I was inspired to write this because I have a soon-to-be teenage sister who, like most teenagers, is in love with her music. Only her music understands her (*cue the violins). And as she shared with me her music library, playing songs she likes while we drive, I realized how monochromatic (read: White) her playlist was and I wanted to introduce her to some Black female age appropriate artists. But I came up short.
Now, I have plenty of Black artists in my music repertoire but most of them are dealing with adult themes or “heavy” political themes. The only Black female artist I could think of that had a more carefree vibe was Santigold but she’s not a relateable teenager/teenybopper artist. I had to sit there for a minute before I realized that I could not think of one Black girl artist or Black girl group marketed to the Black girl teenybopper consumer. Most of the teeny-bopper market is filled with White artists. And the only Black artists marketed to young Black girls are male artists (i.e. Childish Gambino, Tyler the Creator) which is problematic for a variety of reasons. First, it reinforces the belief that Black=male and it primes these impressionable Black girls from an early age that only a man’s perspective is the relevant perspective. One look at the market and you’d think Black pre-teen girls don’t exist. Let society tell it, Black women basically go from being toddlers to “grown ass women” within a few years.
There is Willow Smith, but she’s an exception (largely because of her family legacy), not the rule. Generally speaking, Black female singers who want to have mainstream success are expected to be “grown” AF and singing about love and the struggles of love, pain and more struggle, love and the struggles of love one mo’ gain (mind you she can never come out and just be like “Fuck you”. No, she must always remain loyal to the image of the long-suffering in love Black woman)- and then perhaps a touch of gospel. Anything outside of those bounds is dicey.
It’s been like this for as long as I can remember. When I was a teenager, we really didn’t have a whole ton of teeny bopper Black girl artists, except for maybe Brandy, Monica and Aaliyah. But even they were more for the young adult crowd because their material was relationship/love focused as opposed to being playful, light and more self-centered (in a positive way). I think the closest we got to the free-spirited, playful Black girl image was TLC, whose biggest hit when I was a kid was “What About Your Friends”. And for a hot second, and I do mean a hot second, we had the British girl group Cleopatra, but they disappeared as quickly as they appeared, which sucked because I thought they were so cool and fun.
When I realized that the market for Black girl teens/young adult was virtually non-existent in the music industry, it made me even more irritated with the thought of people like T.I. who put more effort into manufacturing a damn phony White girl export when there is a huge source of Black girl talent in the U.S. that is being routinely overlooked. It’s ridiculous.
While I would love to see a flourishing market of Black girl teeny-boppers/ young adults singing about kicking it with their friends or singing about the meaning of life so far, I shudder to think of the dangers and drama that often come along for artists in the music industry, especially for young girls. They would have to be physically, financially and emotionally on guard.
And Black consumers would have to be in a position where we are ready and willing to support this kind of carefree, self-focused and opinionated Black girl image. And honestly, I just don’t think we are
This is multi-layered topic and a conversation that could go in various directions. It’s a complex issue involving sexism, racism, patriarchy, the erasure of Black women, and even pedophilia (another taboo topic Black people are allergic to talking about).
At the end of the day, it would just be cool for Black pre-teen and young teenage girls to see more artists who look like them, especially during these formative years in their emotional development. Image representation is powerful. We are seeing more Black women pushing for more well-rounded, complex characters on television and hopefully we will see the same thing happen for Black women and Black girls in the music industry.