This isn’t a Cardi B. vs. Nicki Minaj post. I’m just leading off with Invasion of Privacy because it’s the most recent high-profile example of a single folding into album sales. I don’t believe in pitting female artists against each other in a way that men are never compared. There are 3,000 mumble rappers on the radio and another handful of Doodleface KoolAidHair Rappers that I can’t tell apart, yet we keep acting like there isn’t space for Nicki and Cardi to be great at the same time. Just wanted to put that upfront.
Before Cardi B. even finished her debut album, it had already gone gold. She could’ve released 10 tracks of silence and Invasion of Privacy still would’ve had a Gold Certification from the RIAA upon release because of “Bodak Yellow.”
Congratulations are in order for Cardi B, whose debut album, Invasion of Privacy, dropped minutes ago and is already eligible for a Gold certification.
The Bronx-born rapper can attribute this figure to the massive success of her debut Atlantic Records single, “Bodak Yellow,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 last September and is certified 5x Multi-Platinum (5 million units) by the RIAA. As Chart Data recently noted, 10 track units equal one album sale, which means Invasion of Privacy has moved 500,000 units on the strength of “Bodak Yellow” alone, enough to earn a Gold certification.
In the age of digital music, it helps to have a single that massive as a prelude to your album because those streams and downloads eventually count toward your album’s streams and downloads, and in turn, toward your album’s sales. Back in the day, we bought singles from the store. That was the end of that purchase. The album came out a couple of months later, and we bought that too — with the lead single somewhere in the track listing — but those were two separate purchases. Now, you can pull up an entire album, listen to one song on loop all day, and those streams count toward the album’s total streams. Listening to a 10-track album straight through is the same as streaming one of those songs 10 times. The same goes for downloads. If you and ten of your friends download one single, y’all just bought an album.
Nicki Minaj released Queen last week and whether you love it or not, I think it’s hard to ignore that there are at least some really great spots on the album…but it’s too long. Very long albums with 26 tracks (including interludes) would pop up from time to time when I first started buying CDs in the 90s, but most artists get in and get out. Here’s 45-53 minutes of music over 11 to 13 tracks, and we’re done. Queen is an example of the current trend of artists releasing overly long albums (whose quality could benefit from a lot more editing) in the digital age to capitalize on album equivalent units.
Drake released Scorpion and it has 25 tracks. It doesn’t need 25 tracks. Only 8 tracks are memorable. But having 25 tracks means streaming it through once is already double the number of streams for a shorter album. Plus, the more tracks you release, the higher chance that someone will latch on to one of those songs and put it on loop.
Artists have less of an incentive to really buckle down and find the cream of the crop for the final track listing because consumers don’t have to listen to albums straight through anymore. Do y’all remember cassettes? If you hated a song, you had to fast forward…play to check your spot…fast forward…play to check your spot…rewind a little because you overshot…and then start the song you like. Now, you don’t even have to download that song or keep that song in the album’s playlist. Making an album in 1988 meant you had to be 100% in love with everything you put there as an artistic statement. You had to really stand behind every track because every consumer had to listen to every track and you wanted to make sure every track was a fair representation of what you wanted to say on the album. In 2018, if you have 12 tracks you love, there’s really no harm in putting out the other 13 that would’ve been left on the cutting room floor. In fact, it benefits you because who knows which of those songs will connect with enough people to give your album another sales boost through selective streaming and downloading. A stream is a stream. A download is a download. Even if the vast majority of people think it’s crap, the people who don’t think so are still contributing to your sales.
But the most cynical way to pad your sales is to take a big single, sometimes with another artist, and tack it on to your album.
Nicki Minaj released Queen without her collaboration with 6ix9ine because it doesn’t fit on the album. It makes no sense within the context of that project (or her career at all really) and it felt like a publicity stunt for cash and publicity leading into the release of her album. Queen doesn’t need “Fefe” and its inclusion would bring down the overall quality of the album.
That would’ve mattered in 1988, but in 2018, “Fefe” is just straight sales and album equivalent units. Now that the first sales weekend numbers have come in, Nicki’s team can clearly see she’s not going to hit the numbers posted by Cardi or Kanye or Travis Scott or any of the other high profile hip-hop releases this year. She might not even hit the top spot if Travis Scott’s album holds over well for a second week. To mitigate that damage, Queen now has “Fefe” tacked on to it, which is currently one of the most popular songs in the country, especially on streaming platforms. Now that “Fefe” is officially included on the tracklist for Queen, every stream goes toward her album’s sales which could give her an extra boost to capture the #1 spot. Further, the album will reach RIAA certifications faster because — like “Bodak Yellow” — it’s a big single whose streaming and downloads will count toward album equivalent units.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this because taking advantage of a format just means you’re playing the game efficiently, but Nicki Minaj shouldn’t be playing the game. Nicki Minaj can rest on her talent and her impact and her legacy (ie some of the best rap features of the past decade). She shouldn’t be pulling tricks to boost sales numbers. And she shouldn’t be referencing “stats” to prove she’s better than other female rappers.
