Unpopular Disclaimer: I don’t need to like someone as a person to enjoy their presence in the ensemble of a reality TV show. Candiace Dillard is not one of my favorite people, but I think she works very well on The Real Housewives of Potomac. In the pantheon of badly behaved Housewives, she’s not a completely vile human being like Kelly Dodd, but plenty of what she says is wholly indefensible. She’s not a widely liked person the way Kandi Burruss is or a very sympathetic character along the lines of Sonja Morgan, so this project has an uphill battle, but we’ll come back to that.
The long and short of it is, Candiace has a better voice than any Real Housewife who has ever put out a project. I hesitate to call her a better singer than Kandi, because Kandi has more range and better ears (both of which make you a better vocalist), but her voice is more naturally soulful without trying and her timbre isn’t nearly as polarizing as Kandi’s. Being a better singer than the Housewives isn’t a high bar to clear, but Candiace’s voice can stand in the same lane with any of the R&B singers of the past five years or so.
But are the songs good? You can have all the vocal talent in the world, but if the song is bad, you’d need to be Whitney Houston to pull it off. Deep Space is a cohesive, polished, high-quality selection of very short songs. The average length of a track is about two and a half minutes because Candiace and her team have hardly written any bridges. The instrumental is excellent, the verse is excellent, the chorus is excellent, and then it’s over. As a student of 90s R&B, a school of which Candiace has also clearly matriculated, I need the bridge. It not only lengthens the song and prolongs my enjoyment, but it also gives me that extra level where you can transition to show out on the last chorus.
Candiace also doesn’t need interludes. They may serve to reach out to her fans from the show, but for those of us who love the music but not the Reality TV Character, hearing a clip of her fighting with her husband tarnishes the project. Countess Luann makes music for her fans. Candiace has made an album for the public at large, so I hope she keeps that in mind going forward — your fans will come along with the general public when the music is good, but the general public is not as keen to support a reality TV star when we are being reminded that this album is indeed the offering of a reality TV star.
My other criticism may be a strength depending on your point of view: It’s not solidly current or solidly throwback. I’m not sure what the market is for this sound. R&B isn’t popular right now and I can’t tell if this is going to appeal to fans of both Tamia and Chloe.
Criticisms aside, Deep Space really is a no-skips album (aside from the Interludes, which I don’t count as tracks). Openers “Cause a Scene” and “Hands In The Air” are the hoodbrat sides of Candiace with just enough 808 to drop it low. “Is It Enough” is the most immediately stage-ready song — you can imagine the live band and Candiace on a small stage with two backup singers. It’s very much giving mid-90s Chucky Thompson, slinky and sensual without being overtly sexual. The background vocal here, as well as “Benefits” and “Situationship,” take a couple of notes from Janet and Brandy to great effect. Janet’s DNA is baked into the feel of “Do It (Nostalgia)” which could’ve been a bonus track on 20 Y.O. sung by Monica. The Queen of the DMV Ms. Traci Braxton Herself makes a surprise appearance on “Stay With Me,” and Candiace could be a Braxton cousin with her delivery (I didn’t initially realize Traci was on the track when I was listening in the shower — their voices were so similar). Deep Space closes with “Win,” a retro-soul gospel track that hit my atheist spirit just right. It’s going on my Sunday Cleaning playlist immediately.
Candiace has an exceptional product with all the makings of a successful career, but it won’t be easy. Other than Cardi B. and Bethenny, reality TV stars don’t transition into other areas of the entertainment business successfully. Bethenny was polarizing, as Candiace is, but Bethenny launched an entire brand that struck at the lucrative diet/weight-control market. Candiace is every bit as talented as Cardi B., but Cardi had two great advantages before launching Invasion of Privacy: she was popular and her genre was popular. Cardi B. was a personality hundreds of thousands of people had rallied behind before she was ever cast on Love & Hip-Hop for two seasons. Her appearance on the show only grew her fanbase, so there were a lot more people rooting for her to win when “Bodak Yellow” came out and became an instant classic. And the reason her single took off so quickly was, aside from the fact that it’s insanely and immediately catchy, the market was ready to make space for a female rapper to give Nicki Minaj competition. “Bodak Yellow” wouldn’t have been as successful if it was released by a man, released by an unnattractive woman, released by someone who was less likeable, or released in 2002.
