Five years ago, Tamar Braxton appeared on Good Morning America to promote Tamar & Vince. It was a year after she became the breakout star of the breakout hit Braxton Family Values, and a year before the release of her album Love and War.
She had a peppy smile plastered across her face throughout the segment. And why wouldn’t she? Finally, she was becoming a force of her own creation, someone whose fame origins could be directly attributed to her work, rather than one whose seedbeds stemmed from the contributions of another—in her case, her ultrafamous sister, the legendary Toni Braxton. More important, she was inching closer and closer to her real aim: to successfully relaunch the solo career she’d always wanted.
It has proved to be very difficult to launch a black female singer in the last decade. Black radio’s influence has waned. Record labels have shifted interests and have largely sought to repeat formulas they know can score quick cash, at a time when the sudden shift in how we collectively consume music has depleted profit margins. They’re not promoting black female talent the way they used to, and when they do make minimal effort, it is for much younger artists than Braxton, who at the time of the interview was in her mid-30s.
Meanwhile, reality television has proved itself to be a shrewd way to build an artist’s fan base—well, if the music doesn’t suck and there is proper planning in place. Tamar Braxton, along with her husband, Vincent Herbert, skillfully used reality television to make Braxton the star her talent has long demanded that she be.
So, five years later, as Tamar Braxton releases Bluebird of Happiness, her fifth studio effort (yes, I am counting both her purposely forgotten debut album, Tamar, and her holiday-focused project, Winter Wonderland), it was peculiar to hear her declare to Entertainment Tonight that she will no longer be releasing albums.
“There are a lot of things that I want to do, and a lot of things that are in the works,” she explained to ET. It’s a curious statement given that since the premiere of Braxton Family Values, Braxton has been doing a constant juggling act. She has become a daytime talk show host, a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, a touring act.
When Braxton announced her decision to leave The Real, it was noted that she would be shifting focus to her solo career. Of course, we soon learned that the “mutual decision” for her to exit the show was anything but. Nonetheless, Braxton always made it appear that music was the top priority, so that if she no longer had daytime TV, she still had a booming music career.
What could possibly have changed her mind? “There’s a lot of things that are going on in my relationship and me being close to this music industry, and whatever I can do to eliminate all of the stress and problems off of my relationship, I would rather do that,” Braxton noted to ET. She went on to say, “My husband and I work very close together and it’s really hard, you know?”
As for what is apparently her final album, Braxton’s husband “calls it my best work yet.”
I would say that Braxton’s woefully underappreciated last album, Calling All Lovers, deserves those bragging rights more, but Bluebird of Happiness is yet another fine effort from the youngest Braxton—the one Toni Braxton named as the best singer of the family. Tamar Braxton has always complained about her first album sounding “too much like Toni Braxton,” but when you line that album up with the others, they all sound similar. Yes, many of the songs scream “urban adult contemporary,” but there’s never been anything wrong with that.
Tamar Braxton makes adult records, but she’s never sounded old. Her flair has always been inserted in her music. There’s always been some degree of youthfulness and spunk to much of what she releases. There’s constantly some oomph from her records that comes across as effortless, whereas it sometimes feels out of character coming from her big sister.
It’s more pronounced in tracks like the Yo Gotti-featuring “Hol’ Up,” but it’s also evident in songs like “Wanna Love You Boy,” which interpolates Robin Thicke’s “Wanna Love You Girl,” and “My Forever.” It’s also true of “Run Run,” though the trend of American singers faking a Jamaican accent in song should finally be left behind before the year ends. That song would be better without it, which is why I skip it to return to more ear-pleasing works like “Pick Me Up,” which features another interpolation, this one of Evelyn Champagne King’s “Love Come Down.” In fact, there is yet another on “The Makings of You,” which features Gladys Knight.
Although I generally worry when contemporary acts rely too heavily on interpolations, given that simply re-creating what listeners have already shown they love sometimes feels lazy, it doesn’t matter to me on Bluebird of Happiness because, simply put, Braxton sounds so good over everything she’s singing. For those who prefer her as a balladeer, the bottom half of the album will prove pleasing.
Even as an independent artist (Braxton recently broke with her label, Epic Records, and her husband has been ordered to pay its parent company, Sony, $3.7 million), Braxton has continued to find success, and Bluebird of Happiness’ lead single, “My Man,” has performed well on the charts. Moreover, Braxton will be touring on Xscape’s reunion tour alongside Monica. Much of that has to do with the fact that once Braxton finally got another shot at solo stardom, she made the most of it.
So, again, why is she quitting? Yes, I heard that it’s for the preservation of her marriage, but is there no alternative? Could she simply stop working with her husband in that capacity and they could enjoy each other as just man and wife rather than as business partners? Many people who are deeply in love can’t be co-workers. To walk away from that situation sounds reasonable, but not so much walking away from a career that she has publicly complained about wanting for years.
As someone who enjoyed Tamar Braxton in the girl group with her sisters Trina Braxton and Toward Braxton; who actively listens to the 2000 album she loathes and rarely, ever wants to discuss; and who remembers the false starts of a comeback, like when she signed with Tommy Mottola’s Casablanca Records, I’m a bit disappointed that she suddenly wants to abandon it all. Frankly, I don’t get it, but perhaps it’s not for me to get. Ultimately, it’s her decision and, based on her social media commentary, one in which she is steadfast. Such is her right, even as the fans who have been quietly rooting for her for so long—as much as a a decade, in many of our cases—are left stumped by the sudden rush to drop a dream.
Now, as for whether or not Bluebird of Happiness is the kind of project to end her catalog with, Braxton’s most ardent fans, the Tamartians, will spend the months ahead debating that. I vote no. The album is good, but considering that it is presently being sold as her final project, it disappoints to an extent because after each listen, you’re left with the feeling that she’s got so much music left in her.