Welcome to the latest TGJ Roundtable!
Over the years, That Grape Juice has established a distinguished voice that – whether loved or loathed – sparks discussion, debate, and on occasion drama!
Though comprised of seasoned writers who share a similar outlook on Urban Pop culture, the idiosyncrasies of the TGJ team members often lend for quite heated debates “behind the scenes” about the hottest topics.
Now, we give you a front row seat to the show. In a format similar to ‘The View’ or ‘The Real’, TGJ editors – Sam, David, Rashad, and Joe – get real in a very candid way.
Today’s roundtable topic asks each anchor…
What Is On Your 2016 Wish List?!
An Old Skool Beyonce Campaign…With A Twist
The world stopped, looked, and listened quite literally when Beyonce released her game-changing self-titled album on that faithful day in December 2013.
Unannounced the project was unconventional from all corners; indeed its simultaneous video roll-out, its Friday arrival, and general trashing of the rule-book made it a campaign for the ages.
Yet for yours truly there’s aspects of it I’m keen for her to do-away with come the release of the album fans have affectionally codenamed ‘B6.’ Specifically, the lack of promo.
Having observed many a winning and wack album roll-out in my time, there’s no denying the “less is more” approach was smart with self-titled because it heightened the air of mystique around the singer and kept folk on their toes with anticipation.
However, it’s also arguable that one of the drawbacks of this angle is that it stifled what could have been an even bigger commercial success. At the end of the day, promotion does shift units and, given that new video premieres were not an option with the ‘Beyonce’ project, after a while, there wasn’t much to look forward to beyond carefully handpicked award-show performances (of which there were a grand total of…4).
Team Bey have made it clear they won’t be looking to repeat the surprise strategy with future releases and, from where I’m sitting, I hope that means a broader overhaul too.
Put simply, I’d like to see a mixed-mesh of Bey’s new selective approach with the “Old Skool” vigorousness that defined the campaigns for her first three solo efforts (see: being omnipresent).
An artist that has executed this almost flawlessly is Bey’s Columbia Records label-mate Adele. The British star dominated 2015’s 4th quarter and is poised to slay 2016 – and yet note that she’s only made a handful of appearances. The hype around her release (which has smartly been massaged by her team) has become promotion in itself, creating the perfect storm of buzz for continued chart dominance. Another important point to consider is that even though her performances have not been plentiful, in light of how automated her sales have been, she theoretically didn’t “need” to do 3/4 of them — but still did.
Hence, in an ideal scenario, Team Bey will have studied the Adele model and embrace more media opportunities – all the while maintaining the air of prestige and exclusiveness that they have successfully managed to create around her. As such, I’d love to see more performances and interviews (on her terms), while re-affirming her Pop royal status with lucrative lock-out deals (ala Adele’s NBC-only contract) and debuting songs/snippets/or even the album itself in unconventional ways.
In short, mix the old with the new and make a resounding BOOM!
More Artists Should Take The Reigns & Stop Complaining
Recent months have seen a laundry list of Urban acts moaning about major labels not supporting them. And while some were justified, I couldn’t help but think…”girl bye.”
The music industry not being “fair” is not a new development. It’s been that way and will undoubtedly remain so. Is it something I endorse? No. But the reality is that it is what it is. But it need not be doom and gloom for artists that don’t enjoy the luxury of being able to start their own Parkwoods, Westbury Roads, and Roc Nations. For, they too also wield the ability to manufacture momentum.
We live in the viral age, one which affords everyone a platform to make their voices heard without being gagged. It also provides a relatively cost-effective creative space for artists to veer out of the box to build, maintain, and please their public. The problem for too many of the whiny acts is that so much time is spent waiting for the “machine” to start turning in their favour that they don’t rationalise that they have a degree of autonomy to drive their own vehicle to their desired promised land.
Of course, it’s not always as easy said as is done. However, one need not look further than the Chris Browns of the world who use touring and appearance profits to fund their own videos (vital in today’s industry when streaming counts towards chart placement). Sticking with the C. Breezy example, he also highlights how acts can smartly use collaborations as a means of keeping their own brand blazing regardless of whatever politics may be playing out behind the scenes.
In today’s 360 era, building personal and professional relationships beyond the confines of ones music deal also creates promotional opportunities when things aren’t popping per se.
Put simply, complaining does not sell records. Making your moves does.
