I could talk about music incessantly. I’m like Steve Hightower (of Steve Hightower and the High Tops fame): Music is my one true love. Or, at the very least, my first love. I used to steal tapes. I remember my first CD purchase. I’ve had full-fledged arguments with friends that nearly turned into brawls over people’s top five lists.
I’m not proud of that last one.
I was, however, part of an argument about who the better artist was—D’Angelo or Maxwell—that I’m pretty sure did devolve into a shouting match and somebody being called out their name. (The answer is D’Angelo, by the way.)
I argue the minutiae of music as much as the grand scale. I also consume significant amounts of information about music, both new and old. I will read a 30-year-old profile of an artist nobody’s ever heard of and then watch an interview about Fetty Wap giving back to the community. I believe in miracles and that I can fly, and I, too, wonder if heaven got a ghetto. Word to Tupac.
I listen to pop music as much as I listen to “authentic” music. I love that s—t. Disposable music is just as important as music that will last for decades, because it gets us between classics. For instance, Rihanna’s hit single “We Found Love” will be played forever and, amazingly, she’s on her ninth (!!!) album. Conversely, I think that without Beyoncé’s eponymously titled album, her contributions to the musical history of blackness are overrated, though they will be talked about forever as the reason she slays, even if the only song that will be played forever is “Single Ladies.” Luckily for her, that album was dope sauce, proving that above all else, music is a fickle bitch. I still love it like XO, though.
When it comes to significant musical acts, though, one question—to myself—has come up more than any other over at least the past five or six years, and it’s this:
How come nobody really gives a s—t about En Vogue? I’m baffled by this as much I was about Boyz II Men.
En Vogue was different when they hit the scene. They didn’t do contemporary R&B, and they had edge. They were the funky divas. Songs like “Hold On” and “Lies” truly ushered in that hip-hop soul movement that Mary J. Blige became the queen of. “Hold On,” beeteedubs, would be a smash today, methinks. En Vogue had the looks (each of them was chosen for the group because they were attractive—Cindy was even Miss Black California), the singing chops (the intro to “Hold On,” where they offer up an a cappella rendition of the Jackson 5’s version of the hit “Who’s Loving You,” brings that home) and the hit records during the ’90s, an era that many people pretend is the last great decade in music, especially black music.
And yet, when folks talk about greatest girl groups of all time—after the TLCs, SWVs and Xscapes of the world (Total is never on this list; shots fired), rarely is En Vogue part of the conversation, which I think is mostly an oversight. Somebody always says, “What about En Vogue?” and everybody’s like, "Oh, s—t, I forgot about them."
How have we forgotten about En Vogue?
They’ve never had a VH1 Behind the Music episode (while TLC’s Behind the Music is one of the most epic ones in the history of everything because of Left Eye’s breakdown of how you can sell 10 million records and go broke), and the following people have been featured on TV One’s Unsung (while En Vogue never has): Kashif (you don’t know who that is, though you might hear a song and be like, “Oh yeah”), Yarbrough and Peoples (they have one song that you know and don’t even realize is theirs), Klymaxx (“Meeting in the Ladies Room” is my s—t), Me’Lisa Morgan (did a cover of Prince’s “Do Me Baby” as her only real hit), and the list goes on.
All of those people are absolutely worthy of having their stories told; TV One hit pay dirt with Unsung, since very few mainstream outlets are going to tell the stories of these acts.
But how in the living f—k does En Vogue not make that list? After 10 seasons? Given all of the lineup changes and lawsuits, etc., En Vogue is ripe for somebody to tell their story: Four women placed into a singing group in Oakland, Calif., go on to make hit records, and then industry politics and life take over.
Speaking of hit records, En Vogue has five (!!!) No. 1 hits on the U.S. R&B charts (TLC doesn’t even have that, though to be fair, they have four No. 1 pop-chart hits, a more remarkable feat) and six U.S. top 10 hits. Xscape found very similar success, and according to Wikipedia (take that for what it’s worth), their episode of Unsung was the highest-rated episode ever. Which makes sense, though; people love them some Xscape. They were fresh on the scene, crispy and clean, and had hits and an image that evolved with them over time.
But so did En Vogue. Who were first.
They had all that s—t. En Vogue had the hits and the story. They had the platinum albums and the banging videos during a time of tragic videos; the ’90s were a time of too much creative freedom, or not enough—I truly can’t figure out which it was. They had the singing chops. They won MTV Video Music Awards and Soul Train Awards and were nominated for Grammys. To my recollection, though, they’ve never been given the tribute treatment, and we’ve already talked about them not being featured on Unsung. Their story would warrant a Lifetime movie as much as the TLC movie or that horrid film about Aaliyah.
Nobody’s touching Whitney.
Even the individual members had actual success outside the group. Dawn Robinson and Terry Lewis had notable success with their projects (Robinson with Lucy Pearl, and Lewis with her solo albums). They made it to television and even had the theme songs for two shows: Hanging With Mr. Cooper and Roc.
Again, I don’t understand why they don’t make it into the conversation about influential girl groups very often. They seem to get left off the table. I posited that Boyz II Men’s success might have worked against them in the long run. Plus, they were making some syrupy-ass songs at one point, and that type of music doesn’t always translate to long-term accolades, even if makes them millions in the moment.
Meanwhile, En Vogue pushed a few envelopes with their sound, a testament to writer-producers Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, their own personal Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, or Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. (I realize that Foster and McElroy are not as successful as those others, so please don’t tell me what I already know. Thank you—Management.)
Maybe the girls in the group ticked off everybody in the industry—a real possibility—and because of that, their contributions got less coverage (if any at all), causing many of us to forget about them in the long run. Groups back then were notoriously full of a—holes and egos, and female groups often caught more flak for it than men, because patriarchy.
But still, with the ’90s being such a popular decade and En Vogue being one of those groups with legitimate hits in that decade who also managed to make a pretty good run, I’m confused about this seeming lack of accolades. Maybe I’m missing it, and I’d be happy to be wrong, but I don’t feel wrong.
What gives? How come nobody cares about En Vogue anymore?
Panama Jackson is the co-founder and senior editor of VerySmartBrothas.com. He lives in Washington, D.C., and believes the children are our future.