“Most Popular Music Is Based Off Of Black Women’s Contributions” Kelela Talks #TimesUp Movement In The Music Industry
Tessa Thompson, Octavia Spencer and Shonda Rhimes are just a few of the Hollywood power players who have been outspoken about the #TimesUp movement which has gained momentum over the past year due to sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. The music industry however, has been tight-lipped when it comes to women of all races stepping forward to address inequality and harassment within the industry. According to singer, Kelela, there’s a reason for that and it’s because profit is more important the black women’s pain in the music industry, and if the music industry were to address the same issues that have recently been exposed in Hollywood, everyone would be broke.
In a recent interview with GQ, the “Take Me Apart” artist shared some very honest opinions on why #TimesUp hasn’t taken the music industry by storm much like it the has the film and television industry. She says it all has to do with “runs” a series of notes that descend and ascend a scale in quick session (think Beyonce’ singing damn near anything). Kelela says the most successful pop music has been inspired by the style of singing popularized by black women stating “most popular music is based off of black women’s contributions.” It’s no secret that white women have been the face of feminism and women’s right’s movements that many critique often fail to include the voices and experiences of women of color, and therefore don’t often end up empowering or benefiting them in the long run. Kelela says because of this, inequality has been more difficult to tackle in the music industry where so many profit from “huge, white pop stars [who] are profiting off of their white privilege [and] the pursuit of [vocal] runs.”
She goes on to say that runs come from an important place in history:
“I like to say, because it’s quite literal and it’s important to say, that runs come from black people and black suffering and triumph.”
“I think part of the reason why it’s a difficult thing to dismantle is because so many white people are profiting off of that.”
I mean she may have a point. It’s not to say that artists like Ariana Grande, Christina Aguilera and Joss Stone aren’t talented or haven’t experienced suffering. But do they owe their success to artists like Whitney Houston or Patti Labelle who have been using vocal riffs for decades? Pop music has definitely changed even in my lifetime, and you have to admit the music of The Spice Girls looks a lot different than what the Billboard Hot 100 displays today.
The 34-year-old goes on to say that while the #TimesUp movement in Hollywood may be making strides towards inclusion, in music there’s a financial barrier since “it’s black people’s contributions [that] are driving consumption…that’s why there hasn’t been a #TimesUp moment in music.”
As to what the movement in music should look like in music if it ever happens, Kelela is quite specific about what she wants:
“The thing that would make me feel safe is if the campaign’s centerpiece was about how black women are exploited and copied off of, and how their contributions quite specifically are profited from without including and honoring them. If that’s not the centerpiece of the campaign, I’m not really interested.”
She adds that many woman in the industry would agree:
“I think if you ask any black woman, they’ll either agree with me or be like, ‘No comment.’ Either you agree with me and you are over it and you are past the point of thinking that you have anything to lose by speaking on it, or you agree with me and you don’t want to lose the opportunities that you have.”
You can read more Kelela’s creative process, the response to Take Me Apart and what she defines as a “tender banger” in the full interview here.