Saturday, October 30, 2010

Beyoncé and Electro-Pop

It's been a long since I have made an entry. This entry is inspired by Erykah Badu's comments on the "fad" of electro-pop and pretty much her criticism of it. For those who have not seen it, here is her comments: "y’all gone stand by and let our music turn into pop techno cornball ass music? We don’t own our music no more. Come to think of it , did we EVER own it? Where is the funk AT? They playd 6 in a row today – pop techno songs back to back. With so called R&B and rap artist on the Hip Hop station.

Where [have] I been? I wanna hear from the young people. [It's] easy for me to complain about this techno-pop cause I have a taste for something else. But how do YOU feel? I definitely don’t want to offend anyone. Young people, I know this is the music of your generation. These rappers ought to be ashamed of their damn selves. I’m talking about the mc’ s rappin over this pop techno music. I believe in pimpin the system [but] got DAMN! Not like this!”

Okay, Erica, tell us how you really feel about artists, labels and the dynamics of techno-pop. *chuckles* Anyway, with comments like this, I feel to make a long post that will probably make you feel like you're reading a distertation or thesis. Oh well, that's how I do it sometimes. But anyways, these comments had me thinking especially remember all those discussions of Bey's upcoming 4th album as well as her last album era where she did in fact record Electro Pop songs on it, like Radio, Why Don't You Love Me? and Sweet Dreams and as well as unreleased songs like Control.

Now, I have spoken my mind on her doing songs like that and I kind of lukewarm about it because yes, electro-pop has become a fad and it's already enough that some think Bey will do record anything and do anything to "keep her relevant" in the spotlight. Even make-up preggo stories about herself, like some tried to insinuate after another irresponsible gossip report was made and then back-tracked to make Bey jealous of Alicia Keys who just had a baby(Congrats to her, btw). Unbelievable. So with everything about her being scrutinized, I wasn't sure about this and especially since Bey is The Standard-Bearing Artist of Contemporary R&B.

Nevertheless, as I saw on a blogger's post on Erykah's comments some educated Bey stans explained that Bey was doing this before the "electro-pop" craze began and they are right. I remember Bey doing a Ring The Alarm remix by the Freemasons who we all know are a big part of why Electro Pop is in Urban Music. This is way back in 2006. Then also, Bey has also done dance remixes of songs which is one of the reason why Bey was 2nd in the Decade End Billboard Dance Charts behind Madonna(, having 14 # 1s on the dance charts in the decade and FYI, as you can see, artists like MJB and Whitney are also on this chart also so Urban Dance Music is a big part of the industry. Like it or not.

But I won't even get into her solo catalogue. Nope. Instead, I will take it back further than that and give a nice little history lesson in the process. Yep, all the way back to Destiny's Child. Yep, all the way back to the No, No, No remix back in 1997. We all know how big a song that was, and that song pretty much launch DC into the powerhouse group that we know them to be(whether as DC4 or DC3 later). Then we all know about the Classic Album known as Writings On the Wall which stamped Destiny's Child imprint on the industry and in music/entertainment. What people don't fully realize is: Just how massively influential their sound is for the music of today. For R&B and Pop music, especially today's pop music. Now as we also know, TWOTW wasn't pretty dominantly Uptempo Dance Album. But their singles especially are a big part of the reason why dance pop is how it is today.

How? Look at how artists, artists like Justin Timberlake, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguliera and Britney Spears tried to a more edgier, urban sound to their music. Especially JT, CA and Britney. Justin came from a boy band which was not super edgy at all. But by 2002, you see him hooking up with The Neptunes to get a more edgy sound to separate what he did with N'Sync. No coincidence there. Christina's first album was very "Celine-ish". Next album, here she is trying to be edgy to go along with her Sex Kitten image for the album era using a more Urban sound to give her that edge. Look at even Pink. She came into the industry with an R&B sound who she said was forced on her. Now keep in mind she was trying to make into the industry being part of a group that was Contemporary R&B in their sound, but now she's not doing that.

