Is R&B Having an Identity Crisis?

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Why, yes, it is and I discuss such in my first piece for The Atlantic:

The-Dream has written dance-pop hits for the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Mariah Carey, but his solo career has largely been about recording R&B. So he knows a thing or two about the phenomenon he recently complained about in the pages of The Guardian. “What’s crazy is that blacks can’t do soul records any more,” he said. “We love Adele singing it, but Beyoncé singing it? No, the tempo’s too slow, gimme the club hit. Now the blacks in America are responsible for the pop records, and everybody else is singing soulful records. It’s weird to me. We’re pigeonholed over there.”

What’s striking, though, is that only a few days later, Stephin Merritt—singer for the decidedly un-club-friendly, un-R&B indie-pop act The Magnetic Fields—voiced similar concerns to LA Weekly. “I like Adele, though I have some reservations about why people like her,” Merritt said. “She really has a lovely voice, but I only get suspicious when people get excited about British people who sound like American black people.”

“Basically she sounds like Anita Baker,” Merritt continued. “And people are not, you know, wild and crazy about Anita Baker. And I think about the whole, with the racism, when people love when British people sound like American black people.”

Both remarks sparked criticism. Some questioned The-Dream’s own role in the state of soul, while others charged Merritt with hypocrisy (he’s faced accusations of racism, himself). And plenty of Adele fans were quick to argue that the singer’s success comes from the quality of her music and the fact that it sounds different from anything else on radio. What’s inarguable, though, is that the two men’s statements speak to larger, widespread anxiety about the state of modern R&B—and black peoples’ place in it.

Read the rest here.

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