Soul Lovers To Artists: Stop Trying To Be So Young

I was reading a really interesting article on SoulTracks the other day, highlighting the barrage of R&B artists who have left their physical prime and are now pandering to a younger audience. We've seen this occur in increasing frequency with disastrous results. On one pole of delusion and wanting to be the eternal post-pubescent girl-child is Mariah Carey and her phalanx of butterflies. On the opposite pole we have Toni Braxton who seems to have settled in well with accepting what she sounds best at singing, is not grinding on everything not nailed down, nor electronically modifying her already gorgeous voice.

We all know--or at least that was the assumption--why these artists all begin to sport midlife career crises like the latest Crooks & Castles gear. If the young'uns don't pay attention to you, you're over. Right? Jay-Z may have garnered critical acclaim with American Gangster, one of his best albums since The Blueprint, but we all knew a foray down fraternity row was coming once The Blueprint 3 dropped. Not to mention that Jay-Z literally has been listed as being 37-years-old for at least the past 5 years. Do the math.

But what if the assumption that younger people buy more records was false? Strange concept to wrap your head around isn't it? Because then that may ultimately mean that maturing divas wouldn't have to be forced to sing old jazz standards and ballads and may be able to strut around like older Amazonian goddesses such as Nona Hendryx or Grace Jones if they wanted to. Chris Rizik recently summed it up best by writing:

Part of delusion behind all this is the mistaken logic that the major record companies were singing for years: young people buy music and people over 30 don't. That was the music Gospel, until they found out it was completely false. Aside from teen artist Taylor Swift, the biggest selling albums of the past 3 years have been from artists like Michael Buble, Josh Groban, Carrie Underwood and Susan Boyle - artists who draw substantially from older audiences. The over 30 crowd buys more CDs, illegally downloads less and, frankly, has more money to spend on concerts and recorded music. And nowhere has that been more evident than in the new soul movement.

Ha! Well, I'll be. What will this mean for the casual or devoted soul music listener? I have no idea. Not everyone is able to fend themselves off well from mutiple persons telling you what is hot now and backing their notions up with bogus figures. To the newer and older crop of soul singers I implore you to do your research. Arm yourself with what really does sell so that you can honestly come forth with a body of work that is more reflective of your experiences instead of what blackened, steel, spiked revolver of love Rihanna may be sing-talking about these days. Unless that's your thing. In which case that's all on you. But let's applaud those who continue to write from their hearts, and in the process get nominated for awards and receive accolades in the process. (See: Hathaway, LalahRoberson, EricExchange, Foreign; and Glasper, Robert). In closing, our time may be coming, but since us 30-somethings and older have already put our money where our mouths are, it's time for more of our beloved artists to step up to the plate and demand better music that better represents themselves.

Chris Rizik: Indie Soulers Don't Need To Try To Be Rihanna [ST]

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15 Responses

  1. Micheal Buble, Carrie Underwood and Gosh Groban are all under 30. How many pop artists over the age of 35 or hell even 30 have sold as many records as they have over the last 5 years. Outside of Susan Boyle ud be hard pressed to find any. In this country radio and the public seems to put you out to pasture once you start pushing 40. This is especially big with female artist be it R&B or Pop. I dont mind you keeping a sexy image as long as the music matures. Mariah has failed at this for the past 2 projects. Toni looks sexy because she is but her music never really was geared toward the under 20 crowd. At the end of the day you work for the label and the label is about making money for both you and them.