You have to hit at the right time with the right product by the right artist. A slightly retro R&B album in 2021 from a largely unknown and highly polarizing personality is a challenge I wouldn’t take on, but I’m glad Candiace has. Deep Space is an R&B album that I was looking for this year when most of the girls are whispering or leaning too hard into trap music. I’m here for it Ms. Dillard, but let’s get some bridges on the sophomore effort and leave any references to Bravo back in Potomac.
Score: 7.5 / 10
Songs to get into:
Is It Enough
Do It (Nostalgia)
Hot Takes: Queens
Queens is giving us the music *and* the drama.
*** Mild spoilers, because it’s a TV series, and you can’t really review apilot episode without giving a little info about what it’s about and what’s happening.
1. They had me at girl group. I will watch anything about a girl group, from Popstars to Cheetah Girls to whatever BET was trying to do with Miss Promithes Promithes producing a group of washed up stars from yesteryear. (Sidenote: That show was bonkers, but two of the songs are good: “Skeletons” & “Birds Eye View”)
2. Who is this Nadine lady playing Butter Pecan? I assume she must have smashed the audition process, because she’s been cast alongside three music stars with successful acting careers. Eve, Naturi, and Brandy have all made hits and proven themselves on the small screen, and Nadine/Valeria sticks out to me just a touch. She doesn’t really have the performing stage presence of the other three, so I hope she settles into that a bit better. I guess J.Lo thought she was too big for the role so they got a substitute?
3. Speaking of J.Lo, they really did Nadine dirty with this knock off dress.
4. “Nasty Girl” is not a good song. I do enjoy Swizz Beatz and his bag of tricks so I’m looking forward to the music they roll out, but I really don’t need to hear “Nasty Girl” ever again. Happy that Brandy/B-Rocka is getting her moment as an emcee again though! She stole the whole song from Eve if we’re being honest.
5. Eve has great comedic timing. I’ve missed her doing this. Also a pleasant surprise seeing RonReaco Lee pop up playing her husband, since he wasn’t listed in the cast. We don’t see enough of him these days.
6. The pacing and the cuts for commercial give me Ugly Betty, but the tone and the acting give me Empire, and that’s high praise. Hopefully they can keep the show on the rails.
7. It’s not exactly the series I predicted! I thought we were going to watch a season of episodes where they get ready for a performance, to see if they can do it. Well they did it in one episode, so I guess the show is mostly about their interpersonal relationships and not their ability to perform, which is great! We get the music and the drama.
8. “Hear Me” is a great song. Brandy does not make bad songs.
9. That cypher was hot fire! Everybody’s bars were on point. I assumed Lauren didn’t have the talent to back up her viral fame, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with that character too!
10. Queens had a solid debut. The pilot put in motion enough plotlines to fill a few seasons, not just one, and the cast (save for maybe Nadine) feels organic, like they would all exist in a group together. Some of the acting is a little stilted (I honestly don’t really believe Naturi as a lesbian church lady quite yet…) but they have time to let it gel and really come together. I think they will.
Drag Race Music!
Some of the Drag Race girls have been delivering bops recently!
If you are new here and you don’t know me, let me put a little disclaimer right at the top: my favorite genres of music (in order) are R&B (from 1988ish to 2002ish especially), country (from bluegrass to pop country to stadium bro country), and indie rock (specifically of the PBR and checkered Vans variety).
Additionally, if the music isn’t interesting, I don’t care how good the lyrics are — I won’t like it.
If the production is bad, I don’t care how talented the voice is — I won’t like it.
And if you’re “rapping” because you can’t actually sing, I’m already bored.
I say this because all art is subjective and it depends on your taste. If you already know your favorite genres of music are diva pop and thumpa-thumpa circuit, this isn’t the list for you. Meaning, I don’t read movie reviews from The Independent because they don’t like what I like so that’s not gonna help me figure out what to go see at the cinema.
Anyway, I have recently become obsessed with the EP from #1 on this list, so I decided to see if any of the other Drag Race queens were making any bops I might like. As a whole, I avoid their I Just Got Eliminated Here’s My Single To Cash In On My Temporary Notoriety offerings because they’re almost always bad. With the exception of Trixie Mattel and Blair St. Clair, most of them aren’t giving me recording artist so much as a drag queen giving their fanbase something to spend money on.