.@NickiMinaj on being compared to other female rappers: “To me, it’s silly now to compare me to women cause there’s no woman that can come in right now […] that, realistically, can put up the stats.”pic.twitter.com/I9csVSFOMw— Pop Crave (@PopCraveNet)
There’s only one female rapper (one female artist, period) to chart thirteen entries on the Billboard Hot 100 in the same week and it’s not Nicki Minaj. There’s only one female rapper whose first three singles landed in the Top 10. We can actually go down the list of chart achievements for Cardi B.’s first year out the gate and she completely washes Nicki Minaj at the same point in her career but guess what. Anybody who fixes their face to say Cardi B. is a better rapper than Nicki Minaj is just a garbage person with disingenuous opinions formed by a My Fave vs. Your Fave mentality that has nothing to do with the quality of the music. Cardi makes bops and I *love* Invasion of Privacy, but Nicki would mop the floor with her in a battle, and that’s just plain common sense. Nicki Minaj shouldn’t even be entertaining conversations about who is better than who because Nicki is better than everybody! She should be resting on her talent and letting the music speak for itself! Instead, she gets into embarrassing spats with casual listeners who have mild criticisms, she encourages her rabidly devoted fanbase to display the most horrid behavior online, she collaborates with a wildly polarizing inferior talent just for publicity, she tries to put public pressure on music legends to clear samples for her, and she changes the tracklist of her album to inflate her sales numbers. These are not the moves of a secure boss who knows their talent is enough to keep them at the top of the industry. These are the insecure stunts of a brat who can’t bear the slight possibility of being second in a contest that doesn’t matter.
Janet Jackson had five top 5 singles from Control, was nominated for Grammy of the Year, and had one of the most influential albums of the 80s. And then her choreographer released a MONSTER of a debut album that had everybody comparing the two of them. When Paula Abdul released Forever Your Girl, it became the most successful debut album of all time (up to that point) and Paula became the first artist to notch four #1 singles from their debut album.
In response to Paula’s astounding success straight out the gate following a format Janet laid the blueprint for a few years earlier, Janet Jackson decided to get into a public war with the press, brag about her sales numbers, and release a terrible collaboration with a convicted sex offender.
Wait. No she didn’t. Janet Jackson released Rhythm Nation (still the only album to produce SEVEN top 5 singles), nabbed nine Grammy nominations (including the first Producer of the Year nom for a woman), and put on the most successful debut concert tour in history. Then she spent the next decade laying the foundation for every pop/dance/R&B diva to come after her. And you haven’t heard a Paula Abdul song since 1991.
That’s what a legend does. That’s what someone secure in their talent does. The new chick on the block DOES NOT MATTER when you know what you are bringing to the table. Nicki Minaj needs to stop worrying about what the industry is saying about Cardi B. or any other rapper and focus on making her Rhythm Nation.
I think Nicki Minaj is beyond talented. I don’t like everything she puts on record but that’s because we have different tastes. You can’t say that someone who outshone everybody else on “Monster” is untalented just because they rhymed “kong” with “kong” thirty times. Nicki Minaj doesn’t rhyme the same word with the same word over and over because she couldn’t think of another word — she does that because that’s what she wanted to do for that part of that song. If a world class chef makes a ham sandwich, they’re still a world class chef — they just decided to make a ham sandwich that day because that’s what they wanted to make.
And just like I don’t expect to like every song by every artist I like, I don’t expect to like all the parts of someone’s personality. Part of hip-hop is being braggadocious and constantly promoting yourself as the best in the game or the best who ever did it. I accept that, but desperation isn’t a good look on anyone. If you’re the highest paid female rapper in history with more chart entries than Aretha Franklin and co-signs from every influential rapper, producer, entertainer across the industry, you don’t need to get into a Twitter beef with a casual listener or collaborate with a disgusting joke of a rapper no one will even remember in five years. Just be a legend and let your talent speak for itself.
Just dipping a TOE into the Bennifer discourse…but I really like Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck together and it’s not odd at all that they would find their way to each other. They didn’t break up on bad terms, always spoke highly of each other, and JLo didn’t want it to end anyway.
JLo was the biggest pop star on the planet at the time, the first woman to have a #1 movie and #1 album open the same week. Ben was really famous, but paparazzi weren’t following him around like that until he was with her. JLo said the press scrutiny got to him and that they might have had a different outcome in another place and time.
Well, it’s been 20 years. Ben is definitely used to being followed around now. And maybe this is the place and time for their happily ever after!