  2. First of all, I absolutely LOVE this article! There's a lot to address here: Artists feeling like they need to 'keep up' with younger artists (really, I'm NOT craving a Lil Wayne/Anita Baker collaboration) and the fact that the record companies (the ones that still exist) don't or won't get behind older, more established know, the ones who can still SANG. It's crazy to me that artists water themselves down with the likes of say, Trey Songz or Chris Brown just to get their song ( _________ featuring Chris Brown or 50 Cent or WHOMEVER) on the radio! It's pandering to the masses, and BAD PANDERING at that. Mariah and Toni are the prime examples of this behavior, the former, let's face it kids, her voice is shot, the latter - chick, you CAN SING, you don't have to play up your sexuality for anyone, we GET IT, you're SEXY, jeez! LOL.
    I remember back 20 years ago, there was diversity on the radio, there were a group of females ranging from Stephanie Mills to Anita Baker to Miki Howard to Vanessa Williams to Karyn White...and the list goes on...that could sing! People who literally poured their hearts out in the studios. What we're subjected to now, bad production, autotune, wack 'features (whomever is the flavor of the month musically), doesn't pass for music in my ears. It's more like really, REALLY bad noise. Waiting for the day when someone will set the industry on it's head again.....meanwhile, I still have my Foreign Exchange, Badu, Jill Scott...and a vast catalog of great stuff that I consider REAL soul music.

  3. This is one of the main reasons I don't listen to radio. I don't want to spoonfed every 5 minutes the likes of Rhianna, Trey Songz and even Usher. And yes, the over 30 crowd are the ones who shell out money for the cds. We're living in a digital era and most of the young kids are walking around with iPods, Zunes, etc. and they prefer to download their music.
    It is us who are buying the box sets of Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, EWF, etc. These young kids don't give a damn about those artists. We are the ones hitting up the tours because the ticket prices are usually out of the range for the teens and young adults.
    Yeah, they go, but they don't flock to the shows like we do. We are the reason that Maxwell's comeback tour was being sold out and his cd flew up the charts.

  4. Read the Rizik article. It left out SEVERAL things:
    - Like her current voice or not, Whitney also falls into the over-40 female R&B range. Not only did she drop a platinum album (and let's not even count how many R&B females PERIOD went platinum last year), but she didn't tamper her sound or dress down a bit. So if you want to talk sales, you can't have that conversation without talking about Whitney's effort.
    - Similarly, Maxwell had R&B's top-selling record of 2009, and I know he's over 30. We all know that his sound didn't change at all either. So why, again, was this left out?
    - Not a single word about Sade, who didn't change her sound, is like, one of only three artists of ANY genre this year with a platinum album and had a R&B top 10 hit. Still not sure where Rizik is going with this, since it seems that Toni and Mariah are the exceptions, not the rule.
    -Two of the artists held up by Rizik as shining examples -- Underwood and Boyle -- were products of reality TV. It's not fair to compare these flash-in-the-pan artists to other artists who got to where they are the old-fashioned way.
    So now the question is, how many older singers are REALLY trying to be younger than they are? Seems like Rizik was trying to shoehorn the entire genre into the example of Toni Braxton, but it doesn't fit.

  5. Thanks Soul Cynic. You really "get" what I was trying to say in my article. In the end it is about an artist trying to be true to himself or herself, and realize that history (especially modern history) shows there is an audience for authentically good artists like the ones you mention in your blog. And the other comments are right: I could've easily mentioned Sade or Maxwell; they are great examples. I mentioned Monica and Jaheim because I was more struck with how much they grew up between releases and embraced their maturity. Thanks!

  6. @Hmm
    great comment, mariah has always been a little "off", toni's music is very mature. No need to group everybody in the "trying to be rihanna" club

  7. @baybruh Michael Buble turns 35 this year and Groban is just shy of 30. And in the last five years several country acts over 35 have matched Underwood for sales, Sugarland just for starters.
    @Hmm Chris could have mentioned both Sade and Maxwell, but they are only a few of the acts coming from the majors representing mature music and the article focused on indie acts. What I understood Chris to mean was music coming out now and those that we get one to several months in advance of the public is starting to skew hipster young. I work for BET/CENTRIC and let me tell you how few of the artists we get are maintaining their guns and sticking to mature music, particularly on the major label side. I can count them. Luckily this has also been a banner year for artists like Jose James, Jaheim, Monica, Toni Braxton, Craig David, PJ Morton and Marcell & The Truth, whose music has been decidely grown.

