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 2018 Wish List?!
The Return Of Beyonce – The Pop Star
With over 20 years in the game, Beyonce has mastered the art of metamorphism.
She’s anchored one of the greatest groups of all time, become a showgirl solo superstar, and been coronated as a Pop cultural Queen.
Recent years have seen her embrace a “less is more” approach with everything from her music (stripped back beats), image (less sparkle, more grit), and media presence (no interviews). All of which have proven powerful in maintaining her star and the demand for it.
And while this has facilitated a climate where she she is being showered with more critical acclaim than ever (see: self-titled and ‘Lemonade’), there have been drawbacks.
Calling a spade a spade, she’s not as omnipresent on radio, in the clubs, or on streaming services as she was. All intentional, but it’s something that has perplexed me a little because she – quite easily – has the ability to “have it all.” And I suspect that may be her next play.
That hat-trick of Pop-leaning collaborations last Fall felt like a smart chess move to re-assert her position on mainstream radio as well as non-TIDAL streaming services. And it worked. She scored a #1 with Ed Sheeran, a #3 with J Balvin, and a top 20 with Eminem.
With that foundation set, I’d like to see her use her next project to continue the return to more mass appealing terrain.
Not to suggest that she should compromise on her Urban core, but it’d be epic to see her deliver a “Sasha-fied” take on a specific sound and aesthetic. Much like Bruno Mars’ ’24k Magic’ or better yet her own ‘B’Day’ era.
All in all, willing something lighter, more uplifting, and carefree this go round from Queen Bey. The darker, edgier lean of recent years was necessary for the brand at the time. But now I’m keen for her to turn a corner and strut on more familiar ground.
For The “Coming Soon Crew” To Actually Come Through
Christina Aguilera, Kelly Rowland, and Keri Hilson are just a few of the names whose new material is consistently “coming soon.”
Yes, music is art, expression, and all that good stuff. But it’s also a business. A reality these artists no doubt understand in ways we won’t.
With said knowledge, though, should come the parallel understanding that time waits for no one.
Recent years have seen some of the crew’s more senior signees learn the hard way that bench-warming for extended periods can backfire so badly that it’s hard to bounce back from. Just ask the likes of Fergie and Gwen Stefani.
So, for yours truly, a lot of these acts ought to stop with the pausing and pacing and just swing the bat. Even if it doesn’t hit, there’ll be other chances. All the waiting and agitating is so tiresome that fans may well be fast asleep when they finally decide to proceed.
The game has changed, as such the notion of underperforming, disappearing for long stretches, and rising like a phoenix years later is rarer than rare. In its place the new generation are powering on with a mindset of “more, more, more” and “keep it moving.” A mantra seasoned acts could learn from.
‘Emancipation’ Eras For A Select Few
As comeback’s go, few are as notable in scale and resonance as Mariah Carey‘s 2005 rise from the Pop abyss with ‘The Emancipation Of Mimi.’
Very much a millennial answer to Tina Turner‘s 1985 revival, the “era” updated the blueprint of an artist fighting their way out of a backed-corner to fresh triumph; with wins so big that they often dwarf the wins achieved during earlier heydays.
In 2018, sales are no longer the key metric of success. As such having an ‘Emancipation’ quite easily means different things for different people. With that, here’s what I’m wishing and willing for the following…
Janet Jackson – Stage domination! Whether Super Bowl, new tour, or Vegas, I’d love to see Janet maintain her ‘State Of The World’ momentum and go all out in 2018. Principally to remind the masses of her living legend status. She was done wrong in ways that are too numerous to re-count, but she could re-write her story in an epic way if she chooses.
Usher – The struggle has been real to sing about anything as compelling as ‘Confessions’ since…well…’Confessions.’ His silence in the midst of his recent scandal has oddly but surely created a scenario where he has the potential to have a real “moment” pop culturally speaking. Seize it!
Brandy – With her legal woes behind her, it’d be awesome to see B-Rocka regain her footing. Whether that be a critically acclaimed album, a hit Urban single, a successful tour, something…anything.
Mariah – Sequels are rarely as good as the original, so in no way expecting Mimi to enjoy 05′ flavored glory. Still, with Roc Nation on-side and ample good will from her New Year’s do-over, it’d be awesome to see her release a strong album (that delivers critically and commercially) and pairs it with an era (performances + aesthetic) that is flaw-free.
Beyond wishes, I more than anything want to be surprised in 2018 – from unique release strategies, to shock collaborations, to rule-breaking roll-outs. Here’s to an epic year!
If 2017 taught us anything it’s that nothing is ever as it seems when it comes to the entertainment industry.
With the #MeToo movement and Kesha‘s harrowing story in mind, I’m hoping 2018 will see the industry become more transparent, boot out its own Harvey Weinsteins as well as do more to protect and educate aspiring artists.
Of course, abuse takes places in all corners of the world but the secretive nature of the business allows it to “flourish” in ways that it doesn’t in heavily regulated industries.
So, here’s hoping last year’s surprising revelations in Hollywood inspires all of us in music to look out for each other and make the scene we all love and care for a hostile and inhospitable environment for lecherous perverts.
Let me know how you think we can combat them in the comment section below.
The Return Of All-Out The International Campaigns
Recent years have seen international promotional campaigns die.
The result? Missed opportunities to build fan bases and boost profiles overseas. I’m hoping to see more artists take their campaigns outside of the United States and push harder on a global tip.
Fortunately, we’ve already seen the likes of Khalid and Camilla Cabello put the above in motion with their new releases so I look forward to seeing more of the same from their peers and their more established peers.
The Return Of Character-Driven Movies
A little different, but I digress…
As cool as huge tentpole action flicks are, I’d like to see Hollywood invest just as much into creating original movies akin to ‘American Psycho‘, ‘Girl Interrupted’ and ‘Doubt.’
