When your name is “Tinashe,” black folks don’t need Scooby Doo or a member of the Mystery Machine to guess that race. Yet the singer-songwriter-dancer is arguing that the lot of us don’t completely embrace her, a mixed-race woman, even though she considers herself to be a black woman.
It was one of the more befuddling statements in an overall baffling interview with The Guardian on the state of the 24-year-old’s career, which appeared promising after the success of her first single, “2 On,” but has since been stagnant, given her long-delayed sophomore album, Joyride.
Although Tinashe has certainly kept busy since the release of her strong debut album, Aquarius; the exceptional 2015 mixtape, Amethyst; the 2016 mixtape, Nightride; and touring stints with Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj, her second album was announced 18 months ago, with no arrival date in sight. Numerous singles have arrived during this period, though none of them have performed as well as the label would like, prompting delay after delay.
Things may not be going how she wanted, but Tinashe professed to be maintaining a positive attitude, explaining, “However long it takes, I know I will get to my end goal.” The article then proceeded to offer background about Tinashe’s career—i.e., her time spent as an actress, with a recurring role on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men; her brief time as a member of the girl group the Stunners; and how she cultivated a solo career by learning how to produce and engineer her own records, which led to her creating mixtapes in her childhood bedroom and ultimately landing a deal with RCA Records.
If only the interview had stopped there. When it came time to explain what has since gone wrong in her career as a recording artist, Tinashe gave frank statements, such as highlighting how the label shifted interests to other artists like Zayn Malik, who, at the time, was launching his solo career after leaving One Direction. Moreover, she tried to inform readers about the perils of being a black female singer not named Beyoncé or Rihanna.
There are hundreds of [male] rappers that all look the same, that sound the same, but if you’re a black woman, you’re either Beyoncé or Rihanna. It’s very, very strange.
This is not the first time Tinashe has mentioned those marquee artists and the limitations others may place on her and others for not being either superstar.
For me, I feel like I still have to represent the [Black] community. That has been what has been my struggle because people do feel like there is only room for one. There is a Beyoncé, there is a Rihanna, there is Zendaya, there is a Jourdan Dunn. There is a Black girl in all of these positions and we don’t need another one.
It’s just kind of ridiculous because there are like a hundred blonde, white actresses and leading ladies. There are a hundred rappers that all virtually look the same, sound the same, and dress the same and no one cares. But for some reason, when it comes to young women, they want to pit them against each other. There can’t be room [for us all]. There can’t be five Black girls winning. It’s weird.
Tinashe is not wrong in noting that it has been much harder for black female artists to enjoy the sort of crossover success that they had in the 2000s, the 1990s or even the 1980s. Do one quick skim of Billboard’s Hot 100 charts, and you’ll notice the dearth of black women; indeed, in the top 40, there is only one black woman to be found, Minaj, and that’s as a featured artist.
Rihanna may be the biggest hit-maker of a generation, but she is an anomaly. Even so, most of her biggest hits have been more pop-leaning tracks, and when she tilts toward more “urban” sounds, she finds herself where other black women—including Beyoncé—are: relegated to the hip-hop/R&B-affiliated charts.
Something has shifted, and it is worth discussing. However, with respect to Tinashe’s problems, it would have behooved her to first look within before speaking publicly on the state of her career. Likewise, it might be in her best interests to keep other artists’ names out of her mouth. That is, if she isn’t going to bother telling the whole story rather than the parts that fit her narrative.
Here she is in The Guardian interview continuing her point about the pitfalls of not being Beyoncé or Rihanna:
It felt like they almost had to sacrifice someone because there wasn’t enough room, which isn’t true. Ciara’s an amazing artist, Beyoncé’s an amazing artist, Rihanna’s an amazing artist, and they’re all very different!
Ciara is a multiplatinum artist with numerous No. 1 singles on the Hot 100 in addition to a slew of R&B hits. Ciara is no longer the Ciara she was a decade ago because she stopped doing the kind of music that made her famous in order to pursue her odd goal of becoming Negro Kylie Minogue. Her ex-fiance, and the father of her first son, Future, may have hurt her personally, but he, along with Mike Will Made It, gave her her biggest hit in years with “Body Party.”
