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—the 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—others, 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—up and until—her 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—the master of the naughty good girl image—couldn’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−so 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—balancing 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—as consumers—equally responsible for our representations?

Mad Mel: Racist Tirades, Spousal Abuse, and the Media’s Double Standards


Its seems that we—as a cultural collective—should be a bit more angry at Mr. Mel Gibson.  The press was uniformly squared against Chris Brown for beating Rihanna.  Yet, the same media is largely neutral in reporting the recent news surrounding Gibson.  Where is Oprah on this one?  Nothing to say about Mel allegedly breaking a women’s teeth out of her head?

For those living under a rock, RadarOnline—a web gossip rag— has  released a series of vile audio tapes, allegedly starring Mel Gibson spewing  heinous, misogynistic, racist, and generally  hate-filled vitriol at his ex-girlfriend and child’s mother Oksana Grigorieva . 

 If we take the position that this is in fact Mel Gibson, which we do at The Kabosh, after listening to the tapes one can only come to a singular conclusion: the man has simply come unglued.   I supposed we can give Mr. Gibson some credit for being an equal opportunity offender.  In his most recent series of  rants, he manages to insult Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, and women, which I suppose is the big bigot cocktail for Mr. Braveheart.

Gibson has been largely irrelevant in Hollywood since a 2006 DUI arrest in which tape of him  mounting  an antisemitic tirade against an officer  was made public.  Nevertheless, many blogs are already asking , if he can  regain his career after this melodrama plays out.   Other blogs are suggesting that the recent tapes are without context and thus are unwilling to unfairly judge, decry, or condemn Mr. Gibson.   And still  other sites suggests he is mentally ill or an alcoholic or some combination of the two, and therefore needs help to deal with his particular for of mania.  

While the media is dealing with this story well, giving it the coverage and spectacle such a sensational story warrants, there something very measured in their calculus of trying to portray Gibson as a troubled and washed-up star, who perhaps may even deserve our sympathy for his mental debilitations.  We have this gem from, Whoopi Goldberg:

I know Mel, and I know he’s not a racist,” Whoopi on ‘The View’ on Monday, seeming both earnest and cautious to weigh in. “I have had a long friendship with Mel. You can say he’s being a bonehead, but I can’t sit and say that he’s a racist having spent time with him in my house with my kids. I don’t like what he’s done, make no mistake.”

Okay Whoop, what to you constitutes a racist?  Suggesting to his girlfriend that she would be raped by a gang of the “n-words”  given her selected attire, suggests to me…I don’t know, at least some notion of  bigotry in this man’s make-up.   Similarly, his remarks against Jews and now Hispanics show a similar disdain for minority communities.   Just because he may break bread with you Ms. Goldberg does not mean he is not a man with some deep-seeded issues around race and ethnicity. 

It’s strange to me that  the media was much less forgiving or open-minded just a year ago when photos of a battered and bruised young pop-princess emerged, the injuries inflicted during an altercation with herthen R&B crooner boyfriend.  By no means and I suggesting Chris Brown did not deserve to be taken to tasks for his actions, but I find that he was not given the benefit of the doubt in the same way Mel Gibson is.  Folks were not stating anything about context, they wanted Brown’s head on a platter.

The extent to which this different media treatment has to do with race is questionable.  I think photos of Rihanna’s swollen face heightened the level of spectacle and resulting public outcry, as compared to the audio tapes serving as evidence in the Gibson case.  A visual artifact of the abuse would likely tip the scale less favorably  in the media coverage.

Charlie Sheen, Robert Downy, Jr., Roman Polanski have all been smeared by controversy for irresponsible if not dreadful acts over the years, and they emerge unscathed and redeemed under the glitz of the Hollywood lights.  This time around Hollywood, the press and the public should uniformerly condemn what Gibson’s behavior.  He has shown a disdain and disrespect for women that can be called nothing less than misogyny.  His actions are deplorable and should be regarded as such.

