As we are about to enter a new decade, I can not help but remember how, in a matter of just eight years, we ended up losing so many great legendary artists who shaped pop music and, film, tv shows, video art in the 1980s and 1990s. The death of Michael Jackson in 2009 was the biggest blow, a sad and unfair day when many of us, shattered as we stood numb, could not process to understand the news we had just heard about. Then, Whitney Houston, Prince, George Michael, John Singleton, Dolores O’Riordan, Chester Bennington, James Avery or Chris Cornell all died in tragic circumstances, all very young (except for Avery). Though I have brought up musicians of different races and nationalities, most of the Black artists I have mentioned, represented more to us than any other. I can not speak on the behalf of African-Americans but I can express my feelings as a Black European kid and the effects they had upon us. To be fair, whether American or European, our Blackness at the time sent us to a place of isolation as we all grew up and walked into the shadows of a brutal colonial/segregational past we never chose but had to endure. There were no Instagram, no Facebook, no Twitter, only newspapers, magazines, the radio and the TV was the only powerful global village which allowed us to escape and absorb a great dose of music. Jackson, Houston, Rogers, Carey or Baker -Anita- all had something in common.
They were aware that their success had never been handed out to them easily for they had no other choice but to carry on the legacy of the oldest performers and singers, -the likes of Aretha Franklin or Mahalia Jackson and James Brown among others- to forge their own way and represent their own people. For Black artists at the time, success could not be synonym with individualism. Indeed, a successful Black artist was to share his status with his own community. He could be seen as the one carrying the mark of triumph for the others and would become an inspiration. Black artists in the 1980s were able to create marvelous rhythms, melodies, hooks, to innovate constantly with their sounds for two main reasons.
First of all, in the 1980s, the work of transmission between generation still mattered. Twenty years earlier, in the 1960s, Black people were fighting for their rights and reclaimed their Blackness and consciousness. John Singleton in one interesting interview released in 2015 I believe, spoke about being a “revolutionary” baby, along with Tupac. The ideas promoted by the Panthers made them conscious about their Black heritage and they always incorporated these elements into their music and art to educate, transmit, preserve and share. Michael Jackson would also become blacker in sound and in his message while his skin became whiter. Then, they had no other chance but to work ten times harder than the white artists who had it easier. Prince, Jackson or Houston all had to deal with racial discrimination as MTV first refused to play black singers on their platform. They proved to be too talented to be isolated. The deep power of hardwork blended with their Black consciousness and their craft excellence which made them the symbols they were. However, the new generation of Black American artists would betray this for the love of money, capitalism and profit.
Madonna is often cited by Beyoncé, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Usher or many others 80s babies and children to be an inspiration to them. They are right. She is the mother and originator of all the modern crap broadcast today – Katty Perry, Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, Rita Ora, the Black Eyed Peas, Fergie and many others. At the time in the 1980s, Madge was the wolf in sheepfold. She was never beautiful, could not sing or dance but was good at reuniting a good team of writers and knew how to be the center of the conversation. When Whitney had to work session after session to preserve her amazing voice, when Carey was endlessly touring and showcasing her vocal power, when Jackson was repeating the most difficult dance moves after dance moves, Madonna was lazy enough to avoid any form of difficulty and prospered in the realm of sexual marketing and provocation.
She was the first to anticipate the power of the media before the arrival of the Internet so as to compensate for her very lack of talent. She had that powerful drive which made her who she is. This spirit would later give light to a generation of people being “famous just for being famous”. By the early 2000s, Madonna had already paid the price for sexual provocation and its exploitation. The passion the greatest had for their crafts, and the strong American spirit of hard work which characterised any musician or act from Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Janis Joplin, The Nicholas Brothers, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Prince, Michael Jackson, Janet and many others, was abandoned and replaced by the love of profit, leading to a new wave of black musicians or artists who began their career by mimicking their predecessors but who also became greater at orchestrating marketing coups than singing with the heart and passion.