  8. @ cornfed ok Buble is 35...I'll give you that. Like I said the same rules really don't apply to male vocalists. Sugarland is a group so I don't count them either. While they have had success they aren't pushing 5-6million units like Carrie Underwood did her 1st two albums in. The piece singles out Mariah and Toni both in their 40s(Mariah's been holding at 39 for 3 years I wouldn't even put Whitney in the "Successful" comeback lane because we all know that her sales are due to strictly curiousity factor. The album came and went and you heard nothing else about it.

  9. @baybuh Curiosity factor? Please. Whitney sold more copies off one appearance on Oprah than most singers doing promo all over the place -- and that was AFTER it hit the shelves. Million Dollar Bill was on the R&B charts for months and hit #1 on the adult R&B chart. Her voice and this current tour...we won't talk about that. But the album itself had a major promotional push you don't see with artists her age and it's not fair to not include her in the conversation.
    I think if you take a look at some of the charts, we have had a wide diversity of mature and immature music. Pretty Wings was #1 on R&B just as long as Blame it on the Alcohol. Sade got her first top 10 on any chart since the 90s. Melanie Fiona and Robin Thicke both went to #1. Monica is holding down #1 right now. Who says the youngsters are taking over again?
    Similarly, artists that we love to make fun of (Waka Flocka Flame comes to mind) aren't even doing that well if you look at their stats. Gucci Mane might be the bane of everyone's existence, but truth be told, he has only one top 10 hit to his name. Nicki Minaj has yet to deliver the hype built around her and her clock is ticking fast.
    There's something out there for everybody. Yeah, you can say Maxwell's tour sold out. But somebody must be going to see Trey Songz too -- otherwise, he wouldn't be jumping on Monica's tour right after riding with Jay-Z. Does that mean Trey and Max are on the same level? No, it just means that we should all co-exist.

  10. The adult R&B chart has a much pull as the Jet top 20. You have to do better that that. That's what O is for. That happens to anybody that goes on Oprah..even Miley

  11. The very same thing I have been saying especially with Toni and her new hair cut and video. She clearly is trying to push herself into a realm of which she doesn't belong. Embrace you beauty and age and thank god for what you are and stop trying to be what your not!

  12. As a 36 year-old woman, I can safely say that being sexy does not mean you are trying to be young. I am sexy as hell and no one could pay me enough money to revert to my teen age years or early twenties. I am full-figured but let it be known that if I was 20 pounds lighter, I would surely rock outfits that Toni wears. That is not trying to be young. That is enjoying how I look. I think the hang-ups are not the issue of those who are over 30 and sexy as hell, but, instead, the hang-ups of those who mute their own sexuality and are prudes. Toni looks fierce!
    Now the music, is another thing. Once again, that's a matter of taste and Mariah's Emancipation of Mimi was vocally on point and showcased her talent, even though the audience may have been younger. You cant tell people how they should sound or who they should cater to just because they reach a certain age, WTH, this is America, people have choice, damn. Mariah may look like a hoochie to most, but if it keeps her happy, so be it. I don't think that the problem is over30 acts dressing young or making immature music, the issue is an industry that exploits artists when they are dumb and stupid and can't control their sound or look and the ignorant audience who believes that younger is better, hence, having fickle taste when an artist does anything different.

  13. @ Empress so once you reach a certain age women arent allowed to wear certain hairstyles either? SMH. Why is it in this country once you hit a certian age you need to turn into an old maid and wear nothing but floor length sequin gowns. Toni does ....1 dance song and now she is being too young..i give up. Mariah cant get out of her F.U. Tommy Matola stage..fair enough because she dresses like that 24/7. I more of a problem with Mariah musically catering to the teens than I do with her dressing though.

  14. I totally cosign with Brian.

  15. The problem with the article is the writer assumes a level of taste that would have been more prevalent 20 years ago. Now our culture espouses -if you got it flaunt it -mantra so anything goes. We hope that after thirty your taste become more refined as an artist and you can rely more on your talents rather than the- sex sells images.
    In a way these artist reflect the desperation many women of this age group secretly hold. The chances for marriage significantly drop so some of us are exposing ourselves more than the youngins.