Former Fifth Harmony member and ascending pop star Normani Kordei looks like she has the potential to be the “next big thing” in the world of pop. But given the history of some Black female artists that precede her, I can’t help but feel little bit fearful.
The reality is that the music industry, in general, doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to marketing, promoting, and supporting Black female pop/r&b artists (and I suppose that audiences haven’t been that much better either).
While this phenomenon is worth delving into more extensively on its own, I need only look at some examples from recent history to make my point: Beyoncé Knowles’ father Matthew Knowles acknowledged in a SiriusXM interview a couple months ago that Kelly Rowland’s career may not have reached the heights that her Destiny’s Child groupmate Beyoncé achieved due to “segregation” in the music industry along colorist lines; late last year, Danity Kane member Dawn Richard recalled in a Cosmopolitan interview a time when Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine called her and her former Dirty Money partner Kalenna Harper “ugly,” while lamenting that he wanted “light-skinned” singers; and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Asiahn, who we spotlighted a few months ago, said in a Billboard profile in 2018 that music executives had told her that they couldn’t market her because she was “too dark to do pop music.”
And while most of the victims of the industry’s seeming ineptitude and *racism* seem to be brown skin girls, it appears that Black women in general, regardless of shade, are not entirely immune. Let’s not forget that Tinashe — who experienced the height of her career around 2014 with the platinum single “2 On” — had her career run off course during her time with RCA Records, where she cited micromanagement and constant creative differences that compromised her desired artistic direction and, ultimately, stymied her own hype. (Coincidentally, Normani is currently signed with RCA.)
I do retain a level of optimism, for a few reasons. Normani’s already accomplished a lot up to this point – she’s already achieved massive streaming success, amassing platinum plaques and literally billions of combined streams without having an album yet to her name. Her vocal talent and live performances have been raved about, with some even going as far as drawing comparison’s between her and Beyoncé. It’s probably too early to be drawing those kinds of comparisons, but given her talent and the genuine hype surrounding her budding solo career, it’s not too crazy to think that Normani has the potential to reach Beyoncé-levels of stardom in the future. And given the recent mainstream success of SZA, success for dark-skinned women in this industry is certainly not unattainable.
The idea of a Normani reaching astronomical heights and being an inspiration for the “chocolate girls” she describes in her Billboard interview, who rarely have the privilege of seeing themselves in the mainstream, gives me great joy. But again, the industry’s treatment of talented Black women up to this point still gives me a cause to pause. It would be absolutely devastating if we had to witness another artist, with seemingly All-Star potential, be wasted by an industry that’s proven incapable of consistently nurturing and supporting Black women’s careers.
I genuinely like Normani and am already inspired by the impact that her early success is having. I hope the flame she’s lit in the pop universe isn’t squelched, which is why I’m going to be supporting and cheering for her hard as hell from the sidelines.