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Pop music is “real” music too.

Arguing with “singer-songwriter” purists is so tiring. Do you know how often a GREAT vocalist and a GREAT songwriter are in the same person? Like….once a generation and her name is Mariah Carey. Dassit.

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Arguing with “singer-songwriter” purists is so tiring. Do you know how often a GREAT vocalist and a GREAT songwriter are in the same person? Like….once a generation and her name is Mariah Carey. Dassit. 

Most of your favorite singer-songwriters are better at one than the other. Carole King, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan – icons….and most people sing their songs better than they could. That’s not shade, that’s just recognizing how rare it is to be truly legendary in two fields.

Michael Jordan was a basketball player and baseball player. He was a better baseball player than everyone you know personally, but he couldn’t compare to everyone he was playing with and he’s only a legend in one.
That’s singer-songwriters.

I don’t care that Whitney Houston didn’t write songs the same way I don’t care that Diane Warren can’t sing. They are exceptional at the thing they do, and the same goes for pop song writers. Any trained musician or composer can take some of what casual listening “purists” say is generic pop music and tell you why it’s musically more complex than you think or downright exceptional.

If the only music you think is MUSIC is some white guy singing 6 notes strumming a guitar, I’d love to put that guy next to Rodney Jerkins in a studio and have them each crank out a song. I promise you one of them will be far superior – musically – than the other. 

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Music

Watch: Diana Ross “Ninety-Nine and a Half”

Look at Diana Ross hollering for the Lord!

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I love Diana Ross.

She has hits on hits and I love her singing tone, but she ain’t no sanger and that’s fine! Janet isn’t either and she’s the most-played artist in my collection. I have heard many things about Diana Ross in my years on this Earth and read many more from before I was born, but nobody ever accused her of having any sort of volume in her little body.

So color me surprised stumbling upon that lil bird lady belting her lungs out for Jesus with Little Richard back in 1987!

Clearly, I need to find this entire production because I need to know why Diana Ross is pretending to be 16 and 76 in the same clip. It’s from her TV special from 1987 to promote her album Red Hot Rhythm and Blues but I haven’t found the whole program yet (here’s Part 2, I’ll dig some more later).

What I didn’t realize was just how big Diana Ross was. She had a whole TV special to promote this album, but when you look for it, you find her 1981 special for CBS. And her 1971 special. Diana Ross was like “hey I wanna do a special” and TV networks were like “sure!” over and over. There’s really nobody to compare that to in today’s entertainment climate other than Beyonce, which is absolutely fitting seeing as how they both rose to fame as the lead singer of a girl group and then catapulted to iconic legend status afterward.

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Now I have some homework to do and a Youtube hole down which to descend.

 

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Watch: Janet Jackson “Got ’til It’s Gone”

One can only imagine how this music video would’ve been received in this political climate.

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Watching music videos you loved as a child decades later as an adult gives you a new lens. Janet Jackson won a Grammy for this excellent visual ode to Black beauty long before it was mainstream and popular to do so and I didn’t realize that until this week.

Janet went introspective (and a little dark) for The Velvet Rope and she gave a lot of interviews in the run-up to the release. One was about “Got ’til It’s Gone” where she said she knew she wanted a rapper somewhere on the album, and when “GTIG” came together, Q-Tip’s voice fit perfectly. In the same interview she talked about being a fan of Joni Mitchell and how rap and folk were both poetry set to music, and that’s how two very disparate artists ended up on the same Janet Jackson song. (Janet actually called Joni Mitchell personally and sent a copy of the song to get permission for the sample, after being told Mitchell would never approve it.)

For the music video, Janet went with Mark Romanek (who has more Grammys for Short Form Music Video than anybody else), and she portrays a lounge singer in South Africa during Apartheid. Joni Mitchell — on a television screen — is the only white face in this video. Whiteness only exists in this space as a target of Black revolution, as the last scene ends with bottles being thrown at a Europeans Only sign. With Beyonce set to release Black Is King in a couple of days and all of the press and petulant backlash from Saltine America taking offense at her pro-Blackness, one can only imagine how “GTIG” would be received in this political climate.

Twenty years after The Velvet Rope, people (including me) made note of Janet Jackson’s love letter to the African diaspora with “Made For Now” through the sound and the fashion and the dance sprinkled throughout the video. But really, Janet has always been that girl. We just pay more attention these days.

 

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Watch: Brandy sings her classics.

Listen to this vocal technician!

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Brandy is the only singer who sounds better singing her debut album 25 years later than she did when she recorded it. That’s not shade to anybody else — Toni, Deborah, Monica, Mary can all still blow. But Brandy is the only one who keeps improving with age.

Listen to this vocal technician y’all.

1:15 Almost Doesn’t Count
5:30 Best Friend
6:43 I Wanna Be Down
8:52 Sittin Up In My Room
12:38 Baby
14:10 Baby Mama

Every new Brandy album is an event for me because she’s been my favorite R&B singer since Afrodisiac renewed my love for mainstream R&B back in the day. I don’t know why she chose “Baby Mama” as her lead single (or as a song to record period?) but I still have high hopes for the record. Because it’s Brandy. And she still sounds like that.

 

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