The Black artists born in the 1980s have all failed to create a new genre on their own or to make revolutionary anthems for several reasons. The 80s marked the beginning of the end of the former world. By the 90s, the Western world had truly become much more homogeneous in terms of politics and music. The laws of the markets were more important and essential than music itself. The music industry was tired of the old codes and wished to make money in a quicker manner. If sex sold, then sex had to be sold. No one would have time for a 10 octave-range-singer, unless such talent was profitable. The new Black artists such as Beyoncé, Alicia Keys or Usher, never had to fight for anything to make it. Indeed, it is clear that by the late 90s and early 00s, all the doors had been opened to them by the 1980s Black singers. Beyoncé may know what it means to rehearse ten times a day and she probably does so to compensate for the fact that she never had to struggle, especially when her father crafted her image. The hardwork of the oldest generation allowed the new ones to rest on their laurels. Beyoncé, Keys or Usher always knew a MTV channel with Black artists on it. Actually, they were never denied the right to be played on MTV because they were mixed or Black. Their world was already multi-cultural and such characteristic would be amplified as soon as Barack Obama was elected.
Their generation is also politically different from Michael’s. It is true that they have less talent and mimick a lot instead of creating, but their Blackness is placed in a globalist context not that of the nation-state. Here again, the eldest did the job and democratized Blackness, Jackson being one of the main singers to be worshipped on the fourth corners of the earth by different races and ethnic groups. This meant that thanks to him, even the most remote native American group in Colombia had already heard of and knew him. Black artists did not have to conquer space anymore. So, aware of their easy condition, the 80s babies never focused on their passion but on their strong desire to dominate without putting in the necessary work. Their eyes were already focusing on the iconic status reached by Jackson or Houston and they applied the marketing tools used by Madonna to promote their selves, their image, their brands, and not their music anymore. They have been guilty of building the surface and not the inside. For this reason, they have not been able to distinguish themselves from their eldest, despite some qualities.
What about Black transmission then?
The 80s babies and children grew up in a multiracial sphere as we said earlier and were spoiled not having had to work harder than the others. Their vision of Black power and consciousness always evolve around marketing power and thus capitalism. This obsession with money is totally against the ideologies promoted by the Black Panthers and other leaders of the 1960s. And this is how the white establishment hijacked any form of consciousness by the time the Panthers disappeared. As early as the mid 1970s, the Black community was exposed to the pleasure of consumption, either sexual or through mercantilism.
They, just like any other American citizen, could enjoy any pleasure. Consumption would give them the sensation to be free, even when cases of police brutality took place in 1992, the message promoted by many gangsta rappers was still based on mercantilism. The obsession of money would therefore replace the work of transmission established by the eldest of eldest in the 1940s. Because of Madonna, the rules of marketing changed. You no longer had to be a good singer to make it, and you could earn a lot only by being endorsed by companies. Corporations no longer appreciate your talent and success according to your talent, but look at your influence and bank account. For this reason, a shift can be observed by some 80s Black singers.
Over the course of her career, both Beyoncé and Usher, though less talented than their predecessors, had a certain passion for their work. Yet, over the years, they either betrayed their original sounds for electronic music or adopted the Madonna codes instead of focusing on music. Black consciousness also came to the second plan. If the media push Beyoncé, forcing us to welcome her as being better than Michael Jackson, the lady had carefully waited for almost fifteen years before releasing a somehow pro-Black song. She would be in favor or feminism before becoming pro-Black, the ultimate trend of the last decade. And what kind of pro-Blackness does Knowles even promote? You will not find any other anti-Black individual like Bill Gates in this world. Black consciousness is now dead and falls into the pit of mercantilism. Even the depth of a fight are heavily exploited by Beyoncé to make herself more relevant. The 1980s babies were even guilty of trafficking the intellectual thoughts of their eldest for money and fame.
Though rich in terms of experience, the 80s kids had the opportunity to create something new and become their own legends but this was too demanding for a bunch of spoiled individuals who were more eager to become icons and legends in a twinkling of an eye -and so without putting the effort into it. Ironically enough, despite the millions of albums sold, the popularity and influence on social media, their power is somehow only restricted to the Western sphere for they do not touch the hearts of many. The obsession for money furthered a certain distance. And it is with great tragedy that they probably notice how, in times of emotional distress, society always finds comfort in the oldies. Not in them.
All Rights Reserved