A contested area in pop writing/listening/fandom is what to do with black women who make pop music that doesn’t fit into the preselected categories of Tragic Diva, Imperious Diva, or Hypersexual Fantasy Figure. Who make pop music that is silly, or disposable, or fluffy. Who make pop music, that is, like white girls (are allowed to) make pop music: sugary, not necessarily attitudinal, wistful, bitchy (if bitchy) not as a public posture but as a means of interpersonal relations.
The thought experiment swirling round in my head is: would (could) Carly Rae Jepsen have been so warmly embraced if she were black? How about Katy Perry? Dev? Taylor Swift? Post-Blackout Britney? What markers of “authenticity” do we require from black women that we don’t from white women? What performative identities do we limit them to? And has this narrowed over the past ten years — is it, for example, why Ciara, Cassie, etc. have found it hard to mount commercially viable second acts?
Apologies for the eye-bleeding obviousness (if it is obvious), as well as for my clumsiness in stating it. It’s just been percolating, and the recent Minaj dustup forced my brain to attempt to twist my thoughts into words.
i think the quick, basic, oversimplified answer is “there is no place for black women in mass pop culture except where they are expressly allowed, and those allowances are based entirely on established stereotypes.” it’s hard enough for black women to make it to the ‘top’ in entertainment (has beyonce even had a song from 4 in the Top 10? seems there are fewer and fewer black artists in it every year), it’s almost unimaginable for them to do so while smashing expectations of how they’re supposed to act. sorry to change media, but i can’t stop thinking about the outcry over amandla stenberg, who had the audacity to play a black character that registered as ‘white’ to white readers.
reason two hundred why nicki minaj is important and i immediately question the character of people who dislike her without presenting a good reason.
Willow Smith sort of manages to make frothy, sugary pop while being feisty, attitudinal and not having the latter traits overwhelm perceptions created by the former, but she’s not terribly successful commercially with her music and I reckon a lot of her managing this has to do with age. Though, to go back to Amandla Stenberg, the fact that she was young didn’t seem to prevent many from viewing her role as an innocent girl as inauthentic.
Also, the amount of these established stereotypes for black women in music that still work and are successful are shrinking. Ciara is an artist and performer in the vain of Janet Jackson, and Janet herself hasn’t been having much success with that these days. The charts are mostly Rihanna, Nicki and Beyonce these days when talking consistent black female representation in the top of the charts, and as Zach said, Beyonce hasn’t had huge chart hits recently. Her highest single from 4 peaked at 16.