During the last four years, the genre of R&B music has rapidly lost its footing as a dominant art form of popular culture and has been marginalised on the charts. Yet, as critics and fans look to men, such as Chris Brown, Usher and Trey Songz, to provide an answer to this crisis, the salvation of the R&B movement could only truly be achieved by women.
Homophobia is the primary policing agent of gender used to maintain the hegemonic standards of masculinity in patriarchal societies. It affects both gay and heterosexual men as it is rooted in misogyny – a hatred of femininity – and used a tool to denounce feminine characteristics and preserve the dominance of masculinity. In other words, homophobia forces men to act like men and not women or else they won’t be regarded as real men.
The effects of homophobia encourages men to constantly survey their behaviour to ensure that they are matching the dominant gender ideals of masculinity. This ubiquitous self-observance prevents men from expressing their true emotions and ideas because they risk being victimised by other men and even women, who are unknowingly reinforcing the subordinate position of femininity in patriarchal societies. Have you ever considered how silly women sound when they call a man a “bitch” because he is considered feminine?
This fear of homophobia among men is termed as homophobiaphobia and it breeds overt expressions of masculinity that relate to the fragile male ego. Simply, men, particularly those of social minority groups, defend themselves from homophobia via hypermasculinity. That’s why Trey Songz and several other black R&B artists feel compelled to remind us of their sexual conquests.
So, what on sweet Mother Earth does all this fancy language have to do with women saving R&B? Well, think about it. If men are restricted by homophobia then how could they create the innovative material needed to boost the dying genre?
In the music industry, men and women are marketed in completely different ways, especially in the Urban fields. Men are rarely depicted in their music videos without a bevy of girls, money and other symbols of masculine power that emphasise their position as dominant individuals. Women, on the other hand, have more freedom for self-expression.
From their experiments with fashion to the dramatic uses of their vocal ranges, women are allowed to explore the limits of their artistry with few serious consequences. Indeed, with the exception of ageism affecting female artists over the age of 40 years and the limiting of overt expressions of their sexualities, women are given the liberty to do many things that men cannot.
Beyonce wore Jay-Z’s clothes in her ‘Upgrade U’ video but could you imagine the reaction of audiences if the roles were reversed and he dressed in her butt pads?
Women could even dress in fashions usually tailored for men without causing serious scandal! For instance, Beyonce wore Jay-Z’s clothes in her ‘Upgrade U’ video but could you imagine the reaction of audiences if the roles were reversed and he dressed in her butt pads?
What this long-winded discussion really reflects is the fact that while men are constrained by homophobia, women have ample opportunity to think outside the box and develop new approaches for the rebranding of R&B.
We can’t overlook the efforts of all men, though. Concerning ‘Climax’, Usher created an innovative, contemporary hit that bridged the divide between Dance and R&B. However, what did he do for his followup single, ‘Let Me See’? He retreated to the expected hypermasculine model of men in Urban music:
“She say she want to take her skirt off. Be my guest. I decided to take my shirt off and show my chest so you know what’s next. Working intermissions, switching positions; we so explicit…”
Still, all of this talk would be worthless if women refuse to understand their unspoken power as artists. Indeed, unlike Monica and Ashanti who refuse to expand their sounds and have been creating redundant material dated to 2003
when they were still relevant, the women of R&B need to realise their true value.
Of course, only established women in the industry with large fanbases have the ability to influence a change in the current popular culture trends. Hence, it would take artists on the level of Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys to affect this mini-revolution.
Beyonce did try to inveigle a renewed interest in R&B with her ‘4’ album but thanks to her terrible singles, poor management and unimaginative samples, the project failed to make a major impact. Read my full thoughts about that disaster here!
Brandy is another act who has the chance to inspire change in R&B but it is unclear whether her label is in a position to promote her effectively. Of course, she definitely has the skill to make it happen but talent alone is not enough to sell records. If you doubt me then ask Melanie Fiona.
All in all, after all these words and the cursing that some of you probably uttered while reading this article – hey Beyonce fans! – the key point is that women are in a unique position to revive the R&B genre in a way that men cannot. Unaffected by similar hindrances stemming from homophobia, women could go beyond the box in search of answers that fans of R&B so desperately need.
Watch Ashanti’s ‘Only U’ video below and remember the days when R&B music was exciting: