Ciara, Kelly Rowland and Justin Timberlake. These artists are among the very best of their generation; each dominating a completely different genre of music. However, they all have one thing in common: the inability to successfully branch out beyond the confines of their primary music markets and into different genres. It seems that unlike international territories, the US music industry remains segregated; governed by unspoken rules regarding race and ethnicity; refusing to allow artists to explore new sounds that do not match established audience perceptions of what they acts “should” be performing.
Indeed, the US music scene remains intent on suppressing the talents of artists; stuffing them into box marked by various stereotypes. For instance, when Ciara first emerged on the charts in 20o4, she was hailed as one of the hottest newcomers in R&B, partially filling the void that was left by the late Aaliyah. From her Hip-Hop-inspired sound to her full-fledged Urban appeal, she easily dominated the R&B charts for most of that year. Yet, Ciara found herself on the receiving end of severe criticism when she indulged in Pop/Dance music on her ‘Fantasy Ride’ LP, with several US critics and DJ’s claiming that she had abandoned her Urban audience in an effort to to appeal to a more “white” following.
Kelly Rowland has encountered a similar backlash in recent years as well. Despite struggling to score a hit after her initial solo smash, ‘Dilemma‘, Rowland seems to have finally found her niche with her new Dance-oriented sound; amassing incredible success in the UK, Europe and Australia. Nevertheless, such triumphs were not reflected in the US, where her 2009 hit, ‘When Love Takes Over’, only peaked at #76 on the Billboard Hot 100. Like Ciara, many of individuals in the US refused to acknowledge her artistic growth and criticised Rowland for abandoning her Urban roots.
Nonetheless, these pressures are not only encountered on the charts. Justin Timberlake had several incredible accomplishments across all formats, especially with his TI-assisted hit, ‘My Love’. However, his music was blatantly ignored by his own peers at the Grammy Awards where they refused to nominate his straightforward Urban recordings in any of the R&B categories; an occurrence many attribute to the colour of his skin.
So, while many many aspects of life in the US are slowly being liberated, the music industry remains an area of tension and unfair categorisation. In light of new reports that even Jennifer Hudson is being forced by industry pundits to rework the Euro-dance sound of her upcoming album and stick to her R&B roots, it is clear that full artistic freedom continues to be subjected to underlying pressures involving race and ethnicity. However, with Rihanna and Beyonce managing to successfully branch out and evade such conflict, there may yet be hope for other acts as well.