Artists Say Goodbye R&B, Hello Electro Pop
“How y’all gone stand by and let our music turn into pop, techno, cornball ass music?” proclaimed Erykah Badu via Twitter last October, regarding the obvious transition major acts have been making recently from traditional R&B to electro pop. “We don’t own our music no more. Come to think of it, did we EVER own it? Where is the funk at? They played six in a row today, pop techno songs [on the radio] back to back. With so-called R&B and rap artists on the hip-hop station!”
With their initial sound birthed in mainstream R&B, artists like Usher, Chris Brown, Kelly Rowland, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are now just as known for singing over pulsating electro/house beats to create monster international hits. Joining them out the gate is Wynter Gordon (pictured above), a 25-year-old vocalist whose debut single “Dirty Talk” is a global phenomenon (it’s currently number one on Australia’s ARIA singles chart and has reached platinum sales). A South Jamaica, Queens native (best known as the breeding ground of grittier acts like 50 Cent) Gordon says her personal journey (and not simply following a trend) lead her to recording dance music.
“For me [moving from R&B to electro pop] was a natural progression after my label sent me to Europe to work with some producers,” she says. “I immersed myself into it. I’ve never considered myself as a traditional R&B singer or writer though. The dance music that is in the States is more of a pop-filtered version, anyway.”
Gordon does believe, however, that many traditional R&B/pop acts are moving into the electro space for one reason only. “Because it’s selling right now, of course,” she says. “Everyone has decided to jump in the pool. Everyone has a song about a party or a DJ right now!”
Last year R&B singer Mario, whose had big hits with slow jams like “Let Me Love You” and “Crying Out For Me,” told Singersroom.com that after a trip to Europe his next album would be filled with electronic and house music. “It was incredible to see how many people are into house music and R&B music [there] and how house music influences R&B nowadays.”
When the music’s done right—think Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In The World)”—it’s tough for even the most loyal R&B fans to dislike. The track, produced by chart veterans Stargate, infuses elements of Europop with enough of a familiar tone to keep Ri Ri’s US fanbase satisfied. Chris Brown’s new song “Beautiful People,” on the other hand, brings his dance music journey (which started in 2008 with “Forever”) full-circle; a trance-house track produced by Italian electro maestro Benny Benassi with no traces of R&B in sight.
While the sexy midtempo “There Goes My Baby” from his most recent Raymond vs. Raymond album did fairly well on urban radio, Usher’s resurgence is thanks to his number one hit, “OMG.” Produced and written by will.i.am (whose experimentation with dance music has been a critical disaster but commercially lucrative via songs like Black Eyed Peas‘ “Time Of My Life” and “Check It Out” with Nicki Minaj) “OMG’s” minimalist dance beat and Auto-Tune vocals made it a chart-topper worldwide (Usher’s currently on tour in Europe, performing sold-out stadium shows).
The artists aren’t the only ones enjoying crossover success, either. The pay-off goes both ways, with regional dance producers like France’s David Guetta now bonafide names in the US market. The 43-year-old got his international breakthrough when he first paired up with Kelly Rowland for “When Love Takes Over,” the lead single from his 2009 album, One Love. He then went on to create hits with Akon (“Sexy Bitch”), Kelis (“A Cappella”), Kid CuDi (“Memories”) and perhaps most notable, the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got A Feeling.” He’s currently working on new music with Jennifer Lopez for her forthcoming album Love? (due sometime this year).
Gordon says she started experimenting with electro pop “when I was finding myself about two years ago. My music hasn’t gone mainstream yet, but I’ve gotten a really great response underground. It’s the same all over the world.”
One place she won’t find a great response is with Badu. The soul star continues to bemoan today’s hottest artists who’ve forsaken their R&B roots.
“[It's] easy for me to complain about this techno-pop ’cause I have a taste for something else, but how do YOU feel?” Badu asks her Twitter followers. “I definitely don’t want to offend anyone. Young people, I know this is the music of your generation. These rappers ought to be ashamed of their damn selves. I’m talking about the MC’s rappin’ over this pop techno music. I believe in pimpin the system [but] got DAMN! Not like this!”