Can Black Divas Rise Again?

Despite the superstardom of Beyoncé and Rihanna, the 2010s have been rough for black female singers.

Jeremy Helligar

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Photo: VS-angel/Deviant Art

Once upon a time (circa 2008), black female singers didn’t quite run the world, but they ruled a sizable chunk of it. Beyoncé was already well into her Queen Bey reign, and Rihanna was starting to challenge her for the crown.

Alicia Keys was still a chart superstar, big enough to be entrusted with singing a Bond theme (“Another Way to Die,” a Jack White duet from the 2008 007 film Quantum of Solace). Pop’s hit list also included ’90s holdovers like Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, who the previous year had sold 629,000 copies of Growing Pains, her eighth studio album, in just one week.

Despite being a superstar for four decades, the Queen of Soul wasn’t resting on her laurels — or her throne. Aretha Franklin was months away from her show-stopping and (natch) jaw-dropping performance at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. And her goddaughter Whitney Houston was one year and two weeks (exactly, as of this article’s publishing date) away from her swan-song/comeback album I Look to You.

Fast forward a decade, and things have changed as dramatically as Houston’s vocal key at the end of “Saving All My Love for You.” With hip hop continuing to scale new peaks of popularity in 2018, black female singers seem to have largely gone out of fashion.

Of the ones who dominated 2008 and the decade before it, only Beyoncé and Rihanna remain vital sales forces, and the former hasn’t had her very own solo radio smash in nearly a decade. Janet Jackson, who hasn’t scored a hit this century, is currently touring the U.S. as a nostalgia act. Carey hasn’t released a platinum album (or a major single) since 2008’s E=MC², and the returns on every new Keys release have diminished to the point that 2016’s Here didn’t even go gold.

Keyshia Cole’s burst of noughties stardom has faded, as has Keri Hilson’s. Recently minted Oscar nominee Blige has enjoyed more 2010s success in movies than in music, and Houston, sadly, is no longer with us.

Because music is cyclical, a change is gonna come — eventually. Right? Maybe one is already on the way. It’s too early to tell if they’ll…

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Jeremy Helligar

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj