Earlier this week, Tinashe opened up about her career ups and downs in an interview with The Guardian.
She talked about how short-sighted the industry and music listeners can be, with it seeming as though only a handful of Black female artists can have success at once.
“There are hundreds of [male] rappers that all look the same, that sound the same,” she said, “but if you’re a black woman, you’re either Beyoncé or Rihanna. It’s very, very strange.”
But such statements were overshadowed by her comments about being biracial and colorism. The Guardian framed it as though she said colorism played a big part in the respect and support she’s obtained as an artist — or lack thereof:
“There’s colourism involved in the black community, which is very apparent,” she says carefully. “It’s about trying to find a balance where I’m a mixed woman, and sometimes I feel like I don’t fully fit into the black community; they don’t fully accept me, even though I see myself as a black woman. That disconnect is confusing sometimes.” A shrug. “I am what I am.”
It was taken by many to mean that she blames colorism in the Black community on why she isn’t where she wants to be in terms of success. It is something the singer has since denied. But her comments and clarification didn’t really sit well with Black Twitter, who in a variety of ways, all came to the conclusion that she really hasn’t had the reach she desires in music because she’s just not very good. It was also pointed out by writer Bené Viera that she may also want to point some blame at her own team, who’ve had her doing more licking and grabbing on things than making music you can really get into:
Tinashe’s team hates her (as evidenced by these photos) and she has no hits. And that’s the black ass bottom line. pic.twitter.com/Vr9YUWc03t
— Bené (@beneviera) June 13, 2017
Seriously, though. What kind of marketing is this?
As with most musicians early on, their team and even the artists themselves aren’t sure how to develop their image. Sadly, you do need a gimmick these days to get people’s attention, but whatever gimmick they were trying to push on Tinashe didn’t seem well thought out. When they don’t know what to expect from you or haven’t seen enough of your full talent displayed through your work, people tend to go back to focusing their attention on the developed hitmakers. The Beyoncés, the Rihannas — the usual suspects. And while people point out how unfair it is that folks only talk about the Beyoncés and the Rihannas, the truth is, there was a time when no one was talking about them, too.
In fact, Rihanna’s situation is very similar to Tinashe’s. They both started out in a girl group, they both had hit debut singles as solo artists. Tinashe came out with the song “2 On,” and Rihanna came out with “Pon de Replay.” For the latter, the song was a mainstay on the radio, but it didn’t help the Bajan singer sell much of her debut album, Music of the Sun. Despite starting her career in 2003, Rihanna didn’t cross over into major mainstream success until 2007, when she released the album Good Girl Gone Bad — her third. And it was around that time that the singer moved away from the island girl image she originally presented and, instead, decided to show the world the edge that has defined her brand.
As for Beyoncé, we know she’s been at this since she was a child. We watched her girl group, Girl’s Tyme, lose on Star Search, and despite the success of “No, No, No” in 1997, Destiny’s Child didn’t have breakout success until they released their second album, Writings on the Wall, in 1999. And she went through her own ups and downs on her way to success, with DC going from member to member, people criticizing her as the group manager’s daughter and lead singer, and the public questioning whether or not they would make it. My 35-year-old sister remembers when Destiny’s Child first came out and performed at our local skating rink. Twenty years later, Beyoncé’s the biggest artist on the planet.
Even her sister, Solange, had to put out three albums (Sol-Angels and the Hadley St. Dreams and True were both underrated) before people opened their eyes to her talent and creativity with 2016’s A Seat at the Table.
I say all that to state this isn’t an overnight thing, y’all. While some artists are lucky enough to go platinum immediately and be a runaway hit, many of the lasting artists have had their albums slept on, their contracts broken, been in groups they didn’t want or need to be in, and altogether, had to pay their dues before being recognized. Just because it hasn’t happened quickly doesn’t mean it won’t, and considering that Tinashe has had songs that have charted, she’s in better shape than most newer solo artists. But she’s got to put in work first, including improving the types of songs she makes and nailing down her image. Is it tomboy chic? Sexpot? Around the way girl? You can’t tell. What are the messages she wants to send through her music? Once she has a better idea of who she is as an artist, maybe we will too — and then we’ll want to support.