Who Killed the R&B Group?
There was a time when vocal groups ruled, from the Temptations to TLC. No more. What happened?
Groups Are Hard to Manage
At Constitution Hall, the DJ drops the instrumental for the 1997 hit "Don't Let Go (Love)," En Vogue's best-selling single to date. Cindy Herron belts the first verse, making the absence of Robinson, who originally sang the verse, more apparent. Robinson, a known rebel whose refusal to renew her contract with En Vogue caused the group's first breakup, withdrew from plans to reunite and record another studio album this year. She took to Facebook to explain.
"OK, I'm getting angry emails from fans bcuz I'm not doing the new EV cd," wrote Robinson. "We are only on this planet for a short time then its OVER. I live my life my way & some hate me 4 that ... I have valid reasons 4 my decisions." Of course, in-fighting and personality clashes have long been a feature of the R&B group, from the Supremes to Destiny's Child. Disbanding is an inevitable reality -- one that's not lost on the audience. Time and success only intensify internal conflict. It's no surprise that few groups stay together.
"It's harder to manage a baseball team than it is to manage an athlete who's playing tennis in a singles match," said Danyel Smith, editor-in-chief of Billboard. "It's one thing to get one person to stage on time. It's an entirely different thing to get five people to stage on time. Groups are just notoriously difficult to manage."
Then again, groups unofficially -- but sometimes intentionally -- groom a standout who will eventually ditch the team for solo success, a trend dating back to Diana Ross' departure from the Supremes. Michael Jackson left the Jackson Five. El DeBarge chose a solo career over his siblings. Raphael Saadiq moved on from Tony! Toni! Toné! R&B group history is cluttered with the exits of group members in pursuit of solo careers.
It's the perfect catch-22, said Shanti Das, a 20-year music-business veteran and retired executive vice president of Motown. Record labels, Das said, often want to know that a group has a charismatic leader before they commit to risky contracts.
"Labels look for leaders in groups," Das said. "And that leader is often the breakout star."
Music producer Michael Bivins, a former member of Bell Biv Devoe and New Edition, doesn't see the pursuit of solo projects as a significant hindrance. Citing Destiny's Child as an example, Bivins, who is doing a reunion tour with New Edition, said that he believes talented group members should pursue their personal artistic goals and reunite respecting the other group members as individual artists.
"Sometimes there's so much talent within the group [that] you have to separate to let everyone live and breathe," Bivins told The Root.
Adds his bandmate Bobby Brown, who broke away from New Edition in 1988 to launch his highly successful solo career, "New Edition is built up of seven different artists ... [but] we are a group."