Opinion: Are White Singers Taking Over R&B?

Last night's MTV VMAs magnified a growing trend: Blue-Eyed Soul. Will R&B go the way of rock?

After two decades of music industry dominance, R&B/soul music disappeared from the popular scene and has just re-emerged with a new face—a white one. This summer, Robin Thicke released his chart-topping R&B single “Blurred Lines,” an international hit that has remained No. 1 on the Billboard 100 for 12 weeks. The feel-good song is so inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” that the late singer’s estate is considering a lawsuit. Miley Cyrus’s summer smash “We Can’t Stop,” a concoction of R&B, chopped-and-screwed hip-hop and pop stylings that’d sound at home on a Rihanna disc, follows Thicke on the charts, peaking in the No. 2 spot. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake’s vintage soul single “Suit & Tie” singlehandedly took over the Grammys in February, ushering in the Timbaland co-visioned comeback album The 20/20 Experience, which sold two million copies in less than two months. When did white artists become the kings of mainstream R&B?

The 1990s was decade almost completely dominated by black R&B voices. Boys II Men’s “End of the Road” sat atop of the Billboard charts for 13 weeks, beating out the record set by Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog.” Artists like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, TLC, Toni Braxton were staple names in the top 10 of each year’s “Top 100.” Yet by the mid-to-late 2000s, traditional R&B crooners like Usher, Ne-Yo and Chris Brown were sniffing the electronic dance music boom across the pond led by DJs like David Guetta.

But R&B is beginning to shed the fist-pumping trend in favor of revivalist soul music. According to the New York Times article “Blurred Lines Makes Robin Thicke White Soul’s Leader,” white singers—Thicke, Mayer Hawthorne, Eli Reed, Allen Stone, Nick Waterhouse and Jamie Lidell—jumped to the forefront as the “preservers of a heritage.” It’s a truly outrageous claim when considering the recent critical and commercial successes of Miguel and Frank Ocean, who despite incorporating everything from rock to psychedelia, are firmly rooted in R&B. Yet the Times’ statement seems to be reflected by the FM dial. Miguel’s hit single “Adorn” and “Sure Thing” topped the 2011/2012 Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop and Top 100 charts without any airplay from Top 40 music channels like Ryan Seacrest’s L.A.-based KIIS. Ciara’s “Body Party” is surely popular—the track peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100—yet still no burn from New York’s pop station Z100. What gives?

“Blue-eyed soul” (also known as “white soul”) is rhythm and blues and soul music performed by white artists. And these tunes have a much easier route to mainstream crossover success than those recorded by the likes of Fantasia, Trey Songz and Kelly Rowland. It’s the very definition of white privilege: Unspoken advantages enjoyed by white artists that evade people of color. It’s part of why Adele’s brand of poignant, heartbroken love songs—birthed from the school of Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Mary J. Blige—have racked up armfuls of Grammy Awards (nine total, for those keeping count) while her sophomore album 21 has sold an unbelievable 26 million copies worldwide, according to International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Meanwhile, Melanie Fiona has similarly made her name with breathtaking vocals, emotional ballads and retro instrumentals. Her trills sure do warm the soul, but they’ve afforded her less acclaim (Melanie scored two Grammy wins for minor categories Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best R&B Song for “Fool For You,” a collaboration with Cee-Lo) and far less in sales (neither of her two albums have been RIAA-certified). This is no knock on Adele; 21 is a great body of work. And VIBE cover star Robin Thicke has the catchiest song of the summer with “Blurred Lines,” not to mention his impressive album of the same name. Yet while blue-eyed soul singers were once anomalies, glitches in the system. Today—on the charts—they’re frontrunners.

R&B, originally called “race music,” once referred to any music intended for African-Americans. In the 1940s, for marketing reasons, the music industry coined the less offensive acronym “R&B” for rhythm and blues. By the ’50s, what would be later classified as rock n roll was spawned from race music/rhythm and soul and made attractive to white audiences. And now, Elvis Presley sits atop the hall of fame throne as the “King of Rock and Roll.”

The history of black music being appropriated and popularized by white artists continues. Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Macklemore and Robin Thicke today; Elvis Presley and The Beastie Boys and The Beatles yesterday. When it comes to creating success as an artist in historically black genres of music, either white singers simply do it better, or black singers do not have the skin color necessary to shine as brightly.

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Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ Is Expected To Make $64 Million Opening Weekend

Thanks to Us, Jordan Peele has another blockbuster on his hands. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the highly-anticipated horror flick starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, is expected to have a $64 million opening weekend at the domestic box office.