Redemption Song: Why Chris Brown’s Man in the Mirror Performance Will Save His Career


Chris Brown has had a rough year: 1,400 hours of community service and a dropped endorsement with Wrigley;  banned from the UK and blasted by Oprah; the nation was turned against this guy. A platinum selling artist out the gate, his last project Grafitti sold fewer than 100,000 units.  So now, a little over a year after pleading guilty to assaulting pop princess Rihanna, he has done the impossible.  He has redeemed his career.

Browns’ performance did what an appearance on Larry King and a scripted video apology could not do.  It showed the frailness of humanity and how our moments of greatest weakness can be the dawning of our greatest days to come.

To me Brown’s performance was a purely redemptive moment that sent chills up my spine and I was as mad at Chris as anyone. Prior to the BET awards, he was in R. Kelly territory for me.  And there was little to nothing he could do to get out because I just could not wrap my mind around how he could batter this girl in this way. Young, gifted, and Black, he was throwing it all away. I’ve had friends tell me various versions of the “he didn’t beat her, they were fighting” line, but I just could not get past it.

Brown’s tribute to Michael Jackson at the BET Awards was nothing less than transformative.  An insanely talented dancer, Brown mimicked the late superstars moves with the perfect combination of pinpoint accuracy and breathtaking artistic freedom.   As Brown tried hopelessly to croak out vocals to Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, he was overwhelmed with absolutely genuine emotion. I mean I can’t listen to that song without crying, much less trying to sing it live in front of a audience, perhaps less hostile to you than the general public, but still skeptical.

Yet watching him  stammer across the stage lost in emotion, I can say without the slightest doubt that we were watching a humbled and talented man emote in a way that is so rare in our culture, but particularly within Black community.  The collective experience those who watched performance had was transformative in many ways. It showed “black maleness” in all its strength and frailties to a Nation.  Therefore, this moment means  more than just forgiveness for Chris, it will represent seminal moment in the re-launch of a career destined for superstardom.

In our community, it is often said that Men Cry in the Dark.  Yet Brown cried in the light.  No doubt his tears were for the pain he caused his mother, the disappointment he brought to his fans, his personal foibles and failings, challenges throughout year—and for the loss of one of his mentors—Michael Jackson.

His performance left me asking, how often do we see Black men cry in our lives, much less in the media? Last Year, in an article for Black America Web, Tonya Pendleton asks: Can a Black Man Cry Openly Without Ridicule? She names D.L. Hughley, Ne-Yo, and Stephon Marbury as notable Black male celebs who turned on the tears, only to be mocked and scorned by the public:

“Since black men in particular are encouraged from childhood to show a stoic face to the world, is it possible that their pain is viewed as unimportant? Could that be why black men tend to die earlier than white ones, and are often disproportionately violent towards women and others? Is the inability to express pain keeping black men from healing from various wounds” (Black America Web 2009).

The cynics will say that Brown’s tearful and broken effort was a ploy for the nation’s forgiveness and regain his career.  This conclusion marginalizes Black male pain and illustrates a disdain for any kind of weakness shown on their part.  But let it not go unsaid that he was entirely wrong for beating Rihanna.  He was more than wrong.  What he did was absolutely unconscionable.  His behavior showed an immature spirit carrying demons that one will hope were released with this cathartic performance.  I don’t doubt that this man carried and continues to bear a lot of anger and pain from childhood and beyond; ironically having expressed this pain in a  wholly different way than the Rihanna beating, he is now being questioned and doubted.  I’m am convinced this is unfair.

Ironically, the same folks questioning the Brown’s authenticity, condemn President Obama for not showing enough emotion for the Gulf Oil spill.  When it comes to emotional expression, Black men face a difficult catch 22.  Show too much emotion and you are angry or somehow damaged, and too little you are haughty, professorial, and unfeeling.  Go figure.

Americans want to forgive talented people: Kobe Bryant, Robert Downey Jr., Bill Clinton, Ron “I want to thank my psychiatrist and hood” Artest, and any number of celebs and politicians have, through the continued execution of their genius, overcome the darkest of moments.  Tiger you’re up next if you can win another green jacket.

This is Chris Brown’s moment to say: “America, let me transform you; I’m about to do genius.  Watch”.

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