Then look at Lady Gaga. If you listen to many critics, it's like she discovered the Holy Grail and bringing Dance Pop back into the mainstream. Umm, ladies and gentleman. Keep in mind that the person who help to craft her image and sound is a man who worked with Destiny's Child Himself almost a decade earlier, in fact on one of their biggest songs(Bootylicious), Rob Fusari. We all know the drama that happened a few months ago, with his comments about Matthew and Lady Gaga but the thing that everyone needs to know is that he's a big part in helping to craft the sound that Destiny's Child brought not only with TWOTW but with Survivor also. It is no coincidence that Telephone, a song with Bey featured in it, is ironically produced by Rodney Jerkins who produced, Say My Name. Look at how many producers, especially Urban Producers who dabbling with Euro-pop, Techno-Pop Sound. That's not a coincidence, people. This is the legacy of Bey/DC, which is why I will always love this quote from the BlackYouthProject speaking on Bey's artistic contribution to the industry: (Musically, Beyonce’s best work takes the Hip Hop-meets-60’s soul sound pioneered by Lauryn Hill, and makes it danceable, club-ready, and pop-oriented.

In fact, the comments before that explains my blog post even further: The genius of Beyonce, as with any great artist, begins with the aspects of her music that have stylistically set her apart, and thus influenced her peers. Like Mary J. Blige and Lauryn Hill before her, Beyonce mixes Soul and R&B with elements of Hip Hop in a way that is neither forced nor haphazard. She can move seamlessly and assuredly between both aesthetically, attaining a certain level of believability that someone like Amerie never seems to reach in that arena. The core of what makes Beyonce’s take on Hip Hop/Soul so unique is her hiccupping, rapid-fire vocal style. Rather than going the Mary J. route, and basically utilizing a classically Soulful vocal style over Hip Hop-inflected beats, or the L-Boogie route, and both singing and rapping masterfully (but separately), Beyonce combines the two, delivering her soulful, R&B vocals in a stuttering, rhythmic fashion that almost sounds like rapping.

The impact of what she and DC made on the industry is this, it combined the Urban sound, something MJ did similarly with Off The Wall and Thriller, brought it to the Clubs which is part of how Uptempo songs become hits because DJs spin those songs and now mainstream artists who wanted to get hits had to get to Urban Producers to give their sound more edge to either keep their demographic and expand their demographic. In fact, DC was so big at one point that Tommy Matolla, who is known for "legal payola" didn't do that for them because he felt that they didn't need it and he wanted to teach indie stations a lesson because he had beef with them. Which is one of the reason why Bootylicious was only #1 for two weeks even though it was such a big song on the radio and we all know how big Bey's songs are on radio: In May 2001, Columbia Records declared that itwould curb indie payments on behalf of the new single “Bootylicious”from the girl group phenomenon Destiny’s Child. 167 Albeit a minordistinction, the label declared that it would pay the minimum $1,000 toindies whose radio stations were in the large markets, but it would refuse topay indies for the adds in “smaller-market stations.”168 The result of Columbia’s risky endeavor was that two weeks after pop-sensation Destiny’s Child released the “Bootylicious” single, 113 pop stations addedthe song to their playlists. 169 However, the 113 stations playing the“Bootylicious” single was a drop off from the 150 radio stations that wereplaying Destiny’s Child’s prior single “Survivor” two weeks after thatsong’s release only a few months earlier. 170 It was speculated that“Bootylicious” was kept off the air in markets where indies still maintainexceptional influence as retaliation against Columbia’s move to limitindependent promotion. 171 Despite Destiny’s Child’s popularity, Columbia’s decision to limit theuse of indies in such a fashion is virtually unheard of. 172 Some industry insiders speculated that Columbia made this move to test the waters for a challenge to the future of independent promoters. 173 Although“Bootylicious” did incredibly well on the radio, the drop off of nearly fortystations adding the song to the station rotation is a sobering reminder of the power that indies exercise over the industry. Furthermore, the somewhat successful curtailment of indie promotion for artists as popular as Destiny’sChild do not reflect the likely outcome if other less popular artists fail topay indie fees. 174

So even though Britney and artists in her lane sold more than TWOTW and Survivor in that time period[keep in mind that DC was Billboard Artist of the Year in 2000 and 2001, though], yet if these artists wanted to do well on the charts, they were going to do their thing on the Urban/Rhythmic Charts to keep their success. Is it a wonder that Britney stans always complain about some of her "Urban" Songs don't get the spins on those formats that Bey and even Rihanna don't get? Think about it: As many albums and records that Britney has sold in her career, you would think that her stans could care less about that because it has worked for her all of these years. Gaga stans care more about her songs being #1 on Pop than anything else. Why? Because they know her lane and Gaga still tries to expand her demographic audience through Urban Music which is why I mentioned Rob Fusari in the first place.

