By Marcus Kalesti
Music has never been easy for Tinashe. When Tinashe Kachingwe put out her first mixtape, she began making a name for herself in the world of R&B and Pop. She released three mixtapes from 2011-2013, all featuring dark, moody and atmospheric R&B, which was unique and refreshing, especially since she wrote and produced almost all of the songs. In 2012, Tinashe signed with RCA and in 2014 released her debut album, Aquarius.
Aquarius had the sound that she became known for but after it didn’t churn out any more hits, RCA wanted Tinashe to release music with a much more pop sound. Tinashe can sing, dance, and write her own music which makes her a triple threat who wanted stardom but didn’t expect to have to sacrifice her craft to achieve her goals. From 2015-2017 she released three singles, “Player”, “Superlove”, and “Flame,” which were all pop songs that sound nothing like her mixtapes or album. All of these songs were made to become hits in order for RCA to release her second album, Joyride and unfortunately, none of them did.
In late 2016 she released another mixtape/album called Nightride that was filled with her original sound but RCA didn’t promote it and it never made any noise. She finally released Joyride in April of 2018 and while it has her sound there are also a number of pop songs that don’t fit well with the album. Tinashe doesn’t mind releasing pop songs but the way RCA treats her as an artist is disrespectful since she shouldn’t have to compromise her art to become a star, which is what RCA has forced her to do by releasing three pop singles.
In music culture, there’s a mentality of “there can only be one”. This exists in the minds of record labels and fans alike and it plagues all genres and artists but it’s particularly damaging for women in music, especially women of color. There are many women of color in the music world, but mainstream music isn’t necessarily representative of diversity. When there is one major star representing a race or a particular genre or style of music, it leaves little room for others of similar backgrounds. It’s important that this becomes a larger conversation for the sake of struggling artistry, lack of diversity and good music in the mainstream.
Record labels play a huge part in the absence of diversity. If you aren’t willing to sound radio-friendly, add useless features or collaborate with other popular artists then labels will make it very tough for you to break out as a solo star and reach mainstream success. While Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez can get away with releasing snoozer pop music, Tinashe has to water down the exceptional sound she made her name on. It seems that white women who don’t even write their music(apart from Swift) or dance can get away with whatever they want, but a black woman who can do both struggles to put out an album they can be proud of. The record labels clearly think that since other black women are releasing similar music, there can’t be others who are just as talented as the mega-stars.
Labels aren’t the only ones responsible for the mentality of “there can only be one” and lack of diversity. Fans are just as much to blame. If you go on twitter and check out anything related to the pop stars or women in music, you’ll find thousands of fans arguing who’s better, calling artists ugly or telling them that their music sucks. It’s a toxic world that fuels competition and bitterness. Beyonce and Rihanna’s fans, the Beyhive and the Navy are especially responsible for this culture. Beyonce and Rihanna are at no fault for this and have no problem with each other as far as we know, but if you’re a Beyonce fan then you can’t be a Rihanna fan. The Beyhive will come after Rihanna for anything she does just as the Navy does the same to Beyonce. Don’t even get me started on other women in R&B and pop like Tinashe or SZA. The Beyhive and Navy feel the need to belittle women who aren’t as successful as Beyonce or Rihanna saying things like, “Well, she’ll never be as big as Beyonce”. Why can’t we all just enjoy all artists for their differences? Music is not meant to be a competition. If these artists had issues with each other then that’s one thing, but if fans are trying to incite a beef then that’s wrong.
Beyond the issues of “there can only be one” there is a general lack of diversity of race and styles in music. Yes, we have Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Kehlani, SZA, and Camila Cabello as current stars but there are countless others who deserve the same. Artists like Kelela, Azealia Banks, ABRA, Empress Of, Kali Uchis, and FKA twigs are just a few women of color who could be major but aren’t given the chance to shine.
On top of the lack of Black and Latina women, there are zero major female Asian stars in the U.S. CL, who was a member of superstar K-pop group 2NE1, signed with Scooter Braun, manager of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, in the hopes of breaking in the U.S. That was 3-4 years ago and CL struggles to put out singles let alone an album. K-pop is slowly become a bigger market to the U.S. but will radio play music that is entirely Korean? If “Despacito” can become the biggest song of 2017, then there is no reason K-pop can’t make it here too. There is no reason that talented, entertaining, and refreshing women of color can’t have the stardom and the hits that countless artists on the radio have.