Joss Stone’s Billboard “#1 Reggae Album” Is Further Evidence of Our “Adele Problem”
This week, I wrote an article that more than a few people were upset about critiquing British singer Adele. In 9 Black Soul Singers That Move Us More Than Adele Ever Could, I made the claim that even though Adele is talented, the showering praise she receives is unwarranted. And despite claims from commenters that everything doesn’t have to “be about race” or that we should celebrate everyone, my position remains unmoved. Then Billboard went and named Joss Stone’s Water For Your Soul the #1 Year-End Reggae Album of 2015. With regard to this news, all I can ask is: y’all really still caping for White singers appropriating historically black music?
I want people to know that I’m not in the business of going on baseless, unresearched rants. If I’m going to go off about a subject, you can trust I’ve already done my homework. And to be fair, Billboard only used sales figures in deciding this winner:
The weekly Reggae Albums chart ranks the top-selling current reggae albums in the U.S., based on weekly sales, according to Nielsen Music.
This would knock out her most obvious competitors, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ greatest hits Legend album and Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Easy Skanking in Boston 78. And most would see this thin excuse and stop, accepting this as being just the way things are. But I knew instantly that something here wasn’t right.
Since when did Joss Stone become a reggae artist?
Stone should not have even been listed on the reggae chart, and as a result, her album should not have even been eligible for this title. Even Billboard itself blasted her album back in July, giving the effort a mere 2 stars out of 5. After listening to both of her singles “Stuck on You” and “The Answer” earlier this year, her efforts fell completely off of my radar. I dismissed her work as in the same vein as her soul-lite/pop-leaning body of work.
Yes, she pulled a few reggae and Indian elements in this time around, but reggae is about much more than certain percussion choices and horns.
Reggae, just like most art forms that have been historically pioneered by black and African peoples, has roots in oppression. This form of expression was a platform for expression. Just like jazz. Just like soul and R&B. Just like rap. And once these art forms became popular, those that weren’t born of the struggle appropriate them for their own capitalistic means (see: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Sam Smith).
Even with all of that knowledge in mind, I couldn’t in good conscience come for Joss Stone without first giving her album a complete and proper listen (stream for yourself here). What I found was that it is a collection of half-baked, reggae and world music snatching tunes that aren’t memorable for more than 5 minutes. Except for when she embarrassingly sings “skippity bop” (a Barrington Levy signature) and pieces of “Bad Boys” on the song “Harry’s Symphony”. Laughable displays like that can never be forgotten. Appropriation fail has never been more apparent.
And I blame singers like Adele.
Adele, talented or otherwise, is a symbol of how society has appointed their chosen white performers to represent historically black art forms. And since I know I’m bound to get the criticism “stop making everything about race”, let me make this perfectly clear:
Any person from any background, ethnicity, nationality, or heritage should have the freedom to sing the songs they want to sing.
I can’t police that. And why would I ever want to? Howsoever, when you tell me Adele is the preeminent soul singer of today or Joss Stone is an actual reggae performer or Iggy Azalea is a for reals rapper, I will call bullshit. Frankly, you should too.
When it comes to music, our consumer choices have a direct impact on who gets awards, who performs on awards shows, and whose music gets to be the face of the genre. So, in a way, this is about race. It also about rewarding quality musicians who are not white appropriators of black sounds.
We can do better than this. I know we can and we should.
Photo credit: By Benoît Derrier from Stockholm, Sweden (Joss Stone @ Stockholm jazz fest) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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