Aretha 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.