The Music Industry is More Than White People, by Aaron S. Chavez
"*Insert white artist* is the music industry” is such a typical response regarding the current music sensation when a new release is announced. Far too often, it’s the same white, cisgender, straight artists who hardly give credit to their influences that, a majority of the time, come from people of color.
Various genres of music stem from cultures across the globe, specifically in terms of contemporary American music. For example, Black musicians are the root of pop music. Artists like Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Prince, Diana Ross, and Aretha Franklin paved the way for modern day pop musicians like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and Bruno Mars. Some of these artists have notably given credit to their influences.
So what explains this fascination of lackluster, mediocre musicians that are the Album of The Year, Grammy darling favorites? The obvious answer is the tolerance of white artists for being “appropriate”, “family friendly”, “relatable” and viewing non-white musicians’ work as “explicit” or “offensive” when exploring themes that reflect their respective realities. We saw this with the outrage of Truth Hurts from Lizzo and Old Town Road by Lil Nas X.Yet, the industry pushes songs like ME! By Taylor Swift and High Hopes! by Panic! At The Disco as a more likeable category of music.
Elias Leight from Rolling Stone discussed how Black artists are snubbed from the mainstream spotlight in place of white artists who get more streams and radioplay. The article talks about the removal of the term “urban” and, while that is a step towards progress, it doesn’t exactly solve all the problems it thinks it does; in fact it continues to ignore the problem of white artists getting priority streaming over non-white artists. An example Leight uses is the musicality of Adele and Jazmine Sullivan; both powerhouse, strong singers with similar vocal agility—yet who is more likely to get pushed to the radio? “Adele’s version will go straight into every supermarket across the country, while Sullivan’s will be pushed only to black listeners in select cities.”
This systemic issue in the music industry displays racism and perpetuates negative stereotypes of quality music made by BIPOC artists. So, let me put y’all on some good musicians who are versatile, badass artists and who deserve some respect on their name.
Japanese-British artist Rina Sawayama released her self-titled debut album SAWAYAMA on April 17, 2020 at the dawn of the pandemic. The album quickly shattered its way through the Twitter empire of music, finding its place in fans' hearts for its nu metal, 2000’s pop, and dance club influences. As a queer woman of color, Rina explored the dimensions of her identiites in her self-titled LP—from her pansexuality to her status as a Japanese-born person in England—as well as criticism of capatilist ideology and family trauma.
The opening track, Dynasty, possesses a haunting, Evanescence-esque melody in accompaniment with heavy drums and a raging guitar solo. I wish I could hear it again for the first time. The dark themes in the writing are about inheriting family trauma and convey a message to the listener: “Won’t you break the chain with me?”
Being my most streamed album of 2020, I cannot stress enough how much this album changed my life. Some other tracks you should check out are XS, Akasaka Sad, Who’s Gonna Save U Now?, and Tokyo Love Hotel.
Accredited R&B songwriter Victoria Monet writes (and co-writes) songs for popular artists including Ariana Grande, Chloe X Halle, Nas, and Fifth Harmony. Evidently, Monet possesses one of the most talented pens in the music industry given her credentials on Grammy-nominated songs and albums such as Do It by Chloe X Halle and 7 rings by Ariana Grande. However, some of Monet’s best work comes from her own projects.
On August 7, 2020, Victoria Monet released her extended play, JAGUAR, which peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Heatseekers Charts. Monet discusses falling in love with someone you desire to have a future with. As a bisexual woman, Monet incorporates her intimate relationships with people of different genders in her music. In fact, she released Touch Me (Remix) with former partner Kehlani, and it’s honestly earth-shattering. It contains messages of love and strengthening one another, and leaving on good terms while reminiscing on the fun. Themes like sex and romance to having closure with someone, Monet exhibits a beautiful reflection of true R&B music. My favorite tracks are Dive, Touch Me, Experience, and Moment, so stream her now!
In more recent mainstream news, Lil Nas X is one of this generation’s legends in the making. Most notable for his 2019 smash hit “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X is someone who isn’t afraid to shake the table. The song went from viral sensation to Grammy-winning in the span of a year. Aside from this comical record, Lil Nas X continues to piss off racist and homophobic people. He broke the internet with his release of MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Lil Nas X is an outspoken advocate for himself as a gay, Black artist in hip-hop and pop. He’s persistently called out toxic stereotypes and comments from trolls (and even other celebrities) on the internet. He’s made a name for himself by being such an influence for Black queer youth. His studio album MONTERO, released on September 17, 2021, featured star-studded collaborations with Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, and Elton John.
The album contains very realistic highs and lows about love, life, and his treatment in the music industry. The song DEAD RIGHT NOW introduces an unusual yet captivating flow on the album and left me speechless. The song encapsulates the struggles he went through to get to today and has a melancholy vibe to it. This album is quite literally a masterpiece and you will fall in love with the intellectual visionary that is Lil Nas X as he introduces you to the world of MONTERO. Personal favorite tracks are SCOOP (feat. Doja Cat), THAT’S WHAT I WANT, LOST AT THE CITADEL, and AM I DREAMING (feat. Miley Cyrus).
Look, I’m not saying you should feel bad for liking popular artists—artists who have most definitely taken the spotlight from non-white artists—but please discover new music and open your ears (and minds) to musicians who help cultivate genres like pop, jazz, R&B, and rock that you love today.