I write about culture from a pro-Black perspective

On Kelly Rowland’s ‘Dirty Laundry’

I think if you’ve followed Kelly Rowland’s career, you’ve always gotten the sense that she was holding something back. Like she was afraid to be as magnificent as we all know she can be. There was always the sense that we weren’t getting the full extent of her artistry. And not because it wasn’t there, but because she didn’t quite believe in it.

Every album had magnificent moments – Beyond Imagination, Haven’t Told You, Love, Like This, Motivation, Keep It Between Us – but they seemed incidental. Accidental. There didn’t seem to be much effort behind anything she was doing. The background singer destined to be a star, but never quite comfortable anywhere but in the back seat.

So when I listen to Dirty Laundry, it plays as a stunning admission of her crushing insecurity more than anything else. Sure, we learn about Kelly having suffered domestic abuse and that she has complicated feelings about Beyonce’s solo success, but that’s just not what the song is telling me emotionally.

“who wanna hear my bullshit?”

It doesn’t feel like we’re reliving something she’s moved through. We’re living something she’s still in…with her. The song doesn’t turn on an awakening. It doesn’t turn at all. We are sitting in her insecurity with her.

Those five little words are almost an aside in the structure of the song. As if she’s still not quite sure. Even now when she’s being as revealing and honest as she’s ever been, I still get the sense that she’s struggling against a profound sense that no one cares at all about Kelly Rowland. It’s riveting, but I have to wonder what is next.

I want this song to represent a turning point in her career. A point that we’ll all look back and say “that was the moment Kelly Rowland started to become a great artist.” But I worry that this will be the only song on the album that gives us something uniquely Kelly.

I sincerely hope she doesn’t think one song is enough.



Posted on May 18th, 2013 - Filed under Kelly Rowland,Music
Tags :: ,

What Exactly Is ‘The Best Man’ Sequel Trailer Saying?

In a piece I wrote two years ago for the homie Alyssa at ThinkProgress in which I discuss what I think The Best Man sequel, The Best Man Holiday, should address, I said that Malcolm Lee should center the film around Nia Long’s character, Jordan Armstrong.

Looks like that is going to happen.

However I also said:

…the [original] film hinges on the fact that a total slut like Lance Sullivan is such a chauvinist that the very idea of his bride having a sexual past sends him into a blind rage and makes him question whether or not she’s worthy of him. It’s a film that continues to suggest that driven career black women are unworthy of love. Career woman Jordan Armstrong (played by Long), is the only woman to end the film alone, even as the stripper with the heart of gold and the emasculating shrew each end up with a man.

So the question this trailer raises for me is whether Jordan’s choice to date a white man is an outgrowth of the fact that in Lee’s mind careerist black women are unworthy of love from black men specifically or something less troublesome. In other words, did she have no other choice but to date a white man or not?

I don’t want Jordan’s choice to be a reaction to black men’s inability to appreciate everything that she represents – an independent, career-obsessed woman. I think that lets black men off the hook for their anti-woman retrogressive beliefs about what a “good black woman” is supposed to be.

As much as I love the original film, I still believe it was a terribly unfair and dangerous subtext to suggest that Jordan couldn’t have a career and love. To suggest in the sequel that the only way she could have both is to date a white man would just continue to reinforce the belief that black men’s sexist assumptions about black women are entrenched and intractable. If the film goes that route it would be incredibly dangerous, irresponsible and unfortunate.

There’s a way to tell this story in a way that doesn’t do this. I just am not sure that Lee will do that.



Posted on May 14th, 2013 - Filed under Film
Tags :: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Anthony Mackie and the Definition of Stardom

I was struck by this exchange between actor Anthony Mackie and Jai Tiggett over at Shadow and Act.

JT: There’s been some talk on our site lately about your career and whether you’ll go on to play the leading man more consistently, in large studio films. Is that your goal, or do you prefer to stay under the radar?

AM: Hollywood’s a business, and until someone puts their finger on you and decides you’re the guy who’s going to carry that movie, it’s not going to happen. So I’m just enjoying the position that I’m in right now and trying to make the most of it.

JT: So would you say that yes, Anthony Mackie wants to be “the guy”?

AM: [Laughs]. Most of the time when you see a movie, the best character in the movie is not “the guy,” it’s the guy next to the guy. So I enjoy playing “the guy next to the guy” because it’s always – in almost every movie last year – the best character in the movie. It’s just fun as an actor to get the opportunity to do something where you can really sink your teeth into it.

What I like about this exchange is that it suggests that Anthony Mackie is incredibly self-aware and very comfortable with the choices he’s making as an actor, regardless of how they might be perceived by the public.

I think it’s somewhat strange to be thinking about “who the next Will Smith will be” partly because Will ain’t goin nowhere and partly because the question suggests that his model is the only model of what it means to be a black movie star.

