When I first sat down to write this piece, I started to have second thoughts….then third, then fourth. Do I want to be that recording artist harping on about some race issue? Yes, sure it bothers me…but I thought maybe I should just shut my mouth and focus on the music.
It’s a bit of a catch 22. Ever notice that celebrities are often shamed for not speaking out about things that frustrate us? The trouble is, once someone decides to step out and speak up, the backlash can be so overwhelming that that brave soul may be forced into hiding until we kind of forget about it all. So, imagine me, an independent artist whose prospects sort of depend on being liked and who risks being seen as just another “angry black woman”, simply for speaking out. By the way – who coined that term? It’s horrible.
Not to mention, shortly after agreeing to do this, my grandmother died. I was one of those kids whose grandma had to step in as mother and father.
I lost my nerve.
Then it hit me. This isn’t about me. This is about addressing the poorly ageing elephant in the pop world’s room. Growing up in Brooklyn, I went to a Catholic church and joined the choir because it made going to service more fun for me, as I have always loved music. If you’ve ever been to a Catholic church, you know the style of singing is more Disney than gospel. At home, before I developed my own taste in music, all I heard was Michael, Prince, Whitney, Sade, Madonna, Janet, and some of the best reggae.
I also wrote poems. Hours of vegging out watching music videos got me thinking I could maybe write songs one day. Between my uncle’s encouragement and my friends saying “If this was a little longer with a chorus, it could be a song!” I got very excited about songwriting. It was all great fun until I started to learn that the music industry loves categories, and that I didn’t fit neatly into any of them. I was often described as “eclectic”. I’ve had producers tell me I was weird, and many people tell me I “sound white”.
Me, doing my thing, apparently sounding “white”.
Whenever I did write something “alternative” that might have had great potential, I was encouraged to give it to someone else. It was all about finding girls who looked/could look racially ambiguous enough to mold into stars using some of my songs, because I didn’t make sense to anyone. This was during a time when I craved validation like air to breathe. Things started to change. I went into what I would call a creative coma. My songs became very safe; I wanted to be easy to digest…easy to understand.
My journey led me to years of chasing after a coveted writing slot on a major artist’s record – like those of Beyoncé or Rihanna. Even an album cut could have been life changing. It seemed worth negating my own art at the time. Eventually, I couldn’t ignore the little girl who started writing songs simply out of a love and need to write though; I was lost. The good news was, however, I started to realize I was lost.
In starting to find myself I went from this, which was written in 2012:
To this, which was written in 2014:
The difference for me is feeling more than thinking. In 2012 I wanted to prove myself as a songwriter, without doing straight dance or pop and I made it a point to add a tribal element to my music. It was early on in defining my own sound, but in hindsight, it was a bit people pleasing. I was afraid of being too strange, hoping to safely and quietly spill into the mainstream.
With very few exceptions, pop artists/stars of color have a secret code to uphold. The tried and true way of stepping outside of the confines of “black music” and “acting black” is to first prove one’s blackness by doing the requisite “urban” style songs, getting a rapper to co-sign or engaging in plain rachetry (is that a word or did I just make that up?) Only then does it seem you can dip your toe into what music executives refer to as “alternative” and take a shot at experimenting outside of what is generally considered to be “black music”.
It’s a balancing act that one has to carry out so seamlessly, the public would never suspect it was a strategy at all. All part of this formula to avoid not being relatable, which in the music industry is code for not being a *gasp* RISK. It’s an outdated way of thinking.
Maybe in 1994 this system was necessary, but all it takes is a scroll through Instagram to see the world is a different place now. We are all exposed to so much. We’ve grown up influenced by many things.
Polaroid editorial courtesy of Bullett Magazine.
And, whilst record labels often shun black artists who experiment outside the confinements of “black music”, rappers like Brooke Candy and Iggy Azalea come along illuminated by some mysterious halo. I admire both of them for different reasons: as a woman, and as an independent artist…but as a black girl from Brooklyn, I can’t pretend to be blind to a bit of a double standard here.
It’s disappointing to say the least.
Genre lines are more blurred than ever. However, looking around, it seems that artists of color in the pop world don’t enjoy this new musical landscape as freely, and in fact meet more resistance, than their blond/blue eyed peers. I’m all for holding hands, being equal and singing songs together, but the fact is we are not there yet and no change has ever come about by pretending change was not needed. An underlying racism still exists within the music industry and it needs to be discussed.
This isn’t a black thing. It’s a freedom thing. It’s about self expression and not being boxed in by the perception of others…by what some company, or group of people think you should sound like, look like, behave live, sing or rap like. I don’t sound like some cookie cutter popstar. I sound like Moxiie.
Jilted 2.0 – Premiered on HypeTrak this Tuesday – The REO Remix.
Artists like M.I.A, Santigold, Frank Ocean, Stromae and FKA Twigs have proven that the old paradigm does not accurately reflect the world we live in and that audiences are open to more. I’ll bet that before these artists took off though some a&r/label executive didn’t get it at all.
These artists showed us that the mold set by the music industry doesn’t have to define us. We don’t have to succumb to the pressure of the machine and become caricatures of ourselves.
All I am hoping is that the pressure might stop being applied.
Moxiie is a songwriter, recording artist, and time optimist from New York. She likes baking vegan chocolate chip cupcakes and is on an endless search for the perfect bronzer. She buys Baudelaire poetry in French even though her French is perpetually rusty and she can only wrap her head around every other sentence. Incidentally, she’s also a cake enthusiast and baklava addict, who eats at least six bananas a day. So yeah….
To keep up to date with all things Moxiie head to her site: www.MoxiieMusic.com.
You can download Moxiies’ latest single – Jilted 2.0 FREE with a tweet or Facebook post – here!
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