Ten years ago, Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart was really black. The #1 single went to artists of color for a total of 42 weeks that year. The Black Eyed Peas experienced dizzying chart success with “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling” which held the top spot for 26 consecutive weeks. Fergie, a white woman, played a pivotal role in the group during their mainstream success but this group’s legacy remains rooted with their founding members, three men of color.
In the subsequent years since, Billboard’s flagship chart has remained very brown albeit less than it was in 2009. Outside of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Cardi B, there has been no other woman of color to lead a single topping the Hot 100 in the last 10 years. Before Lizzo hit #1 with “Truth Hurts,” a song knocking around for a couple of years, it had been 15 years since a dark-skinned woman topped the charts.
With an equally palpable excitement surrounding Normani, how will she fare now that she has left the construct of a popular girl group? Things are off to a promising start with her duet with Khalid being certified 3X Platinum and “Dancing With a Stranger,” her single with Sam Smith, earning her another Top 10 hit. Normani might be to music what Heather Locklear was to TV shows in the 90s, but will she be able to change the conversation for brown girls and translate her buzz to solo chart success?
“Even in the mainstream, there’s not many of us. Especially chocolate girls,” she said in an interview earlier this year.
It’s no surprise that the internet went wild when she released “Motivation” in August. The music video, which dropped the same day the song became available to purchase and stream, treats viewers to fantastically executed homages to numerous Pop and R&B divas from the early aughts. She essentially broke the internet with her dancing and spawned the #MotivationChallenge where people recreate their favorite moments from the video.
“Motivation” has most certainly created a late summer fervor on the strength is its pop-culture laced video which has almost 40 million views on YouTube and 28 million streams on Spotify. But will this help boost her placements on the Hot 100? The song debuted at #33 and has since fallen to #66.
“Waves,” Normani’s less buzzed-about debut single, was released in November 2018. The song was described by Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spanos as an “R&B slow jam that gets stuck in your head and turns the party into a grindfest” and landed on Billboard’s Top 20 Best R&B Songs of 2018 list. It even won the Best R&B Video award at this year’s MTV Music Video Awards.
Despite these accolades, “Waves” was more of a soft launch for Normani. The track stalled at #19 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart and completely failed to make an appearance on the Hot 100. Finding success on the latter chart isn’t an uncommon accomplishment for R&B music. She scored a Top 10 hit with “Love Lies,” her aforementioned duet with Khalid.
On Twitter, the conversation shifted from her music to something more abstract: is Normani a pop star or an R&B artist? Louie Ortiz-Fonseca hit a nerve on Twitter by bringing attention to female artists who he felt were robbed of success because of Pop music’s “anti-Black” perspective. Ciara may have peaked at #1 once before, but has since been largely displaced from the Hot 100 despite dabbling in both the Pop and R&B realms. Her most recent single, “Thinkin Bout You” is arguably one of the better Pop songs of 2019 but missed the Hot 100 altogether.
Questioning which genre Normani might identify the most with won’t solely determine the trajectory of her success. So far, even R&B-focused charts have been slow to truly embrace Normani. Chris McPherson, acting Director of Social Media for New York Magazine, joined the conversation by tweeting that this is the level of criticism people “should be giving an album. A body of work meant to be picked a part. Not a 3 min preview.”
“Motivation” is far from the most original in terms of content or production, but lesser songs have soared to the top.
As we wait for her to bless us with a full-length LP, do any of us need to actually worry about Normani? No, because she has the utmost respect from her peers and the adoration of millions more. Seeing the outpour of support for “Motivation” from celebrities like actress Tika Sumpter to fellow singer Halsey was beautiful. Yes, we need to worry because the phrase “representation matters” applies here. There have been decent strides with representing different shades of Black people in mainstream media, but the work is far from over. Even Normani, a member of the Gen Z generation who grew up with social media, still recognizes how rare it is to see a woman like her in music’s spotlight.
“Kelly [Rowland] being a chocolate goddess, I was really able to see myself in her. I felt really down about a certain situation, and I spoke to her about it recently. She was like ‘Anything you need, pick up the phone’. It meant the world to me,” Normani shared with The Face about finding sisterhood with other Black women.
It’s true that social media platforms have advanced our capabilities of seeing others like us, but this doesn’t negate representation’s importance within highly visible and well-regarded vehicles such as Billboard’s Hot 100.
“Motivation” is far from the most original in terms of content or production, but lesser songs have soared to the top. No shade to all that Lil Nas X has recently accomplished but “Old Town Road,” a song that is novel at best, spent 19 weeks at #1. “Motivation” at least manages to deliver a solid vocal performance and further prove Normani’s star quality. Like many divas before her, she knows how to be effectively seductive while punching her way through a radio-friendly chorus.
When looking at everything on paper, Normani absolutely has the ability to reign over Billboard’s Hot 100. Outside of scandals and self-destructive behavior, she quite literally has everything we require of our superstars. With years of stand out moments in Fifth Harmony and a strong solo foundation, it shouldn’t be difficult for the charts to stan Normani just like the rest of us already are.