Plus: When is the last time you saw Jennifer Thee Lopez looking unpolished in any way? Y’all know what they was doing upstairs. And Ben must have been putting in work. She looks HAPPY happy.
What really happened to Vanessa Williams while she was Miss America?
Vanessa Williams said that if she hadn’t fallen (been pushed) so hard, she might not have fought as hard as she did to get back on top, so a mild thanks to Puritanical America and this weird aversion to nudity for giving us the greatness of Vanessa Williams’ career.
Since Vanessa Williams is on Celebrity Drag Race tonight, I wanted to dust off this old blog I wrote years ago when I was bored at the office on her birthday and didn’t have any patients.
So just picture me writing this at work on a random weekday afternoon instead of in my bed eating almonds late at night.
Y’all. I both love and hate the Internet. I love that you can find out anything about anything with a few keystrokes, but I hate how you can fall into a hole clicking page after page and all of a sudden, your entire afternoon has slipped away. That’s what just happened to me.
I was just casually looking at celebrity birthdays, then I saw it was Vanessa’s birthday, then I started watching her music videos, then I ended up wondering how she managed to carve out this career after such a fall from grace, and then I got all deep into the Miss America 1984 business, and then I started stalking the other finalists from that year on Facebook (I go hard), and now I have to share because I didn’t even know the details. I only knew she had some naked pictures published and relinquished her crown (to another Black woman, #bloop) and then bounced back a couple of years later and became the most famous Miss America ever.
I just finished listening to an interview she did with NPR a few years ago during promotion for her book, so now obviously I am a Vanessa Williams Expert and I can show y’all what I done learnt. Let’s start with this picture I found on Deneen Graham’s Facebook (center):
Miss America 1984 saw five women of color in the competition, so it was already a landmark year.
In the center is Deneen Graham, (now Deneen Graham-Kerns) a ballet dancer from North Wilkesboro, NC, who was the first (and to date, the only) Black woman to win Miss North Carolina. During her reign, but before the Miss America pageant, Graham had already had a cross burned in her yard because North Carolina was definitely not ready for a Black Miss NC. That’s her in the center, just to the right of Vanessa Williams. On the other side of Graham is Amy Keys who was the first Black woman to win Miss Maryland. Miss New Jersey Suzette Charles is on the right – she was runner up to Vanessa and succeeded her as Miss America when Vanessa stepped down. For the life of me I cannot find out the name and state of the Hispanic woman on the left, but Vanessa said in her interview that there were four Black girls and one Hispanic that year, so I assume she was the fifth woman of color. It was a big year for representation, and it was especially big for Vanessa because it was her first pageant cycle.
Vanessa Williams had never done a pageant before, though the local representatives of the Miss Syracuse Pageant had approached her multiple times while she was a student at Syracuse University. Vanessa was a musical theater major (who chose Syracuse over Carnegie Mellon), and after each performance, someone would approach her about competing in the Miss Syracuse Pageant. She said no until she unexpectedly had April free when Cyrano was canceled, a show in which she was scheduled to perform. The experience seemed like it could be fun and the scholarship money was a nice incentive if she won, so she entered. And she did win. And then she won Miss New York. And then she won Miss America.
Two years prior, Vanessa had been working for photographer Tom Chiapel as an assistant during the summer break of 1982 after her freshman year at Syracuse. He’s the one who took the pictures that ultimately forced her to give up her crown years later.
He had a concept of having two models pose nude for silhouettes. Basically to make different shapes and forms. The light would be behind the models. I was reluctant, but since he assured me that I would be the only one to see them and I would not be identifiable in the photographs, I agreed. He had also gotten another model to agree to this.
Vanessa Williams had a stressful reign as the first Black woman to win Miss America. Security was heightened, she received regular death threats, her family was threatened, she wasn’t allowed to answer the door herself, and she traveled with a team of bodyguards. Two years ago, Nina Davuluri (also a Miss New York winner from Syracuse University) became the first Indian woman to win Miss America and unfortunately the country hasn’t changed enough. She and Vanessa traded stories about the hate mail and the threats, with Vanessa remembering back to the sharpshooters stationed on rooftops and Nina explaining how social media allows an even wider range of hateful expression.
Near the end of her reign, the pictures of Vanessa made their way to Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. He passed, noting that it would only hurt Vanessa Williams who had no intention of the public ever seeing these photos. Bob Guccione wasn’t as scrupulous and he published the photos in Penthouse. The Miss USA organization immediately pressured Vanessa Williams to step down, giving her 72 hours to publicly relinquish her title. She did, and then she sued Chiapel and Guccione, but eventually dropped the suit because she wanted to move on.
