mean could an artist like Tracy Chapman or Grace Jones be successful today? Or would they just be lumped into an alternative category and languish in obscurity?

With all that being said, at what point does criticism of artist go too far? I think we sometimes set up unrealistic expectations for new artists, both in music and performance. This is often rooted in our nostalgia about music from our childhood. You never forget who impressed you first. In other words, since most of us came of age in the 80's or 90's then TLC, Sade, Michael Jackson, Janet, Prince, Aaliyah, Mary J., En Vogue, Tupac, Biggie, or Outkast is probably in your top 5 R&B group/artist list. They made the first big musical impression on us, set the standard that we measure ever artist that comes after by. We consider every song they sung classic, every live performance legendary and iconic. Even if they fall off as we grow older, we still hold them in high regard. But at what point does that become unfair?

How is a current or new artist supposed to live up to that childhood image of perfection? No matter how great their performance might've been, no matter how much they may have sang their hearts out, or no matter how much style or effort they put into their image or videos, we find ourselves sucking our teeth, saying "Yeah that was alright I guess." For example people are quick to say Usher/Ne-Yo/Chris Brown are just imitation/copycats of Michael Jackson. Or that Beyonce could never be Tina Turner no matter how hard she tried. Or Ciara jacks from Janet and Aaliyah.

But how could they be anything else? The reason why young male R&B/pop artists could never equal Michael's achievements and influence is because the barriers he faced are no longer there. He broke them. The styles and sounds that we take for granted as the norm he helped invent. So how could they break ground that's already been broken and been so enormously influential? On the female side, there's no way Ciara could ever deny Janet's influence on her music or choreography, and if she tried, people would call her a liar. The walls of our collective childhood memories of these and other icons are sometimes so indestructible that today's artists can't hope to chisel through it, no matter how impressive they might be.

White artists don't seem to have this dilemma. Britney Spears has made a career out of lip syncing in concerts, doesn't write or produce her music (none of her collaborators even pretend she's remotely involved in the create process), and had a meltdown of epic proportions but is still seen as the next Madonna. Nevermind that she's still stuck on the Like A Virgin stage of her career, people still celebrate her.

Now don't get me wrong. Of course we should expect today's artists to sound good live, have exciting choreography, and make interesting, durable music. We shouldn't accept crap. But at the same time we shouldn't let nostalgia cloud our vision from seeing artists--such as Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Ne-Yo, Fantasia, The Dream, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys and others-- that are truly trying to make an artistic mark. Otherwise we'll just be just like our parents, shaking our fists that music isn't as good as it was in the 90's.
So what do you think? Are we as consumers too hard on today's black artists? Please discuss, I want to see comments lol.

2 comments:

thegayte-keeper said...

I WOULD SAY YES & NO...YES BECAUSE LIKE YOU SAID THEY ARE ONLY KEEPING THE FLOW OF THINGS BECAUSE THERE ARE NO BARRIERS IN THEIR PATHS...NO BECAUSE I FEEL THAT MOST OF TODAY'S ARTIST DON'T EMBODY THAT TALENT THAT WE WERE USED TO IN THE 80S & 90S...I FIND THAT THERE ARE VERY FEW SONGS THAT I LIKE & I KNOW IT ISN'T THERE FAULT, BUT IF YOU ARE GOING TO GIVE ME MUSIC, HOW ABOUT SOMETHING WITH MORE SUBSTANCE & NOT SOME MUCH GIMMICKS N' FLARE?

ToddyEnglish said...

I agree with this post 100%! Right now, as we speak, there are some new artists doing the DAMN thang...

One of my favorites, who doesn't get nearly enough acclaim (I feel), is definitely Alicia Keys. This girl is making some GREAT music. We also have to add Maxwell into the mix.
And I am feelin you on Lady Gaga. I just got a copy of "The Fame" and that bitch is DOIN IT!
Of course I love Beyonce, always and forever...

Anyway, every generation has this attitude, "Oh they don't make music like they used to." True, they don't. They make music like they make music NOW.
I appreciate the old school. But I love the new school too.

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