But there are some bops! And some flops. So let’s go from worst to best of the 20 most recent Drag Race songs I’ve come across these past few months.
20. Yvie Oddly, US Season 11 (Winner)
Sick Bitch (ft. Willow Pill)
This is drag music at its worst. It’s mixed badly so you can’t actually hear what they’re saying, but I don’t really care, because I couldn’t finish it anyway.
(You’ll see me type “drag music” a lot and by that I mean, most drag queens cannot sing. They also cannot rap. So they speak their lyrics, which have very basic rhyme schemes, over a boring club beat that your local queen would perform well to with sound effects and little breaks for short monologues from campy movies and viral video clips. All drag music isn’t terrible…but most of it is very boring and repetitive.)
19. Eureka!, All Stars Season 6 (Runner-Up)
Eureka! is not a vocalist and this would not be a good ballad even if she sang it like Whitney Houston. The message is nice but, again, I could not finish.
18. Love Masisi, Holland Season 2 (8th Place)
I’m crushed y’all. When she performed this on the show, it was my favorite song from the talent show episode. It’s still one of my favorites on the list from a production standpoint but WOW what a disappointing lack of Autotune. I’m actually against the industry’s reliance on pitch correction these days, but this could have been a bop if she knew what key she was supposed to be in.
17. Karen From Finance, Down Under Season 1 (Runner-Up)
Out of Office
This is a very cute video, which I expect from Karen because it’s such a fully realized character. Bonus points for recycling her Drag Race outfits, because they’re really expensive and any Finance girl should be getting her money’s worth with multiple wears. Other than the instrumental going on during the verse, this is wholly forgettable. Listenable, but barely enjoyable.
16. Priyanka, Canada Season 1 (Winner)
Come Through (feat. Lemon)
Very boring drag music. I didn’t finish because I was very very bored and I wanted to move on to something else.
15. Brooke Lynn Hytes, US Season 11 (Runner-Up)
Queen of the North (feat. Priyanka)
Also very boring drag music, but marginally more interesting than “Come Through.” The production is excellent though and very expensive looking.
14. Kita Mean, Down Under Season 1 (Winner)
Kita actually has a pretty good singing voice for a recording studio. It’s definitely a notch above anyone on the list so far, but I wish the final production was mixed to highlight it better. Alas, the song is completely uninteresting and there’s some far better 80s/New Wave to come later on the list.
13. Ginger Minj, All Stars Season 6 (Runner-Up)
We’re finally getting into songs that I enjoy, or at least don’t mind listening to. This is obviously drag music, but Ginger has a decent singing voice, and there’s some variety in the production that keeps it interesting and listenable. I personally do not find Ginger amusing in any way so these lyrics do nothing for me on a comedic level, but as a song it’s very Meghan Trainer by way of RuPaul and that’s not the most offensive way to describe a pop song.
12. Alaska Thunderfuck, All Stars Season 2 (Winner)
When did Alaska go mainstream? I don’t think I’ve paid attention to her since her speaksing breathmonotone industrialpop offerings, but this is all the way late 90s/early 00s pop. She’s not a vocalist and it’s not quite radio-ready, but it’s a song. Shoutout to the icon Jazell Barbie Royale in the video! I don’t know why she’s there, but I like it.
11. Jan, All Stars Season 6 (7th Place)
(Put Your) Gay Hands Up feat. Alaska and Peppermint
The individual parts of this song are fine, but none of them go together. It’s finished, it’s polished, it’s disco, it should be great, but it feels like a Maxi Challenge with Alaska’s breathy whisper and Peppermint’s last-minute appearance. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish it was just Jan from start to finish.
10. Kylie Sonique Love, All Stars Season 6 (Winner)
Do It Like Dolly
It’s impossible to make a terrible song from the “9 to 5” beat, so this is automatically fun. Musically it’s a lot more interesting (though less moving) than her ballad she put out around the same time, but it’s a solid offering. Getting Miss Shalae to lead the diamond in the choreo is an extra special bonus. All in all, it feels like something Shannon Bex would’ve done if she’d stuck with it.