She answered that success by running to Dr. Luke to start flopping again. These days, she’s running around like a black Kardashian; she appears to like being famous more than she enjoys being the star she used to be. Whatever works for her.
So no one pushed Ciara away; she ejected herself. There is a difference between properly contextualizing one’s struggles and creating excuses for the sake of perpetuating victimhood. Tinashe toed the line, explaining how hard it is for black women to break through in the modern era, but she went over it when she started to portray herself as a victim, at the expense of the black people she once claimed to want to represent.
On her mixed heritage and its role in her career struggles, Tinashe said:
There’s colourism involved in the black community, which is very apparent. It’s about trying to find a balance where I’m a mixed woman, and sometimes I feel like I don’t fully fit into the black community; they don’t fully accept me, even though I see myself as a black woman. That disconnect is confusing sometimes. I am what I am.
Funny enough, I doubt most people even know that Tinashe is mixed. Most people don’t know anything about her besides “2 On.” And again, her name is Tinashe. Beloved, we’ve all clocked in on your blackness.
While some outlets did exaggerate the extent to which Tinashe faulted black people for her failures, it is her fault for bringing it up. Also, consider the optics: a mixed-race woman going to a white journalist to whine about how mean the “regular blacks” have been to her.
I’ve been to multiple Tinashe concerts. The crowds are mixed, but there have been heavy black populations at each New York City concert date that I’ve attended. Being light-skinned and mixed doesn’t mean that you don’t carry burdens, but to pretend that colorism applies to you is a gross misunderstanding of the term and its history. And being light-skinned and mixed affords you many opportunities—especially in the entertainment industry. You don’t have to listen to me. I’m sure Jazmine Sullivan, SZA and many others could educate Tinashe better than I.
In that same 2015 xoNecole profile, Tinashe said this about colorism:
If a Black girl is winning—whether she is lightskin, darkskin or any type of shade in-between, that should be a win for the Black community, period.
She should never have deviated from this talking point with the press. Now she’s getting the most attention she’s ever had, and it’s all rooted in backlash and ridicule.
Tinashe should have worked out her Mariah Carey “Outside” issues in front of a therapist, not a journalist with the ability to cause irreparable harm to her career. I am quite the fan of Tinashe and believe in her promise as an artist and entertainer. “2 On” was never the best representation of who she is as an artist. Unfortunately, those who never paid Tinashe much mind are even less likely to ever consider doing so now. As for those who mocked her in the past, she just provided them with endless ammunition to further fuel their disfavor.
Ultimately, she’s made her bed. I never understood why she was doing gigs like co-hosting red-carpet specials for E! I mean, Christina Milian turned to that for checks, but that was after her music career stalled.
Then there is the matter of the songs she’s been releasing. Sure, many of them are catchy, but they don’t have much strength in the way of hooks. If your song isn’t constructed to be memorable, you will remain forgettable. There’s also a misstep in terms of direction. “I consider myself a pop artist who makes R&B-tinged pop music,” Tinashe explained to The Guardian.
The music that got Tinashe a record deal and a small but dedicated fan base doesn’t sound like her most recent single, “Flame.” There is some sort of conflict between Tinashe and her label, in addition to Tinashe and herself, about the kind of star she wants to be and the music she needs to make to be there. It’s a challenge for most artists with similar ambitions, but her failure to find the perfect formula is a personal problem, not the fault of the black community.
SZA reminds me of Tinashe in that she had a smaller but very vocal fan base and music that initially felt niche. However, after working with the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna as a songwriter, she’s found the perfect balance between making music that’s true to her and more accessible to the masses. The end result is SZA’s latest album, Ctrl, being both a critical and commercial darling. After topping the iTunes charts all weekend, Ctrl still sits in the top five—ahead of the pop behemoth Katy Perry.
SZA managed to achieve that feat without putting her past recording-industry frustrations on her people; perhaps Tinashe can soon learn how to do the same.