A Proper Christina Aguilera Comeback
Petty, perhaps. But there’s a part of me that struggles to forgive Xtina for allowing the smash that was 2012’s ‘Your Body’ to die a death. The ‘Lotus’ album too.
Neither were particularly groundbreaking, but after a few difficult years, she finally had enough to work with to carve out a successful comeback at the time.
Alas, as things played out, it was not meant to be.
Aguilera has never been one to churn out albums quickly, but I’m gonna need her to stop playing and accelerate on her return. Thankfully, it appears 2016 is finally “the” time.
She’s been locked away in the studio with the likes of Linda Perry (‘Beautiful’) and Da Internz – who titillatingly described the music they worked on with her as “ratchet caviar.” I, for one, cannot wait to tuck in.
One thing, though…
I’ve always been on the fence about her involvement with The Voice. On the one hand, it’s kept her name in the mix and her pockets lined lusciously. Yet, for many, it’s “stripped” away the coolness of her artist persona and morphed her into more of a television figure for moms who don’t at all translate into the audience ready to buy her epic “lady of the night” anthems ala ‘Your Body,’ ‘Dirrty,’ and ’Not Myself Tonight.’
I also feel the show has made her somewhat complacent too; she reportedly banks $12 million per season of the NBC hit. And for what? Sitting in a spinning chair for three months judging acts who never go on to do anything musically? It’s a much easier gig and one radically more lucrative than counting coins from dwindling music royalties or touring gross (after all invested spend has been recouped). Hence, in a way, one can’t blame her. I just hope that moving forward she prioritises the bigger picture – her modern day relevance and longterm legacy. Because the masses will never share her riches, but they will share her output.
As such, if she insists on staying on the show, I want her to use the platform to aggressively plug her comeback. Place music back at the forefront of her movement.
Beyond the The Voice, she still has a voice (unlike many divas). Hence, I’m keen to see her hit as many stages as possible. Award shows, international circuit. The lot.
One gander of her VEVO views reminds that there is an audience waiting to lap up whatever she puts out. We just need it sooner rather than later.
Positivity Within Pop Music
Competition among fan bases isn’t a new phenomenon, but there’s no denying that it’s become extremely dark in recent years, sucking the positivity out of what should be a fun experience.
For many, entertainment serves a healthy form of escapism, offering fans access into imagined realties far more safer and freeing than their own. The hope, at least from my perspective, is that an artist’s work should give their audience the confidence to go out into the world and enrich their own lives with something they may have learned from their art.
Unfortunately, platforms used to discuss that art (such as social media) can often become just as toxic as the world some use entertainment to escape so I hope 2016 will see all of us use our love and opinions for and on the craft to encourage and inspire one another to pursue the kind of life one doesn’t need to escape from in the first place.
The Return of the Triple Threat
Money. Money. Money.
Contrary to a number of theories whipped up to explain why so many artists are underperforming nowadays, the answer to so many of their problems is money…or their lack of it.
We can all agree that today’s lineup of newbies have the potential to become just as game-changing as the acts who inspired them. As such, it’s difficult for record labels to find the confidence to invest in artists who may pull in millions of single streams…yet deliver ghastly sales with albums.
So, my hope is that 2016 will see more labels and managers read from the Benny Medina Book of Star-Making to pull in a new batch of triple threats.
Unless an artist is guaranteed consistent exposure to their general public their projects are destined to fail.
However, one wonders just how much pulling power an artist like Tinashe would garner for herself if she teamed up with her label to build a relationship (for example) with Sony Pictures in a bid to nab leading roles in big budget movies she’d be able to build an album campaign around.
Keen to ensure that the film project doesn’t tank it would be in all involved’s interests to ensure the artist’s role in it is heavily promoted which in turn works wonders for the music they are touting which in turn…that’s right…works wonders for the label’s profit margins.
If things don’t change, the next generation of Britney‘s, Janet‘s and Beyonce‘s will find themselves in the shadows of Reality TV stars, actors and established musicians who have more exposure to the general public than they do.
Research Before Releasing
Though we’re all for artists pulling and learning from the artists of yesteryear, I hope trends in 2016 encourage more newbies to be more original…or at least know more about the artists they claim to be inspired by.
For, there are far too many R&B starlets running around claiming to be inspired by the late Aaliyah (for example) when they are actually closer in style to Cassie or Aaliyah by way of Jhene Aiko.