9. Rosé, US Season 13 (3rd/4th Place)
The Devil In The Details
It’s giving Adam Lambert. It’s giving glam pop. It’s giving vocalist who isn’t overdoing it. But it’s giving a little boring. All the ingredients are there, but it’s not a song I need to hear on repeat because there’s no chorus that grabs you. This is a natural showman who studied music, so that just goes to show you that writing solid hooks is harder than it looks.
8. LaLa Ri, US Season 13 (10th Place)
Bad Bitch Tip (feat. Ocean Kelly)
This is just fun. And it’s a step above drag music because LaLa is a passable emcee who isn’t just talking over a beat. If Big Freedia and City Girls had a baby on the track, it would be this song.
7. Violet Chachki, US Season 7 (Winner)
Mistress Violet (with Allie X)
Okay….honestly, this isn’t really my taste. A couple of my friends have this song on repeat, but this sound is not for me personally. The whole thing (especially the aesthetic of the video) is very Bushwick Artsy Left of Mainstream in that space where Souxsie Soux meets the early B-52s meets DIY mixed with Couture. I put it so high because I love how finished and interesting it is compared to repeats of the same thing over and over that most of the Drag Race girls tend to put out.
6. Monét X Change, All Stars Season 4 (Winner)
Love Like This
Monét has the best voice on this list and this song is radio-ready! It’s not a song to capitalize on a Drag Race fanbase at all. It’s just music. A Caribbean lilt with an actual chorus and horns on the track all add up to an excellent summertime moment.
5. Trixie Mattel, All Stars Season 3 (Winner)
Jackson (feat. Orville Peck)
I debated whether or not a cover should make it onto this list, but I couldn’t not have Trixie on a countdown about Drag Race music. She makes my favorite albums from across the franchise (RuPaul included) because we have the same taste in country and Trixie can write a hook (which is a skill so sorely missing from most of the Drag Race arena). She and Orville make a fine pair on this old cover because Trixie might not be the best singer, but she always delivers and she stays in her lane. This is toe-tapping excellence.
4. Sederginne, Holland Season 1 (6th Place)
Fuck Me (1.5M Away)
I’m surprised this is on the list because:
Sederginne can’t sing.
I don’t like “funny” songs.
I genuinely and unironically love this track though. You could actually write a very standard pop song with this instrumental — it’s straight from the early 00s teen pop playbook. That makes it enjoyable in the way that Doja Cat’s “Mooo!” was a few years ago, because it’s a solid composition, with ridiculous lyrics. Sederginne as a horny old lady trying to get laid during COVID is camp and she delivered every line perfectly.
3. Bimini, UK Season 2 (Runner-Up)
God Save This Queen
The tiniest supermodel in the world (seriously, how is she always so booked?!) is doing drag music of the highest caliber. If you’re not the greatest singer and you’re not the greatest emcee, how do you avoid making another boring dance track? Don’t make a dance track at all! Give us new wave 80s punk with clever lyrics about gender and do it with a snarling East London delivery.
2. Shea Coulee, All Stars Season 5 (Winner)
Collide (with GESS feat. Mykki Blanco)
This is music. This is current R&B. This is Quiet Storm for Gen Z. Shea’s vocals are so silky smooth and the production is as polished as anything from Ari Lennox or Summer Walker or HER. It does fall into the Normani “Wild Side” trap of featuring a rapper where none was needed, but it’s a forgivable misstep for such an excellent song. Without the feature, it would probably squeak into my top 20 R&B songs of the year. It’s that good.
1. Tia Kofi, UK Season 2 (7th Place)
Part 1: The Damage
Obsessed with this EP. OBSESSED! Tia Kofi is one of my favorite Drag Queens in the history of Drag Race. Is she fashionable? No. Is her makeup great? No. Does she have fabulous wigs? No. Is she confident? Also no. Is she a great performer? Sometimes. Does she have undeniable star quality? Ehhhh…..debateable. Is she funny? Absolutely. Tia Kofi is the most naturally funny drag queen to ever compete for the crown. I rarely laugh at people who are trying to be funny, because it’s so forced and I don’t love comedy. Tia had me howling every episode. She’s the only queen where I’ve said, “I really want to see that clip again where she….” and looked it up on Youtube. This will probably be my favorite runway forever.
