Written by Aron Walters
Illustrated by The Sketch Room
I enjoy listening to pop music but as a Black person, it was disconcerting looking at the charts in both the UK and US and seeing that so few Black artists featured in pop categories. Historically, pop as a genre has largely served as a way for record labels to market “Black music” to a White audience, with White artists covering songs by Black artists and eclipsing their success.
However, from Diana Ross to Rihanna, there is a legacy of successful Black women in pop music. Previous decades have seen many thriving Black pop artists; Whitney, Janet, Beyoncé and more. Where are the 2020 equivalents?
Rihanna, arguably one of the most successful artists of the twenty-first century, pioneered the pop sound throughout the ’00s and ’10’s. Now, in her absence from music as she has conquered the beauty and fashion industry, who could she pass on the torch to?
With all of this in mind, I broadened my definition of what defines pop music and asked myself: “would the song be considered to be pop if a White artist was singing it?” Using this framework, I curated a playlist to celebrate the Black women in pop and here are some of the artists that I am the most excited about:
Bree Runway – All Night
Are you a fan of Lady Gaga or Lil’ Kim? Hackney’s very own, Bree Runway, describes herself as their lovechild. She expertly melds the pop star image with the braggadocious attitude of a rapper.
I started listening to her in 2019 with the release of her genre-bending single, 2ON and the subsequent EP “Be Runway”. I have been a huge fan ever since. Her music videos are thought-provoking, covering topics from sexual harassment to colourism whilst being a feast for the eyes. Runway is certainly the full package!
Cindy B – No Reply
Hailing from London, Cindy B is an artist to watch out for. Her debut single No Reply is a funky house-inspired track about unrequited love. The song transports you to a night out and the goings-on between a young couple.
I was introduced to this track via a Youtube video that was raising funds for Black Lives Matter and showcasing different artists. I had the video on in the background while I was working and my ears immediately perked up when I heard this song. I’ve had it on repeat for weeks. I’m excited to hear what comes next from Cindy.
Namasenda – Dare (A.M)
Namasenda, aka Sweden’s Eurobeat Angel, is one of PC Music’s latest signees – the London based label and collective known for their exaggerated and borderline parodistic take on pop music, characterised by the use of high pitch female vocals and synthetic electronic production.
Her most recent release, produced by A.G. Cook, was a double single Dare (A.M) & Dare (P.M). Although the subject matter and lyrics are nearly identical she manages to evoke a completely different mood in each song. They are two sides of the same coin, A.M being slower and dreamy while P.M draws from her roots as an electronic artist with an energetic floor filler.
Dawn Richard – Slim Thicc
Dawn Richard started her career off as a part of Danity Kane, the Diddy backed girl group from his reality show “Making The Band”. While DK are still releasing new music, Richard has had a prolific music career away from them. From her stint as one-third of Dirty Money to her five solo albums released between 2013 – 2019, she is thriving alone.
She is an artist that is hard to place genre-wise, especially as a Black artist who doesn’t make traditional R&B. She speaks on this topic during her NPR Tiny Desk Concert where she remarks on how this topic inspired her song, Lazarus. Her latest release from “The Neon Era” is the dancey island-inspired track, Slim Thicc, about confidence and loving your body.
Soule – Love Tonight
Irish singer-songwriter Soulé is bringing you club-ready anthems and her debut EP “Love Cycle” is full of gems. My favourites are One Two Three and Love Tonight. The bright pink music video for Love Tonight represents the fun and airy character to her music.
Tinashe – Save Room For Us
Unlike many of the artists in this piece, Tinashe is not a new artist. At this point, she is veteran in the music industry after erupting as a solo artist in 2014 with the hit song 2 On. Between 2007 and 2011 she was in a girl band called The Stunners, from there she began singing covers on YouTube and releasing her own music.
She has three studio albums and a slew of mixtapes under her belt. Recently we have seen a new beginning in her career after a tumultuous few years with her former label, RCA, largely over how to market her.
Is she a pop artist or an “Urban” artist? She describes the sound as rhythmic pop. With the release of her third studio album, “Songs For You”, Tinashe returns triumphantly as an independent artist. One of my favourites on the album is the smooth and sultry song, Save Room For Us, which talks about keeping space in your heart for a former lover. The music video showcases her breathtaking MJ-like dance moves.
Aron is a 3D artist and pop music fanatic from Birmingham. His regularly updated playlist BLACK GIRL POP is available on Spotify and served as inspiration for this piece. You can follow his work on Instagram.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous