Monday, June 8, 2009

Color Me Dumbstruck: Pharrell Says Talent Must Make A Comeback

Isn't it nice to know that others who have a certain amount of influence feel the way you do about certain things? If 2009 gets known for one thing (aside from our first year with a Black President and the state of the worldwide economy) then let it be known as the year people decided to be creative! Women in particular need to be in control of our images and even moreso for Black women.

Now I'll just state it for the record in case reading between the lines of previous posts didn't make it clear: I do NOT like the bulk of what passes for Hip-Hop/R&B "music" today. I think a lot of it's derivative, derogatory and assumes its audience is dumb enough to not notice. Actually a lot of popular music today is far too reliant on image and quick camera shots in music videos to sell. Which is why by and large it doesn't. Fans will be loyal and supportive - consumers of trends will not.  

The record industry seems more interested in having a succession of cookie cutter interchangeable acts than invest the time and (yes) money into the planning of long-term career artists. Often they don't recognize talent when they see it - or they can't figure out how to package it for mass consumption and wreck what was unique about that artist. 

I also look to the shift in priority with the Federal gov't cutting music and arts programs nationwide starting in 1977. I believe that one act has caused irrevocable harm not only to the creative process of the generations that have followed, but the dumbing down of its student body as learning music helps them to learn math. If the US is the destination country of choice for so many it would be despite comprehension of math and science.

So for those who may not be familiar Pharrell is a music producer and here he's discussing the state of the industry. I find him surprisingly optimistic that talent is making a comeback. Yet I still have to look at how so many men dominate the power positions either as executives or producers. Not enough women have moved up the ranks and the consciousness has shifted to one that is lacking respect for artistry. We've seen the shift from robust singers with robust bodies to the anemic vocals of the racially ambiguous cover girl wannabes. We still see gyrating on cue. We see the bar being lowered even further from using a Black woman as the "hook girl" to passing her over completely for a white girl [see Black Eye Peas as an example].

Is it a coincidence that the women who tend to get the deals are the ones with the strategic relationships with the men in "charge". I say strategic in hopes that there wasn't a huge power dynamic at play where the woman got the short end of the stick. I hope that if a woman decides to use her sexuality to advance her career she is doing so willingly and plays to win. Yet look at the money trail and who ultimately comes out on top. So....color me a little skeptical.

Now is the time for a creative restructuring. It was why I wrote the Deploying A Little Negro Spirit series. We have to take responsibility and control of our destiny. We can't relive the past or continue to lean on (ok - completely swipe) the works of previous generations to help fuel our own. We have a cultural touchstone at stake and I haven't seen how the future of music that's been specifically created by African-Americans will continue to have the effect it once had because it is a shell of its former self.
h/t Rob Fields []
Bookmark and Share


Jenny said...

If women were to rise in the ranks of the music industry executive, I don't know if that would necessarily help. After all, an increase in female movie execs has coincided with a decrease in women-oriented films, not even to mention decent ROLES for actresses.

Then again, the music industry as we know it is dying. What remains to be seen is if its new form will promote more progressive thought or not.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Jenny: Thanks for stopping by. Yes I agree, that having ovaries doesn't make one empathetic to women. A lot of these female executives are cut from the same narrow cloth as the males, but I was referring to women needing to step it up a notch in terms of how they access and wield power. We need people of both genders and women who are so male-identified. If we had more variety of people with different life experiences and who were conscious we'd see some changes.

Jenny said...

Thanks for having me!
I think I see what you're saying. More progressively-minded people in the industry would help. But the idea of changing an industry from the inside is a daunting one for any progressive, and frankly, I'd wonder if it were even possible.

(And yes, it's true that most female executives, in any field, get to where they are by being as "male" as possible, because in patriarchy, "male" is the only way to succeed.)

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Jenny: I meant to say women who ARE NOT so male-identified but I think you got that - anyway hope I've clarified myself now. I think it's a combined effort of external pressure, external forces at play with good product and a little shame doesn't hurt to nudge these executives of all these media companies. I mean I've been reading about Nia Vardolos' new movie and how executives are still claiming that women don't go to movies. This after Sex and the City made $200M+. It's ridiculous. Of course when you factor in race, then it gets even worse for Black women but please stay in touch if you're involved in the film industry because we should talk privately.