Friday, September 7, 2012

Those That Become the "R&B Singer"

Is it odd for some of you to witness how a crossover, mainstream artist with humongous contributions to pop music can later in their career be referred to as only an "R&B star".  The connotation seems to almost imply that the individual is just a "mere" R&B act.  The labeling has been pretty common place in the music industry today, and it can leave someone scratching their heads trying to define exactly what is pop music.  Is it an actual quality and element that you recognize in the musicians' artistry, or is it any song that reaches the masses and becomes "popular"?  If you go the simple route and base everything on style and the genre it caters to, it will come down to the type of feeling (vibe) the song has. 

When Whitney Houston started her career she was strictly defined as a Pop artist.  The difference between her music and Mary J Blige's, for example, was evident.  One possesses a more "lighter", pop-friendly, structured sound - while the other has a more obvious urban grit (both contained some form of soul).  The presentation was just different.  Whitney seemed to suddenly be transformed into the "R&B singer" once she entered the late nineties/early two-thousands.  At that stage of her career, granted the music was somewhat different, but did one version of herself trump the other?   Was her early hits:  'How Will I Know', 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)', 'I Will Always Love You' and 'The Greatest Love of All' equivalent to 'I Believe In You and Me' , 'Exhale (Shoop, Shoop)' , 'My Love Is Your Love' and 'Million Dollar Bill'?  Is there any equilibrium in describing her as just one type of artist without being mindful enough to include her entire body's work when classifying her?  

Same goes for Mariah Carey is 'One Sweet Day', 'Hero' and 'I Don't Wanna Cry' along the same lines of a 'Honey', 'Shake It Off' and  'Touch My Body'?  How about Beyonce?  Is 'Halo', 'If I Were A Boy' and 'Sweet Dreams' R&B jams?  We have to realize the wrongdoing in categorizing artists with restricting labels they don't unequivocally own.  Is Beyonce's pop credits erased due to the creation of albums like 'Dangerously In Love' and '4'?  It certainly seems like Pop/R&B vocalists would be a more befitting title for these women.  

Now there's a few artist that don't straddle the fence even though they have obtained the Hot 100 success, like Toni Braxton and Usher (before 'OMG').  The consistency in songs like:  'Breathe Again', 'You Make Me Wanna ...', 'UnBreak My Heart', 'Let It Burn', 'He Wasn't Man Enough' and 'Yeah' is present.  These singles probably represent the best examples of how R&B artists found tremendous crossover success while staying true to Soul/R&B roots in its purist form.

Unfortunately, one has to wonder if race plays a hand in redefining these established artists.  It's often black artists that have multiple conflicting titles bestowed upon them from various entities (Award shows, magazine articles, news stations, video programs).  It's not fair to have their previous work be over shadowed by a perception of them that reduces them to the "R&B singer". Will Janet Jackson and Rihanna be remembered tomorrow as R&B icons eventually, once it's all said and done?  

By all means, it's nothing wrong with being one - if that's indeed what you are.  Still, anyone can record an R&B song ( like 'Rude Boy', 'Hard'/ 'That's The Way Love Goes', 'I Get So Lonely'), but that doesn't automatically define the nature of one's music styling.   If we could experiment here, would Britney Spear's 'Boys' be considered R&B if Janet Jackson or Mariah Carey did it, or the same with Katy Perry's 'E.T.' if  Beyonce covered it?  How about the reverse, would Mary J Blige's 'Family Affair' possibly become a pop anthem suddenly with ('08's) Lady Gaga's vocals?  The point is that Janet and Rihanna obviously have more pop appeal and their makeup is generally that particular sound ('When I think Of You', 'Don't Stop the Music', 'Escapade', 'Only Girl (In the World)', 'Together Again', 'S&M', 'Doesn't Really Matter' and 'We Found Love').  Basically everyone is not one and the same in these cases.

Here are a  few examples of what we mean in how songs/artists could be classified:

R&B Songs:

Why Does It Hurt So Bad - Whitney Houston
Vision of Love - Mariah Carey
Call On Me - Janet Jackson
Put It Down - Brandy
Me, Myself & I - Beyonce
Birthday Cake - Rihanna
Motivation - Kelly Rowland
Deuces - Chris Brown
Enough of No Love - Keyshia Cole
Promise - Ciara  

Pop Songs:

Didn't We Almost Have It All - Whitney Houston
Someday - Mariah Carey 
Love Will Never Do Without You - Janet Jackson
Have You Ever - Brandy
Beautiful Liar - Beyonce Featuring Shakira 
Where Have You Been - Rihanna
Genie In a Bottle - Christina Aguilera
Baby One More Time - Britney Spears
Don't Wake Me Up - Chris Brown 
Love Sex & Magic - Ciara 
On The Floor - Jlo
Baby - Justin Bieber
SexyBack - Justin Timberlake
Starships - Nicki Minaj
Vogue - Madonna

Not to complicate matters and get so technical, but these examples lean towards Pop/R&B Songs:

Fantasy - Mariah Carey
If - Janet Jackson
Crazy In Love - Beyonce
Slave For You - Britney Spears
Dirrty - Christina Aguilera
What's My Name - Rihanna
The Boy Is Mine - Brandy & Monica
U Remind Me - Usher
Single Ladies - Beyonce
Umbrella - Rihanna
My Love - Justin Timberlake
Say My Name - Destiny's Child
Rolling in the Deep - Adele
Love Don't Cost a Thing - Jlo
4 Minutes - Madonna

R&B Artist:

Toni Braxton
R. Kelly
Mary J. Blige
Alicia Keys
Keyshia Cole 

Pop Artist

Janet Jackson 
Britney Spears
Justin Bieber (currently)
Jennifer Lopez 

Pop/R&B Artist:

Whitney Houston
Mariah Carey
Chris Brown
Destiny's Child


  1. Great post! I feel most black aristes are tagged as R&B acts regardless of the music they make!