Exceptions to the Rules

“I know what I want. I’ll rewrite the rules.” –Karina Pasian (Can’t Bring Me Down)

Yes, it is true that many women in both R&B and Hip Hop tend to portray highly sexualized images that are sometimes coupled with a severe lack of substance, and most importantly, talent. But where there are generalizations, there are exceptions. There are several female artists who choose a different path that travels in the complete opposite direction.

Despite the rejection of the widespread standards (Eurocentric beauty, sexual images and messages, etc.) that supposedly equal fame and fortune, the women who have chosen this alternative route have largely been successful. Take, for instance, Alicia Keys’s latest album release, “As I Am.” Upon the wave that was her first single, “No One,” a song that spoke about love with no mention of sex (either implicitly or explicitly), Keys went on to sell over 700,000 copies of the album in its first week. This outstanding achievement, though a seemingly uncommon occurrence, provides evidence to counteract the idea that it is only sex that sells. In Keys’ case, talent prevailed.

The recent success of Jazmine Sullivan can also attest to this. No, she is not a size zero and her skin tone might not be what many people view as desirable or acceptable, but with her incredibly powerful voice, these minute details become absolutely irrelevant. It is through her talent and not through the adherence to societal standards of beauty or a pre-calculated formula to fame that Sullivan has been able to achieve recognition.

This rejection of norms has spread to a number of other new artists. Seventeen year old newcomer Karina Pasian is additional proof to this. Because she is a young, impressionable, female teenager, it would and is much easier for her to fall into the stereotypes awaiting her. Instead, Pasian delivered a socially conscious first single “16 at War” in which she spoke of the many troubles girls her age are forced to deal with. This type of thinking is sorely needed in R&B and Hip Hop and is much more meaningful when it is articulated through a female artist.

By developing and following their own course, these female artists, and many others, have also added a diversity of options to the ways in which women can be and are portrayed. Instead of only having a range of sexualized artists to pick from, young girls and women alike can choose to model themselves after artists like Pasian, Sullivan, or Keys (or India Arie, Jill Scott, or Brandy, for that matter). Even further, women can learn a lesson from female artists such as these and reject the entire idea of molding themselves after the famous, so as to construct and follow an identity that is purely their own. —— By: Bethany N.


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