Not only this, look at the top 10 artists on Billboard's Artist of the Decade charts. 9 of the 10 are Urban Based artists in their sound as I have said before, so it's no deep mystery to say that Urban Music dominated the decade. It's why artists like Fergie, Christina, Nicole Scherzinger, Nelly Furtado, and etc all experiment with the Urban Sound. If anything, Urban Music is the reason why Electro-Pop is out in the forefront in R&B/Pop and Pop Music period. It's the thing that Grace Jones wanted to do, it's what Jody Watley wanted to do with New Jack Swing, it's what Paula Abdul wanted to do and even what Prince really wanted to do with Vanity and Appolonia on a smaller level. And the reason why DC was able to get it done because not only was the production in that area was strong, but the vocal arrangements and even more importantly, the performing was on point. Not to mention, that package appealed to the younger generation which has grown with Bey, Kelly and Michelle(and yes, Bey is much bigger than both of them but they both have fans). In fact, LeToya benefits from her time with DC. So artists(even the big young pop artists from that time period) who wanted to get a piece of it had to get a piece of what DC did in order to keep their success and last in the industry.

So what does that all means? It means that the critics fail when they talk about Bey jumping on a bandwagon with regards to Electro Pop. DC is the reason why Electro Pop exists. To make this point further...when I first heard DC4 and No, No, No and other songs with this sound afterwards, I hated them. I thought of them as gimmicky as Das EFX; Bones, Thugs and Harmony; and Nelly. And they were bringing this sound to R&B? And yes, I know that Mariah did the rap singing style with BT&H, but I looked at that like I did with Biggie recording with the same group, like it was a novelty. With my 90s thinking of what R&B was to sound like, even Uptempo songs(remember, Teddy Riley was extremely influently with his New Jack Swing sound and female artists who did it, the sound was called New Jill which set the stage for MJB's sound). I was wrong. DC and their team was genius and then they had the nerve when they could have just keep that sound, like the artists I named because it was such a success for them, they switched up, put a variety of sounds that has shaped Today's Contemporary R&B.

So with that in mind, as much as I am not really enthused about Electro Pop as a whole, I can deal with Bey especially doing a electro pop song or two, next album era. Like it or not, it's part of Urban Music and Pop Music in general. Actually, what I would love for her to do is bring Suga Mama into the studio and put some real ascoustic instrumentation along with the electronic sound. Watch how that works. Look at this article in which the author talks about contemporary R&B and why he has a hard time getting into it: I’ve been slow to warm to much contemporary R&B. I tend to gravitate toward the genre’s past, when a group of people sat in a studio with instruments and played them while a singer gave voice to the song. ( As some might know, this was an article about Bey and this author even with everything he said about Contemporary R&B, he is much more open to Bey than any other contemporary R&B artist.

Look at the fact that Bey submitted her Live DVD at the Wynn for to be nominated in Contemporary R&B. This is a good thing and I am rooting for it to get nominated and win. Not just because I am a member of the "BeyParty" but also because Contemporary R&B needs this. All of you remember in my blog the quote from The Guardian where the interview was so amazed at how raw Bey's performances are and Bey's comments toward that. My thing is not to attack Electro-pop and the fact that it is so successful. Electro-Pop actually has more edge than your typical dance-pop song from the 80s. No, what I would like to see is what Bey did with Why Don't You love Me? That song is electro-pop but that song has edge. Solo, the Bama Boys and Bey did an awesome job of bringing a funky Urban swag to that song that pretty much no one in her age group can do. If Gloria Gaynor, a woman who in the 60s was in the "Chitlin Circuit" doing Classic R&B did disco and that song is her singature song then Bey, a woman who is big part of what Urban Dance is what it is today, can and should do it if that she wants to do. Thank you for reading this. I know the length of this blog probably testing your patience, but I had a lot on my mind and I hadn't blogged in a while. I hope that everyone have a great weekend.