I think we’re limiting ourselves when we have this conversation. Anthony seems to understand that in a way that I don’t think people appreciate enough. I think he’s quite eloquent in chafing (without chafing, really) at the notion that he’s not “successful” because he’s not a Big Willie. He’s consistently suggested that there are other models for success and that our obsession with Will’s assimilationist model isn’t the only one we should aspire to.

In my mind, the guy that says this:

and this:

isn’t concerned about the Will Smith model. He’s thinking about his own.

We need to start listening to Anthony Mackie, man.



Posted on May 13th, 2013 - Filed under Film
Tags :: , , , , , , , , , ,

Thinking about Janet Jackson’s (Alleged) Retirement

Janet with her new husband

Photo Credit: Marco Glaviano, People Magazine

I’ve been thinking a lot about the news that Janet Jackson is allegedly going to retire from the entertainment industry for a minute now.

I think if I were honest, I’d feel the need to say that Janet Jackson has run out of things creatively to say and that she’s been spinning her wheels at least since 20 Y.O, if not earlier. I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s spent the last decade doing more acting than she has really focusing on recording trailblazing music. I’m not sure she was well-served by Tyler Perry films that squandered her natural warmth on weirdly cold characters, but I could imagine how from her perspective there was something interesting about essaying characters so dissimilar from who we know Janet Jackson to be.

I could see how she might feel like her life’s work as an entertainer is complete, even though selfishly as a fan I’d like to get another album or two from her.

But I wonder if there’s something more deeply profound at work here.

Let’s remember that Janet Jackson has been performing since she was 7 years old. She’s 46. That’s 40 years in the public eye. Forty years as a member of perhaps the most celebrated, yet maligned and misunderstood, black family on the planet. Forty years being told she’s the (relatively) sane one. Forty years under an incredibly oppressive microscope. Forty years giving her life to our enjoyment.

I don’t know that we think enough about the health of black people who have to live their lives in the public eye. Michael died at 50. Luther died at 54. Rick James was 56. Whitney was 48. Marvin Gaye was murdered at 44. Both Gerald and Sean Levert died at 40.

These were preternaturally gifted black people who gave their lives to art and music. They were not always loved and adored for it. They were still black. In America. Let us remember that the life expectancy for black people is lower than for white people.

So I think there’s something profoundly healthy about Janet Jackson at 46 saying she wants to step away from all of the pressures of being a black public figure – as much as she can – and just live her life. It’s a powerful gesture of self-preservation that I don’t know black artists always feel so empowered to make.

Read this way, of course the woman who gave us Control would end her career on her own terms. Of course the woman whose masterpiece, The Velvet Rope – a dazzling treatise on the struggle to love oneself amid all the crazy of a life as a Jackson, as a black woman – would decide when she’s had enough.

In her own way, if this retirement is indeed real, Janet Jackson’s decision feels to me like a fitting cap to a career that was, in its best broadest strokes, about black self-determination and black self-love.



Posted on April 4th, 2013 - Filed under Music
Tags :: , , , ,

The Maddening Arrogance and Elusiveness of Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake’s solo career has always struck me as a profound exercise in insincerity. And his arrogance has always been almost insultingly transparent, but no one seems to notice it – or care.

Take this nugget from his “beggin for a black pass” 2003 Vibe cover story where the woman who taught him how to “sing black” – herself a white woman (lawd!) – basically outs him as a poseur at the very same moment we were supposed to be believing we were getting the real Justin:

Although Timberlake loved R&B growing up, he didn’t perform it professionally until he became a regular on The Mickey Mouse Club. His vocal coach, Robin Wiley, who was a producer on the show, remembers how the then 12-year-old had to adjust. “He hadn’t sung a ton of R&B-ish stuff, mostly country, and the show covered whatever was on the radio,” Wiley says.

Or the fact that Justified was really just equal parts Timbaland’s unique brilliance and Pharrell’s “repurposing” of shit he’d written for Michael Jackson. Also from the Vibe article:

The Neptunes could easily have given Timberlake a “Girlfriend Part 2,”and no one would have been mad. “I wanted to break the rules in terms of what people thought we were going to do for Justin,” Williams says. So the producers decided to use Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall as inspiration. In fact, they dusted off five songs they submitted for Jackson’s HIStory Volume 1 and Invincible albums that were rejected. Williams rewrote parts of those songs with Timberlake and created new versions of “Senorita,” “Let’s Take a Ride,” “Last Night,” “Nothin’ Else,” and “Take It From Here.”

But I get it. People record other people’s leftovers all the time. Why does Justin doing this bother me so much?

Read All »



Posted on March 16th, 2013 - Filed under Music
Tags :: , , , , , , , , , ,