Peele’s sophomore horror film earned an impressive $7.4 million on Thursday (March 21) night previews, and is forecasted to take in about $27 million from Friday sales. The film is also on pace to knock Captain Marvel out of the No. 1 spot at the box office.

Once final numbers are tallied, Us will likely snatch the third-best opening weekend record for an R-rated horror film behind It, which brought in a whopping $123.4 million, followed by Halloween’s $76.2 million opening weekend last year.

Aside from rave reviews and a genius promo run that included simultaneous screenings in major media markets, Us earned a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film, set in the mid-1980s centers around a family of four who set off on a vacation that finds them confronting some familiar faces.

Peele recently spoke to VIBE about casting Duke (our April 2019 cover star) in the role of patriarch, Gabe Wilson. “I have to have somebody voice what the audience was saying,” he said. “In the case of Get Out, it’s Rod, like, ‘How have you not left yet?’ [In Us], Winston is largely that voice. There’s one moment where Lupita [Nyong’o] takes a step into the unknown, where black people [will think], ‘I don’t know.’ But to have Winston say, ‘Aaaand she left. Your mother just walked out of the car.’ That’s all we need.”

Duke also opened up about the intricacies of his character. “His function isn’t to see through the veil. His function is to tell the absolute truth how he sees it,” explained the 32-year-old actor. “He’s sometimes there to say the things that other people don’t want to say, but he’s also there to make fun of things to keep it from not getting too heavy, even though it’s real. That was my job. [Peele] respected that. I like to lean into functions. If I’m going to be your antagonist, I’m gonna really push you. If I’m gonna be your clown, funny guy, I’m gonna do that.”

Click here to read VIBE’s April 2019 cover story.

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Cardi B Explains Why She Wants To Trademark “Okurrr”

Cardi B hopes to secure as many “bags” as possible. In response to backlash and burning questions surrounding her decision to file to trademark “okurrr,” the 26-year-old rapper took to social media Friday (March 22) to defend her latest money move.

Since people tend to ask Bardi to use what has become her signature catch phrase, she figured that it was time to cash in. “You think I ain’t gonna’ profit off this sh*t? B*tch white folks do it all the motherf**king time,” she said. “So you gon’ be mad at me ‘cuz I want to get some motherf**king money?

“While I’m still hear I’ma secure all the fucking bags,” Cardi continued before adding that there are a “lot of ways to get rich” in 2019.

The Bronx native caught heat for wanting to trademark the word because she wasn’t the first to say “okurrr.” Cardi already revealed that she started using it after she heard Khloe Kardashian saying it, but the word was originally popularized in drag culture -- most notably by Rupaul’s Drage Race contestant Laganja Estranja, in 2014.

However, Rupaul attributed the word to Broadway actress, Laura Bell Bundy, who used it in YouTube skits dating back to 2010. In the skits, Bundy pretends to be a hairdresser named “Shocantelle Brown.”

Although Bundy caught criticism for her little character, which was deemed racist, she typically gets credit for bringing “okrrr” (different spelling) to the internet a full decade before Cardi made it mainstream.

No matter the origin, it looks like Cardi will be the only one profiting off of “okurrr.”


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Kanye West, EMI Working Towards Private Settlement

Kanye West and EMI could be close to settling their legal drama. Each party filed documents requesting a stay of the case to “explore the potential for a resolution,” The Blast reports.

West sued EMI in an effort to “gain freedom” from his contract, and to own his publishing. In the lawsuit, ‘Ye argued that his contract ended in 2010 under California law, which bars entertainers from being tethered to an agreement for more than seven years. The multi-Grammy winner, who signed the deal back in 2003, also accused the company of slavery because the contract doesn’t allow him to retire.

“Even if the contract were not lopsided in EMI’s favor (it is), even if its terms valued Mr. West’s artistic contributions in line with the spectacular success he has achieved for EMI (they do not), and even if EMI had not underpaid Mr. West what it owes him (EMI has), he would be entitled to be set free from its bonds,” the lawsuit reads.

EMI hit back with a countersuit filed in New York, instead of California. The suit pointed out that the 41-year-old rapper signed multiple contract extensions, in addition to accepting millions in advances.

According to The Blast, West and EMI now feel that putting a hold on the legal proceedings will be beneficial to both sides “and the Court by enabling the parties to engage in meaningful discussions in an attempt to resolve this action without having to incur the burden and expense of litigation and motion practice.”

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