Four years later, she was back with her debut single “The Right Stuff,” a new Jack Swing cut that did well on the R&B charts, but it wasn’t until “Dreamin’“ that Vanessa Williams saw her first taste of pop superstardom. More hits followed and Vanessa Williams became one of the biggest stars of the 80s and 90s.
I think it’s worth nothing here that the record label who signed Vanessa was struggling at the time. Wing Records was a big deal in the 1950s, but pretty much had nothing going on for the next 30 years. Mercury Records (Wing’s parent company) injected some fresh execs into the label, and Wing signed a handful of R&B singers in the 1980s who became really successful on that tiny label (Brian McKnight and Tony! Toni! Toné! were also signed to Wing). I can’t find any evidence to support it, but I think Wing was probably one of the only labels to take a chance on her because they had nothing to lose.
And for good measure, here’s a recent song I really like from a couple of years ago:
She’s probably one of the most well-rounded performers of her generation, with very recognizable roles on TV, on Broadway, and in movies, plus she has shelves full of awards and nominations (though she has yet to actually win a Grammy, Tony, or Emmy even with all the noms). She herself said that if she hadn’t fallen (been pushed) so hard, she might not have fought as hard as she did to get back on top, so a mild thanks to Puritanical America and this weird aversion to nudity for giving us the greatness of Vanessa Williams’ career.
Plus, her daughter is a different kind of gem forging her own path now:
So good job Vanessa Williams! Way to have the best comeback of all time.
Today I Learned: Betty White Gave Arthur Duncan His Start
“She is probably one of the nicest, grandest and greatest of all people I’ve had the chance to meet throughout my life. Whenever she walked into a room, it lit up. She was very thoughtful and very helpful. She launched me into show business.” — Arthur Duncan on Betty White
Betty White, Queen of the American People and High Priestess of Television, is a national treasure who has had very few public missteps for someone who’s been in the public eye for the past 80 years. She’s a feminist pioneer who loves animals and the gays, so what else could you really ask for?
How about Civil Rights ally?
Arthur Duncan is a tap dancer most famous for appearing on the Lawrence Welk show off and on for almost two decades, from 1964 to 1982.
He was the first Black person to be a regular on a variety television program, and he’s been listed as an inspiration for countless entertainers from Savion Glover to Sheryl Underwood. Lawrence Welk’s show made him famous, but that’s not where he got his first big television break.
By the 1950s, Betty White had already built quite a resume in entertainment. She got her first job on television right after high school graduation in 1939, but other parts were had to come by because White was told she wasn’t photogenic. However, radio was still popular at the time, and White took her talents there. She eventually got her own radio show, which proved to be successful enough that another radio host, Al Jarvis, hired White to co-host his new TV show, Hollywood on Television, a live 5-hour variety show airing 6 days a week. When Al left in 1952, White hosted on her own. Sometimes she had guests, sometimes she sang, and sometimes she just talked into the camera, but it was enough to earn White her first Emmy nomination.
The same year Al Jarvis left, Betty White co-founded a production company with a writer and a producer, and the three of them built a new show partly based on some of the sketches that appeared on the variety show. Hollywood in Television was phased out, and a new sitcom took its place. With the creation of Life with Elizabeth (where Betty played the lead role), Betty White was one of the only women in television with creative control both in front of and behind the camera.
In 1954, NBC gave Betty White another television show, this time a talk/variety show called The Betty White Show where she again had creative control, and she hired a female director — a rarity at the time. She also booked Arthur Duncan, a young tap dancer who had been honing his skills touring the country with the Jimmy Rodgers show. Before The Betty White Show was expanded nationally, NBC received criticism from Southern stations over the inclusion of Arthur Duncan. It wasn’t uncommon to see Black performers in white movies (especially dancers), however many writers and producers wrote featured parts for Black entertainers that weren’t connected to the rest of the story so they could easily be edited out for Southern audiences. Cutting Arthur out of a television program wouldn’t be as easy because of the runtime to be filled in a television spot, so Southern stations threatened to boycott the entire show and air something else instead. Faced with backlash over Arthur Duncan, Betty White said
“I’m sorry. Live with it.” And she gave Duncan even more airtime.
(You can FF to around 8:10 for Arthur’s segment.)
The Betty White Show was canceled later that year, most likely due to multiple changes to its timeslot, and Betty and Arthur went their separate ways, but they remained fond of each other. In 2016, Betty White surprised Arthur Duncan on Forever Young, the spin-off of Little Big Shots for talented senior citizens.
Arthur Duncan credits Betty White for giving him television exposure that resulted in a lifelong career. Last year, he had this to say to the Sioux City Journal:
“She is probably one of the nicest, grandest and greatest of all people I’ve had the chance to meet throughout my life. Whenever she walked into a room, it lit up. She was very thoughtful and very helpful. She launched me into show business.”
Long live the Queen of Television.
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