Saturday, March 27, 2010

Don't You Know I Dumped Your Husband?

Androgyny has always been an appealing attribute in pop music vocals. Perhaps as much as the mass market consumer enjoys the vocal acrobatics of the Mariah Careys and Christina Aguileras and the American Idol contestants of the world, there's something to be said about being able to sing along to our favorite songs, and what easier songs to sing along to than those that fall in the middle range of the unisex register? It's no coincidence that the biggest names in pop music tend to fall in the tenor/counter-tenor range for males (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, Usher, Prince) and the alto or mezzo range for females (Britney Spears, Pink, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Fergie, Alicia Keys, Sade...the list goes on).

Of course, the best examples of androgyny are the ones that cause a lot of "That's a BOY/GIRL?!?! I thought it was a girl/boy!" types of reactions without diminished appeal. (While I am still attempting to account for and explain the immense appeal of Justin Bieber to the rabid young female audience prone to rioting at shopping malls and keeping the name trending on Twitter almost constantly- and believe me, I'm trying - clearly the voice has a lot to do with it, since let's face it, the kid's just not that attractive, even in a teen beat pinup sense.) One of the first examples of this sex mixup in my personal musical experience occurred in 2000 when I first heard "He Wasn't Man Enough" on the radio on the school bus home and momentarily mistook it for a curiously progressive bit of sexual role reversalism (keep in mind that my formative years in pop music were from about 1996-'99, wherein one of the big hits was White Town's "Your Woman," so I had learned early on that gender was more fluid in this brave new world). But when I found out later that the masculine lead vocals belonged to "Un-break My Heart" crooner Toni Braxton, it took nothing away from my enjoyment of the sassy single (and once I found the music video in college I knew I was in kitsch heaven).

Nowadays, Braxton is apparently in the early stages of a comeback. After years of legal problems with former labels, from her abrupt departure from Arista Records following the flop of her fourth album in 2002 (Braxton was pregnant around the time of the release and Arista refused to postpone, resulting in Braxton being able to do little promotion) to her recent release from Blackground Records after numerous disagreements with its manager and publicity nightmares including a public feud with Jay-Z and Kanye West (she claimed on a radio interview that the rappers had taken money from her childrens' college fund), the only good exposure Braxton has gotten in almost a decade came from her historic headlining gig at the Flamingo in Las Vegas from 2006-08 and an appearance on the seventh season of Dancing With the Stars and its subsequent tour. With her sixth album, Pulse, due to be released on May 4, 2010, it remains to be seen if Braxton's comeback more resembles Britney Spears' or Whitney Houston's. For now, here's an oldie but goodie from the one and only Ms. Braxton for a beautiful Saturday.

"He Wasn't Man Enough"
Toni Braxton
(LaFace Records, 2000)

Trivia: Braxton has won six Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist in 1994, four awards for Female R&B Vocal (including one for "He Wasn't Man Enough") and one for Female Pop Vocal ("Un-break My Heart"). In addition to becoming the first headlining black performer in Las Vegas to have her show chart in the top ten in sales data, Braxton was the first (and only) black woman to play the leading role in Disney's Beauty and the Beast on Broadway.

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