If you were to watch last night’s Emmys on mute, it would be hard to tell which Black actress was actually named Best Lead or one of two Best Supporting Actresses because whether the name called was Uzo Aduba, Regina King, or Viola Davis, there were five more Black women in the crowd cheering as though the name heard was their own. For many, that display of sisterhood was just as important as the wins themselves, particularly in an industry where we know roles for us are limited. And while that reality can easily give way to nasty competitiveness — much like what we see among women in the music business — there wasn’t a shred of ill will displayed among the stars at last night’s award show.
I didn’t think about the stark contrast between Black actresses and Black singers until I came across Sevyn Streeter’s tweet this morning where she blatantly called out the crabs in a barrel mentality so rampant in her industry. No, I’m not rehashing the age-old sisterhood of Hip-Hop type of debate in which fans expect women in a genre based on bravado and ego to release rap duets to the beat of kumbaya. I’m talking about Black pop princesses and R&B singers who sing about love but have no love for one another. As soon as I read Sevyn’s tweet I tried to recall the last time I saw two singers share a stage when it wasn’t a BET honors type of performance or a publicity stunt to squash beef where there should have been none. The most recent pairing that came to mind was Monica and Brandy. No, not the “Boy is Mine” (things aren’t that bad), but their 2012 reunion duet “It All Belongs To Me.” I also thought about the Beyonce- Alicia Keys “Put it in a Love Song” track that was never actually put in a music video to be consumed by the masses and wondered, why is the music industry so different from film?
Surely, Black singers are more accepted than Black actresses I said in a conversation with a co-worker who retorted competition for dollars is much more steep in the recording biz. Thanks to Internet leaks, greedy record labels dealing out shady contracts, and the prominence of free music platforms, singers almost literally have to fight to make money off of their voice and if it’s between you getting a check and another woman who looks like you, you’re pretty much going to do whatever it is you have to do to survive. In a sense, the success of a musician is much more in their hands than possibly any other entertainment field, particularly if they use tools like social media to shape their image and create mass interest for their product. Conversely, Black actresses are, in a way, all fighting the same discriminatory demon. While a limited number of roles has potential to breed competition, and surely does among some, so much of Black stars’ ability to thrive is predicated on factors outside of their acting ability that being looked over for roles likely doesn’t feel as personal as someone playing another R&B singer’s song over yours. And there’s no arguing that the success of one woman on television truly does open the door for others — hello Mary Jane, Annalise Keating, Cookie Lyon, and Olivia Pope. The same simply cannot be said in R&B anymore. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. No longer is there room for Aaliyah, Ashanti, Beyonce, Ciara, and Rihanna, there has to be a queen — the designation of which depends on which fans are the most outspoken on any given day — and then performance scraps are left for the minions. As a fan it’s even taboo to not be competitive. If you’re in the Beyhive you cannot be in the Navy too. There can only be one musical ruler. The question is which came first, fans deciding there could only be one reigning music queen and singers buying into that or the entertainers forcing the masses to choose?
In 2015, “Feeling Myself” is likely as close as we’re going to get to seeing two Black women at the top of their music game actually collaborate on something successfully and, if we’re being honest, that’s only because Nicki and Beyonce are in two different lanes (though for some reason Nicki still refuses to stop singing on 90% of her tracks). As we saw from the recent MTV Music Awards, even rap artists can’t be happy for pop stars, and we all know the only reason Yonce cheers when Taylor Swift wins anything is because she’s still trying to make up for Kanye’s 2009 VMA blunder.
No one’s saying we need every talented woman in the industry to come together and release a “We Are the World” type of single, but it would be nice if Black female singers could acknowledge the talent of their professional peers sans diva-esque posturing. Perhaps part of the reason R&B music is practically dead by all accounts is because the few R&B singers who had it going on stifled the growth of others before leaving the genre behind to build pop princess palaces. But that’s another story altogether.