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Monday, August 22, 2011

Urban-pop artists get no love

Kelly Rowland, Melanie Fiona, Keri Hilson, Ciara...these ladies have a very hard time consistently breaking through with hits. Every time they come close, they get tripped up again and lose whatever momentum they had before.

This isn't to say they're all just victim of current music trends, because in each case I can point to mistakes that their labels and/or management teams are making. However, I think that  the reason these mistakes are being made most of the time is because all of them are a hard sell. They're too pop to really be considered urban, but they're too urban to be called pop. And since CHR basically decided three years ago that it's only going to take one urban hit at a time, these ladies get screwed. It's expensive as hell trying to promote a song on CHR so other than Keri getting one top 10 hit with Knocks You Down and a mild top 30 hit with Pretty Girl Rock, they're generally out of luck here. So they're left to try to cater to urban, but they don't quite fit in there, either.

Keri, for example, just does not sell urban songs very well. She chose "One Night Stand" as a single because apparently that is what her hardcore fans said they wanted. Urban radio responded by barely touching it, and now the subsequent (and much superior, but more pop-leaning than urban) single "Lose Control" has suffered the same fate. Melanie Fiona has the quadruple whammy of being equal parts urban, pop, urban AC, AND throwback, so she really has a hard time shoehorning herself onto any particular format due to sounding like at least three other things. Her one legit hit was the completely urban "It Kills Me," but I find it unfair to expect her to limit herself to purely urban music; her retro-flavor debut album was a solid piece of work and deserved more attention. Ciara, poor girl, can't win for losing...besides innumerable label shenanigans, she is constantly called out for simultaneously not evolving her sound and yest "abandoning" her original urban roots. Which is it? Last time I checked it's not abandonment if you don't leave it. People need to make up their minds what excuse they're going to use for not buying into her anymore. And Kelly Rowland...I don't even know what the hell her label/team is smoking these days but it takes a special kind of sloppy to have a monster urban hit like Motivation, but barely crack 75k in opening week sales and not have a follow-up single ready until a month after the album drops. She said in an interview that her team is concentrating on the long-term sales of the era. The way they're letting Here I Am plummet you'd never know.

I've gotten myself sidetracked. To get back to my original point, it's NOT the music that is the problem. They have good music. The problem is that this music doesn't have a home. CHR isn't a real 'sound,' it's just another term for popular music. Urban music is VERY popular, but most so when it has some poppy elements to make it more appealing to the masses. There is a difference between say, Keri Hilson and Monica, you know? It's hard to put into words what moves someone from being a purely urban attraction to being able to appeal to pop fans, but you know it when you hear it. And one of the reasons I'm not happy about CHR freezing out many of these urban-pop songs is because I believe there are a lot of CHR fans who normally don't listen to urban radio, but like urban-lite songs. They may not be a Trey Songz fan but would be more likely to be into some of Lloyd's music. These types of music fans are being prevented from hearing a LOT of music that would appeal to them because CHR has decided almost uniformly and without warrant that urban is not what's "in" right now.

In my dream world, where I am 50-75 pounds lighter and Kelly Clarkson's My December went 5 times platinum and swept the Grammys, there is an urban-pop format. This is the format where urban lite girls and boys go to get played, so that when CHR has one of its mood swings and decides it wants to freeze out an entire freaking genre, they don't get screwed. In theory rhythmic would be this format, but in reality rhythmic plays a) hip-pop, not r&b pop; and b) already well-established names like Rihanna and Beyoncé. This isn't to say that my imaginary format could not play Ri and Bey, but those two don't need the third niche format nearly as much as artists like Ciara and Keri do. For Rihanna a third format is just another way to boost already-high audience impressions and guarantee a number one. For artists like the one I've mentioned, it would just guarantee that they would get played somewhere at all.

The artists I have mentioned in my post are far from the only ones who could benefit from such a format, they are just the ones I happened to think of. If Ashanti and Brandy were to ever make a comeback they'd be perfectly suited for it as well. JoJo and Jordin Sparks could very well rule it as well.

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