What Happened to Ciara?: R&B and the New Sex Entrepreneur

It seems like it was just yesterday when little Ciara was singing an ode to the benefits of keeping one’s cookies in the jar. ¬†Six years later, ¬†her now delicately cultivated sexual¬†Lolita¬†image has been either co-opted or manipulated into outright¬†hedonistic¬†vixen. ¬†I for one am not happy about it. ¬†With ¬†her recently slumping album sales, this new level of sexuality reeked of desperation and was bad form for a clearly talented young woman.

I was extremely¬†disappointed¬†with the video for her gym friendly single “Gimme Dat”.¬†¬†The single has her once again leveraging the southern fried hip-hop laced¬†stylings that put her on the map, except this time around the audience is distracted from the intricate choreography and gravity defying dance moves that made her famous. ¬†Instead, we find her in a full sexual spectacle popping it on a handstand, gyrating, and clad in her underwear dancing in the rain. ¬†Her dancing is amazing, but the imagery makes her come off like a glorified pole dancer; she even performs much of the dancing in the ubiquitious stipper shoe‚ÄĒthe glass heel.

Make no mistake that this¬†exotic¬†dancer/stripper imagery is by design. It is not an accident. ¬† With the recent popularity of Amber Rose, Maliah‚ÄĒothers, it makes sense that the largely¬†patriarchal¬†music industry sees an economic opportunity in co-opting the images of its female R&B starlets to ¬†evoke a similar aesthetic.

I do not want to get all¬†judgmental¬†big sister on Ciara because sexuality has always had its place in R&B and soul, but there is a thin line between sexy and trashy. ¬†Take for instance, Christina Milian. ¬†She was carefully managing the naughty good girl image‚ÄĒup and until‚ÄĒher video for “Dip It Low” found her sliding across the floor and gyrating in pools of oil. ¬†Her singing career tanked soon there after. ¬†Even Janet Jackson‚ÄĒthe master of the naughty good girl image‚ÄĒcouldn’t survive the nipple slip seen round the world. ¬†She blurred the line between trashy and classy for a good run, but one near fatal move finds her musical career barely gasping for life.

With Rihanna giving us a lot of manufactured S&M imagery and both Keri Hilson and Kelly Rowland ¬†following much of the same path, it seems to succeed the modern R&B star must become a sex entrepreneur. ¬†She must balance equal parts talent, sexuality and purity‚ąíso as not to appear “deflowered” to their male fans (see inside image of Rihanna’s Loud CD). This seemingly impossible challenge has been mastered by few. ¬†Remarkably, Beyonce has managed to walk this tightrope for over a decade‚ÄĒbalancing sex kitten, with empowered feminist, diva, and business woman.

I would hate to prematurely morn the loss of Ciara, as I believe she has the time and talent to rebrand and redeem her image.  I am not suggesting she take the sex out, but instead she remember the importance of artistic integrity to her fan base.  She is certainly not a strong vocalist like a Melanie Fiona or a Jennifer Hudson, but she was well positioned to inherit a Jacksoneque like role as a consummate entertainer.

So what do you think? ¬†Are the sexualized images of R&B stars like Ciara,¬†Rihanna, Rowland and Hilson simply the norm now for a music industry plagued by poor album sells? ¬†Does legitimate talent allow artists to avoid the trappings of the¬†over-sexualized¬†image? ¬†Does the male consumer drive this trend or are women‚ÄĒas consumers‚ÄĒequally responsible for our¬†representations?

Falling Like The Rain: We Ain’t Running Out!

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking around the idea of “scarcity”. ¬†In psychology and economics, the Scarcity Principle describes our urge to obtain something that we believes we¬†may not be able to get in the future.

In the economy of human relationships, the media treats single Black men as a “scare commodity”. ¬†Within this paradigm, Black women are conditioned to believe that the quality partners they are looking for are a rare and limited resource. ¬†However, I would ¬†like to offer a bit of critique of this now widely held and statistically backed perspective. ¬†I am concerned that this narrative only amplifies the problems for men and women in the dating pool.

News Flash: ¬†Men are falling like the rain. ¬†We are in no danger of running out, despite what any number of blogpost, news reports, and articles in women’s magazines will tell you. ¬†They will cite numerous measures around the number of Black men who are in prison, exclusively dating outside the race, or¬†homosexual. ¬†For instance, this¬†article on mybrotha.com states there only 27 available Black men available for 100 Black women. The statistical soundness of this dataset is more than questionable, but for all the barriers to finding a partner; I am not readily convinced that it boils down to a sheer numbers game.

I believe what is required is a paradigm shift by Black women en masse. If we continue to treat the identification of a quality partner as a desperate endeavor‚ÄĒgrounded in jealousy and competition‚ÄĒwe are only fueling the spiral of scarcity. ¬†In this environment, Black men who do not even have the characteristic or desire to build genuine or profitable relationships with quality Black women are reaping the benefits of being a valued commodity–without actually being one.

Accordingly, our dating marketplace has become Canal Street. ¬†Canal Street is a notorious bastion of fake designer goods. ¬†The public flocks here to purchase cheap¬†facsimiles of exclusive items‚ÄĒlike the elusive Birkin Bag. ¬†The Birkin is a¬†handmade purse by¬†Herm√®s. ¬†It is the ultimate symbol of wealth and¬†privilege. ¬†Birkins are released on unpredictable schedules and in limited quality creating scarcity in the marketplace. ¬†Now Canal Street is full of knock-off Birkins. ¬†These bags are not unique, handmade, or otherwise special. ¬†My point: LADIES STOP TREATING THE KNOCK-OFF LIKE THE REAL THING.

In any situation where you have scarcity you have panic and acts of desperation.  Ladies we have to stop selling ourselves short, in order to obtain any kind of man.   Compromising your real desires for connection, authentic relationships, love, and good treatment only fuels the cycle of scarcity.  We have to be wise consumers to get what we really want: genuine relationships and authentic love.

Scarcity is tied to our survival instinct, but there are lots of good guys out here. ¬†They may not be the Alpha male, or fly, or otherwise jiggy‚ÄĒbut they do exist. ¬†However, the marketplace will react to the way we interact with ¬†it. ¬†If as a collective, Black women decided to ¬†diversify our markets, and more importantly set our own price to¬†align¬†to the real value we bring, we might get better outcomes. ¬†If we treat ourselves cheaply, we are no better than the knock-off Birkin we so detest. I am making a call for us to stop competing with each other for minimal¬†treatment, hurt feelings, and disappointment. ¬†Let’s raise up our standard to get what we TRULY deserve: the kind of love that will hold us for a lifetime.

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