The Oversimplification of Love and R&B

By: Know Alibi
Post Date: June 2010

So….Let me start by saying I’m not a fan of pop music. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not really my thing. But, this week I have been listening to the radio in the morning, which is out of character for me as I am normally tuned in to my ipod. While listening, I got to thinking that I’m pretty annoyed by the way that love and relationships are portrayed in R&B music.

The two songs that really drove this notion home for me were “Papers” by Usher and “Yesterday” by Toni Braxton. I realize these songs are more about divorce and heartbreak than love, but bear with me I’ll get back to the broader topic of love in a moment. What bothers me about both songs is the fact that they are dealing with their personal problems in such a public manner. Now, I have nothing against artist addressing the personal problems on record, it has produced some of the best music we’ve heard. And personally, I believe music could use a lot more honesty and expression of the struggle we all go through, particularly in hip-hop. I take issue with the fact that these songs aren’t about a fling or some sort of short lived love, they are talking about their spouses, whom they committed the rest of their lives to.

On the one hand we have Usher, who has written great songs in the past about mistakes he’s made ie. confessions, Burn. These are great songs that have as much to do with making mistakes and taking responsibility as they do heartbreak. But “Papers” isn’t like these songs. To me the song comes across as selfish and misguided. At the end of the day this song is about the mother of your children! How did she turn you into the man you never thought you’d be? How could she cause you to lose your relationship with your mama? I get it. Ya’ll got problems. Cool. Keep that in house though. You don’t put her on blast like that! She’s not a public figure like you are. You trying to make a hit song out of a divorce! Not Cool!

imageAs for Ms. Braxton, her situation seems a little different. Infidelity is a serious offense and a deal breaker in most relationships. In this case what bothers me about the song is that it’s performed with a dude she kissed on stage in front of everyone as a sort of announcement that she’s no longer married. Not OK! Woman scorned. Again, I get it. I’m not defending the brothas actions by any means, but this is just too public. I would figure maturity would come with age, maybe some tact too. Guess not.

Before I move on, it’s not that I feel people shouldn’t divorce, or write songs about them. I take issue with the type of songs they wrote. Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear” album is all about his divorce. An entire album! But because it’s a whole album and not one song he gest to speak on it from many different angles. He questions himself, her, love, family and why he has to pay attorney fees. Is he bitter? Yes. Is he sad? Yes. But he also reminisces about the good times and wonders where it all went wrong. We don’t get this from Usher and Braxton.

All of this brings me to my much larger point which is that much of the music we hear is oversimplifying love and relationships. I realize that it is hard to discuss such a complex concept in a song, and that’s not entirely what I’m suggesting. There are many aspects and facets to love and relationships. Like all things they go through stages. Typically what we get as listeners is the extremes of love. Which is fine. We have plenty of great songs from these perspectives. But as in love, sometimes the subtlety is what makes a good song, a great song. Too many songs we hear try to paint this picture of a romantic never ending love. But if you ask anyone who is in love and committed they will tell love starts when the feeling of being “in love” wears off. At this point it becomes a choice. You choose to love. I know it doesn’t sound romantic or easy, but it’s true. Love and commitment are hard work. Sounds to me like Usher wasn’t willing to do the work.

Lastly, before people say I’m being to harsh or don’t like anything I think there are a couple artist around who do speak on the complexity and subtleties of the various feeling we go through in love. Robin Thicke does a great job expressing the insecurities men have and deal with as well as deep bond that goes beyond the physical. Maxwell, Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, Kindred Family Soul are also exceptional artist when it comes to this.

Few have what it takes to create an everlasting, all enduring timeless love. As it is in life; so it goes in music.

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