So imagine my surprise that Comedy Legend (er Comedic Person) Tia Kofi would come out with the most excellent 80s synthpop EP! I don’t even have to put a “drag queen” disclaimer when I recommend it to someone. It’s not “oh listen to this! This is really good for Drag Race!” It’s just “oh listen to this, it’s so good!” It’s pure pop. She doesn’t have the biggest voice in the world, but it’s perfect for what she’s doing. I hope she’s soaking in all the good reviews of her music and taking it to heart, because she’s not really giving what needs to be given in some of her videos, but with a little extra confidence, I think there’s a star in there.
Look What You’ve Done (with Cahill)
Loving Me Like That
So that’s it! That’s all I’ve heard recently. If y’all have some bops that I’ve missed, let me know and I’ll add them. But don’t send me anything boring!
Bring the church singers back to R&B.
Where are the real vocalists who grew up shoutin for Jesus?
I joke about this all the time, that we don’t have superstar R&B girls really doing any heavy lifting in the vocal department these days because nobody goes to church anymore, so there aren’t any real singers out here who grew up hollering for Jesus in a pew.
(For anybody thinking this will be a Christian propaganda piece — I’m an atheist. I just appreciate a strong vocalist and I love gospel music rooted in the Black church.)
Anyway…today, I really got to thinking about church singers because I was randomly wondering how old Gladys Knight is and that made me wonder how old Patti Labelle is.
I cannot tell you why either of those things popped into my head, but they did, and since we all have a computer in our pocket, I looked it up. Turns out, Patti Labelle is exactly 4 days older than Gladys Knight, so the last week of May in 1944 deserves some kind of federal recognition for its service to R&B music in general.
Knowing what I know about soul music from back in the day, it struck me once again how young those singers were and how it doesn’t feel like we have any vocal equivalents in the music industry really making any waves. There are no 20somethings putting out hits who could stand next to a 20 year old Patti or Gladys, so I wanted to dig up some clips of early performances by some of the greats over the years.
Tina Turner, 21 years old
In 1960, Ike & Tina Turner got their first big hit with “Fool in Love” and the band made the rounds performing on the popular television shows of the day. The sound quality isn’t the best so some of her vocals are drowned out by the backing instrumentation, but the power and stage presence are evident.
Aretha Franklin, 21 years old
Aretha was the daughter of a pastor, so to say she grew up singing in the church is an understatement. When she turned 18, she left gospel music to try her luck in the secular arena, and it was a few years before she really hit her stride. Here she is in 1963 singing “Skylark,” an old jazz standard from the 40s. It’s not the soul music she would become famous for, but the vocal talent is undeniable.
Patti LaBelle, 22 years old
This video of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles is from 1966, which means Patti has been singing “Over the Rainbow” for over 50 years. She grew this song into one of her signature iconic tunes, and all the building blocks were already there at 22.
Gladys Knight, 23 years old
I’ve seen this clip of Gladys Knight & The Pips singing “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” many, many times, but I always assumed she was younger because she looks so fresh and bubbly. (No really, she looks like a cheerleader on the way to a sock hop and I’m obsessed.) She was 23 in this clip, but the timbre of her voice is very much giving that of a woman twice her age.
Evelyn “Champagne” King, 17 years old
Speaking of timbre….close your eyes and listen to “Shame.” Evelyn was a high school student when she was overheard singing one night by a producer at Philadelphia International Records where her mother cleaned the offices. She was signed and then recorded this disco classic when she was 16 years old.
Whitney Houston, 20 years old
Clive Davis signed Whitney Houston in 1983, but it was a couple of years before an album came out. He recognized her talent and didn’t want to let Whitney slip through his fingers, but he took his time collecting the right material for her after she signed on the dotted line. This clip from the Merv Griffin Show was her introduction to the world, singing “Home” from The Wiz, but it was just a small glimpse at the greatness to come.
Mariah Carey, 21 years old
Mariah Carey’s technique isn’t quite as rooted in the gospel music of the Black church as Patti or Whitney, but that’s who she takes her cues from. These are the singers she looked up to, and it’s reflected in her delivery and ad libs. Once she freed herself from Tommy, she was able to more firmly cement herself into R&B music, but she was already a singer for real vocalists from the jump.
