One of my favorite movies, Dreamgirls, actually does a pretty good job of calling out a lot of issues from Motown era music. The movie talks about contracts that are essentially enslavement, the value of image over talent, and payola in detail, but most of the issues can be traced back to a single scene. The Dreamettes and Jimmy Early have their first big hit with “Cadillac Car” and after hearing it on the radio and watching it (slowly) climb up the charts they were treated to a white group covering their song for their own audience. The Dreamettes and the song writer are understandably shocked and upset, and it was that blatant appropriation that started all the other big problems. The cool thing about Dreamgirls and most good art is that even long after its release it is still relevant; as payola, image over talent, and bad contracts continue so does blatant appropriation of black music. Even worse, nowadays we support it.
I could talk for literally hours about the history of cultural appropriation in music and how it has led downright bad artists to become the "faces" of a genre. However, I want to talk about Soul music and how it in particular has been taken over by a new British Invasion, particularly new-age crooner Sam Smith and “everybody’s” favorite chunky girl: Adele. America has always been fascinated with difference that’s not “too different”; like the minority who "acts white" and people from Europe, Britain especially. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Joss Stone have just what mainstream America wants: something exotic that still can be considered white. I mean think about it this way. How many videos of white D9 frat members have we gone up for? How many white kids dancing or singing "like a black person" have we seen on Facebook and shared? If we do that for regular old white people here you can imagine what we do when the fancy white people from Britain wanna sing Black music.
I know what you’re thinking. “Music has no color! Anybody can sing anything! You’re just hating on Adele’s success!” First of all I am in no way hating on Adele, Sam, or anybody’s success. I actually like Adele and have quite a few of her songs on my phone; same with Sam (though he bothers me for other reasons). And yes anybody can sing anything but to ignore the fact that Soul music stems from Gospel music, which is DIRECTLY connected to the struggles of Black people in this country, is foolish. You also can’t ignore the fact that many of these artists only sell so much because they are more appealing to the “masses”. American artists J. Cole and even Eminem admit to the double standards of the music industry when it comes to white artists, and the charts and mainstream America's general opinion back them up. For some reason it is difficult for people to realize that pointing out privilege doesn’t mean you hate that person, it just means you hate the special treatment they are given that few others get.
Let’s take a look at that special treatment. Adele sets a number of sales records, everybody and their momma calls her the second coming of musical Jesus, and no one bats an eye. Beyonce sets a similar number of records and the Beyhive are rabid animals for praising their “Queen Bey”. Sam Smith writes a gender neutral album, tells people it’s about a man after it’s successful and he gets praised as a gay icon and gets awards thrown at him. Frank Ocean writes a coming out letter and then an album with several tracks blatantly dedicated to men only to get much fewer awards and less acclaim. While it is sad but expected that mainstream overpraises these artists, the fact that so many Black people praise “blue-eyed Soul” but wouldn’t dare listen to “regular Soul” is especially disheartening. Its like for them Soul music wasn't real until Adele started singing it, and nobody can sing it quite like her.
THAT is something I hate. It bothers me to hear other Black people say, “Adele is a real talent! She doesn’t have to take her clothes off to sell records! We need more big women like her singing with SOUL” like Jill Scott doesn’t exist AND didn’t just come out with an album. It drives me up a wall to hear people say “I wish more men sang about more than just SEX like how Sam Smith does! He’s bringing back real R&B!” like Tyrese and Tank aren’t literally begging y’all to buy their albums. I hate it when other black people get blinded by the whiteness (or the British-ness) of these artists and bash the black ones. Adele and Sam Smith are simply repeating the formula that Black artists created and have been working on for years, but a lot of times they get the most praises from Black people who see a white face attached and automatically think its better. I like Adele and Sam Smith, but when other artists can sing their songs better than them I know I can’t fix my mouth to call them “the greatest ever”. We have to stop overpraising white artists for doing the same things black ones are doing, especially when the black artists oftentimes do it better.
What do you think of "The Adele Effect" of white artists validating black music? Is this really a problem in your mind, or should we be glad that someone else wants to sing like us? Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!