Movies like these have been forced to find homes on platforms like Netflix or television but it’d be awesome to see a new wave of actors ushered into Hollywood via original stories that give them the room to showcase skills that are hard to flaunt in action projects.
Last year I wished for a return to prominence of Mary J. Blige. That wish, though not in the manner expected, was granted. Now, this year I’m hoping for the following:
Chris Brown to (Technically) Take a Year Off
Regardless of how many times his personal life has overshadowed that of his professional, one thing that’s never been impacted is Chris Brown‘s work ethic. With his own LPs, collaborations dropping left and right, and unexpected – and (arguably) widely undesired – mixtapes, playlists, EPs, and more, Brown has taken the idea of “market saturation” to extremes I’m not sure the industry has ever seen.
One on side of the coin, you can’t knock the man’s hustle as it is fundamentally his job as a musician to create music. But, the reality is simple; his music cannibalizes itself. In never knowing what his “active” single is given how quickly these songs overlap (and this does include his features), fans are often left to gravitate to whatever catches their ears.
This overproduction, in turn, creates a new problem: too many of the songs sound similar. All in all, Chris – an extremely talented singer, songwriter, and producer – just needs to take a break. That “break” can take many forms and includes, but is certainly not limited to, the following: more behind the scenes collaborations (i.e. letting other people in on his creative process), touring, venturing into acting more, or simply chilling the f*ck out.
Either way, it’s clear that Chris is creating his own path in music history, but I think it’d be better appreciated if spaced out.
The Breakthrough of a Group
As an 80s kid who grew up in the 90s, vocal groups have always had a special place in my heart. And, while I am not realistically looking for the reincarnation of En Vogue or Boyz II Men, I do believe 2018 can offer at least a new age Danity Kane or Day 26. I recognize the 2010s hasn’t exactly been the most welcoming of Urban composites, but I still have hope that some bomb ass trio, quartet, or even quintet will start making waves on the scene.
P.S. – I wish for this annually, yet all I’ve gotten so far is Fifth Harmony. At least the universe is getting warmer, but not quite there…yet.
Usher To Comeback With Undeniable Heat
The reality is this: the odds were already stacked against Usher’s comeback before 2017. Being completely honest, Usher is character who will always be “relevant” in the grand scheme of Urban culture (especially given the dearth of active/charting R&B divos), but his last two albums critically and commercially left so much to be desired it started questions about exactly where his name ranks on the list (of relevance). So, adding a scandal of any sort – especially one that directly impacts his female supporters’ outlook on his overall “package” (no pun intended) – is just that much of a roadblock.
Interestingly, I do not see the challenge as insurmountable. While I am by no means hoping for another ‘Confessions’ in terms of content, I am hoping that he finds the creative balance between style and substance befitting an R&B veteran nearing 40. No ‘I Don’t Mind’ or ‘No Limit’-esque, trap-pop inspired numbers. And, if the trap route is undeniable, find ways to make it so qualitative that critics don’t look at it like you conforming to the sound as much as you taking it to the next level.
Fifth Harmony Signs To New Label
With Camila Cabello hitting #1 with both her single and album, it seems like her transition into a bonafide solo act is finally complete. Meaning it’s only natural that she now serves as a priority act on her label… a label she still shares with her former bandmates Fifth Harmony.
Now, in which universe would that be fair to the group?
Arguably, the ladies have released material that is on-par with hers throughout 2017, yet it’s been evident which act garnered more support from the label… and, with the way things are going, it’s only going to intensify.
I believe Normani, Ally, Dinah and Lauren deserve a chance to redeem themselves and that can only happen in a brand new environment where they won’t be playing second fiddle.
Though Camila has always been the most charismatic member of the ensemble, I refuse to believe that she was the sole reason behind successes such as ‘Work From Home’ and ‘Worth It.’
So, for me, all 5H need is the right push and they’ll get back in no time to the top of the charts — next to their former colleague.
More Netflix-Like Music Documentaries
Long gone are the days when fans could expect a mandatory DVD of their favorite concert at the end of an album cycle. A decade ago, it was still the usual way to seal a project.
But the concept of a “deeper” look into the behind the scenes of an “era” is still proving a powerful tool
In 2017, after a slow start with ‘Joanne’ LP, Lady Gaga turned turned the tide in her favor with an epic Super Bowl performance and – relative to the point at hand – an intriguing Netflix documentary. Christened ‘Five Foot 2,’ the doc turned into a critics favorite and an oh-so-necessary re-introduction of Gaga to the world.
With the popstar now back on the elite map, a lot of artists have turned to the “docu” format to promote their new music, including Demi Lovato and to an extent Katy Perry, to varying results.
In 2018, I expect a lot more artists to follow suit, as this represents a great way of linking the music and the intention behind it. Ever since Beyonce’s self-titled anarchist release, it’s been all about “promoting by not promoting” — which isn’t necessary for everyone (see: the ineffectiveness of Taylor Swift’s current campaign).
A lot more artists could benefit from this format, especially considering the impact of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and YouTube.
I, for one, can’t wait for Janet Jackson’s rumored special where she’ll address the latest in her life (her divorce, going back on tour, new music and of course her life as a new mom).
A Brand New Urban Boyband
I know, it was already on my list last year. It still is this year, simply because it still hasn’t happened. I’m still down for an urban alternative to One Direction, essentially male Fifth Harmony, for the very same reasons too.
From the Jackson 5, the Temptations, to New Edition and Boyz II Men, boybands have gone to achieve immense feats in the history of music, as such I firmly believe a new breed of male ensembles could generate new success narratives.
Do you agree with our picks? Who was spot on? Let us know your thoughts on the latest TGJ Roundtable and your own 2018 wish list!