Deborah Cox, 21 years old
By the time Deborah hit it big with “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here,” she was already 24, which is past the cut off in my mind for an ingenue with a big voice. However, her first album was released when she was 21 years old and she was already a big balladeer in the tradition of Whitney (who she would go on to portray on Broadway as well as provide the vocals for in the Lifetime biopic). I can’t find a great live clip of “Where Do We Go From Here?” but the album version is worth a listen if you’ve never heard it.
Tamia, 20 years old
Tamia Marilyn Washington Hill (I love her so much, y’all don’t even know!) was just 19 years old when she recorded one of my favorite ballads of all time, and she had three Grammy nominations by 21, before she even released her first album. “You Put A Move On My Heart” was originally recorded by Mica Paris (who did a bang up job), but it will forever be a Tamia classic to me.
KeKe Wyatt, 19 years old
There aren’t a whole lot of clips of KeKe singing live from the beginning of her career………..because she stabbed her husband and was indicted for assault right after her first album came out. It was a self-defense case and she didn’t go to jail, but she earned an unfair reputation due to the coverage. Still, she’s one of the most impressive R&B singers of our generation, because not everybody can tackle a Patti LaBelle cover. I put the album track first and then a clip of a performance from a few years ago because I feel like everybody needs to witness the breath support and control she still has after twenty years in the game (and ten kids).
Monica, 15 years old
Monica came on the scene at 14 with a voice that was 44. Today, she sounds exactly the way she did in 10th grade, because she always sounded like an old church lady.
Beyonce, 22 years old
Beyonce wasn’t my favorite singer in the first half of her career. I feel like she hit her stride vocally once she started utilizing more of the bottom half of her range. Still, she names The Clark Sisters as major influences in her singing technique, and she’s one of the last superstar holdouts from this vocal style.
So why aren’t the big vocalists still making waves in the industry? The ones who have this kind of talent (eg. Jazmine Sullivan) don’t hit the commercial highs of previous generations, and the talented vocalists at the top of the charts (eg. Ariana Grande) don’t have the power and delivery of the church singers we grew up with. Not to make it too simple, but I do blame modern technology and autotune.
If you were listening to a new record in 1961 and somebody sang the stuffing out of it, you know they were in the studio hitting it out of the park. It might have required a few takes, but that vocal on the record is the vocal that came out of their mouths. You looked forward to hearing that vocalist live. If you’re listening to a new record in 2021, maybe that’s how the vocalist sounds and maybe not. Maybe the final product was spliced and diced from a lot of different takes.
And maybe it’s autotune.
It’s not as important to be a good vocalist, so the music is less focused on the singer and more focused on the production (and the image). We also have a generation of listeners accustomed to hearing autotune in their music, so potentially great vocalists have gotten lazy. They don’t do it until it’s right — they do it until it’s good enough, and if the autotune is noticeable, who cares?
K. Michelle can sing her ass off. I love so much of her music including “V.S.O.P.” but I hate that you can hear the autotune. Listen to this song, which really is an example of modern soul excellence, tainted by so much autotune really from 2:40 on out.
The latest unnecessary offender comes from an unlikely source, but it’s the one currently on my mind: Candiace from the Real Housewives of Potomac. She’s released a surprisingly solid R&B single to capitalize on her reality TV popularity, but unlike other Housewives, she’s going the Serious Artist route as opposed to being a cash-grab gimmick. This song has production, the video has budget, and the singer has talent. But it also has autotune for no reason at all, because Candiace could absolutely perfect this vocal without studio help if she wanted to.
We’ve come so far past autotune being used as a necessary tool to correct bad singers that even good singers use it stylistically, which further cheapens the art of delivering a good vocal. The listeners don’t care as much about whether you can sing as long as the final product is good. So, nobody needs to grow up singing in the church anymore. Jesus had the girls hitting every note, but now they just hit some of them and pray to autotune instead.
Hot Takes: Queens
Joe Manchin doesn’t want to give money to people who need money.
Billy Porter’s Ego would like for you to know he wore dresses before Harry Styles.
Album Review: Candiace “Deep Space”
Tina Turner cashes in.
Hot Takes: Malignant
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