For whatever a reason, a lack of research into the ‘Try Again’ singer’s discography and vocal style has seen social media create a new version of the singer who lacks the layers that made the original artist the artist she was.
This pushing of this reimagined (and criminally basic) version of the star is to blame for the thousands of Instagram models/singers who believe they are honouring the singer with their Tomboyish style, wafer thin vocals and underproduced turn-up songs.
With this mind, I sincerely hope this year delivers artists who truly capture the spirit of originality and for the inspired types to do their genesis acts justice.
Brandy’s Return To Prominence
2012’s modern masterpiece, ‘Two Eleven,’ was a foretaste of what I believe Brandy had in store for her long overdue comeback. Unfortunately, instead of capitalizing on the momentum of ‘Put It Down,’ it appears the singer unintentionally lived up to the song’s titling and put “it” down. “It,” in this case, being the album as a whole (singles, its promotion, etc). While there was arguably an opportunity window missed for a great follow-up, I still feel the masses are waiting for her to come with some serious heat. With ‘The Game’ and ‘Zoe Ever After’ helping to introduce her to new audiences, here’s hoping she takes the renewed interest and redirects it to her music and gives us a ‘Two Eleven’ meets ‘Full Moon’-esque body of work. In other words, unapologetic R&B with a hint of radio-friendly.
An R&B Vocal Group
This was on my wish list for last year, but apparently the music gods didn’t hear me. Let me try again.
Growing up in an era that saw Boyz II Men & En Vogue carry on the R&B traditions of acts that preceded them, it’s hard for me to accept that there are no real vocal groups (sans Pentatonix) to be found on charts! As I stated previously, even in the fluff of the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, and 98 Degrees kinds of groups, they at least had a handle on harmony and vocals.
At this point, even though they weren’t vocal groups, a B2K or Mindless Behavior will do. I just need some stageblazers who can act as a male answer to the rising group Fifth Harmony.
Lady Gaga To Quit Playing and Give Us the Business
Gaga…girl…what’s really going on? For as much as I am here for her displays of artistry and versatility, I can’t get jiggy with another duet album with Tony Bennett. I need a collection of bangers, single-worthy numbers to reassert her position on the Pop landscape.
She let Katy Perry leave her in the dust with ‘Prism’ and Taylor come behind and finish the job with ‘1989.’ I now need Gaga to come back with vengeance and give us all kinds of ‘G.U.Y.,’ ‘Poker Face,’ ‘Bad Romance,’ and more. Ditch the socially conscious angle for 5 seconds (or at least get more creative in how its provided) and give us the Gaga we fell in love with.
I’m afraid she may be running out of chances.
The Return of Destiny’s Child
The return of Destiny’s Child, in any shape or form, would be a tremendous event in 2016. With the ladies very in-demand in their respective lanes, this (I feel) could only work as a conceptual project.
I am thinking an EP, joint album and/or tour, residency or even coming back under another name (to avoid legal drama with former manager Mathew Knowles).
Alas, with the ladies scheduled to release respective albums in this very year, chances are arguably slim that this witness this wish materialize. Then again, via the likes of Drake and Chris Brown, we’re continually seeing the “one project per year” rule done away with. Hmm.
The Re-Emergence of Maxwell
In 2009, Maxwell released his fourth effort ‘BLACKsummers’night’ to fantastic sales, even more amazing reviews, and has since toured the world several times over. I would love to see him release the long-promised second instalment of the trilogy.
With D’Angelo‘s surprise effort sending the soul lovers into a frenzy in 2015 (and earning a Grammy nomination in the process), the ascension of The Weeknd and of course the chart glory of an artist like Adele, it seems the time is right again for Max to share his brand of grown and sexy with us and bag himself a few more honors along the way.
An Alicia Keys Comeback
After a long period of only focusing on which song sounded better in a club environment, the industry is arguably back to rewarding pure talent. The likes of Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and Adele are touching numbers the Biebers, Derulos and Rihannas could only dream of. There is arguably one artist who has every single requirements to join said mega-sellers list: Alicia Keys.
Though her last effort ‘Girl On Fire’ didn’t quite set the charts on alight, its title track is etched in the minds of the masses as seen on the numerous talent shows across the globe. As such, I’m convinced that with the right approach – probably a more “back to basics” one – Ms. Keys could recapture that very audience that made her first three efforts blueprints of modern R&B.
Do you agree with our picks? Who was spot on? Let us know your thoughts on the latest TGJ Roundtable and your own 2016 wish list!