Tinashe has gained her second wind in 2018. The underrated talent just joined season 27 of Dancing with the Stars and has already won over judges, earning the highest score on the Monday night (Sept. 24) premiere.
Tinashe’s decision to join DWTS doesn’t come as a complete shook especially since she is an amazing dancer. But she dropped her sophomore album, Joyride, earlier this year. It’s a project that didn’t receive the proper notoriety she anticipated. Although this discredit isn’t an uncommon narrative for the 25-year-old entertainer.
Tinashe has been trying to breach mainstream airwaves since 2011 when she left her former group, The Stunners. After the disbandment, she went on to release several mixtapes, including In Case We Die and Reverie. Both efforts went against the grail of the prevalent sound in popular music in 2012. As consumers were being spoon-fed EDM music and metallic beat drops, Tinashe sought to craft two unconventional and sonically different R&B records that encompassed a lot of what was missing in the genre at that time. By combining elements of chillwave music, with the introspection often found in R&B, Tinashe forged two solid bodies of work that immediately differentiated her from the pack.
However, after releasing those projects she found herself with much acclaim from music publications, but without the commercial success or buzz to match. Afterward, RCA ended up offering Tinashe a record deal that fortified her desire to make it. On the heels of her debut album, Aquarius, she released one final EP, Black Water, that featured all of the sentimentality found in contemporary R&B of the ‘90s, coupled with mind-altering production to boost the atmosphere of the lyrical content. Tinashe was releasing quality material, but she had no prominent song to tether her to the public eye.
But when Tinashe released her first proper album in 2014, tides seemed as though they had shifted for the novice artist. One of her singles, “2 On” became an urban hit that breached R&B radio and left an indelible impact on the Billboard charts. The SchoolBoy Q-assisted track peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained on the chart for 12 weeks afterward. It even came in at No. 65 on Billboard’s 2014 year-end Hot 100 list.
After so many false starts with The Stunners and the modest acclaim racked up for her earlier EPs, the seeds of her artistry were finally coming to bear in the commercial realm. Her work on Aquarius even scored her nominations at the Soul Train Awards and BET Awards, respectively. As added bonuses to her rising fame, she was selected as an opener for Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint Tour and Katy Perry’s The Prismatic World Tour. From there, Tinashe commanded her own Aquarius Tour in North America and Europe.
After proving her chops nationally and overseas, BET endowed Tinashe with the honor of tributing Janet Jackson on their 2015 awards. The performance saw much buzz of social media outlets including Fuse. As the cherry on top to a prosperous musical era, Tinashe was singled out by The New York Times for being one of the standout female voices alongside Beyoncé in that current era of male R&B dominance. To have a notable publication come out and tout you as a leading R&B voice in comparable leagues with a veteran like Beyoncé was a bold and arguably premature notion of Tinashe’s upward trajectory as an artist. Regardless if the comment was warranted or not, it was a testament to her progression as a commercial factor for her label. Perhaps the most impressive of all is Tinashe has pulled off a mildly successful debut era, that saw her on a new stage of fame unparalleled to what many budding artists don’t get the chance to do.
After wrapping her solo tour, Tinashe began testing the waters by releasing throwaway singles to gauge the direction she wanted to veer in with her second LP. First on the list was “Superlove,” which was praised as “bouncy and bubbly” by Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spanos and featured a hot video with particular rave going towards Tinashe’s dancing. And although the song failed to make much impact on the Hot 100, it had moderate success on the US Rhythmic charts, peaking at No. 26.
In September 2016, Tinashe released “Company,” which followed her usual trend of R&B fare with alternative undertones. Unlike any she ever released prior, this song wasn’t penned by her and marked a slight shift in the trajectory of her career. Both songs were embraced mildly by the dancing community, but every other demographic paid the songs dust.
In a move to revitalize interest in her waning commercial prospects, Tinashe released “Flame” in March 2017. The song’s composition was surely designed to strike a chord in fans of pop music, as it had upbeat and perky synths that were unlike the usual grounded and earthy tones her R&B music contained. This stark redirection showed how desperate the label was for Tinashe to seize the remnants of the relevancy she crafted with her debut era. The song wasn’t received well by her core fans at all. Many were skeptical and feared that RCA was forcing Tinashe to forfeit her hardened R&B persona to embody a safe and uninspired pop star. Tinashe seemed as though she was in a battle for creative sovereignty over the direction of her impending album. In a gambit to stretch her demographic reach, she alienated some of her core fans and confused members of the general populace by seeming like an artist that wasn’t determined enough to stick to her guns.
Her current project and sophomore album Joyride was long-awaited by fans and had much anticipation from critics. Joyride failed to enthrall both critics or elicit any interest outside of Tinashe’s fanbase. The album debuted at No. 58 on the Billboard 200 after selling an underwhelming 9,800 copies in its first week sales. “No Drama,” a trap ballad of sorts and the album’s lead single, featuring Offset, didn’t break into the Hot 100 and struggled to find longevity on radio.
Why is the public reception surrounding Tinashe so unsettling? Well, there are a few variables that could attribute to her current condition. One of them involves the question of whether she has the “IT” factor that many famed divas and musicians before her seem to embody. The main thing wrong with this assessment of the “IT” factor is that no one ever seems to have a universal definition that highlights what it even is. People use that argument to undermine Tinashe’s star quality and talent. But the facts are that she sings well, dances amazingly, and has a wonderful stage presence. Shouldn’t those factors be all the prerequisites needed for an artist to blow up? Apparently not.
Tinashe gets pegged for not having this noticeable aura, but she refutes that every time she touches a stage and uses every breath in her body to perform full-out and unapologetically.
It also needs to be mentioned that Tinashe is the pilot of her own career. She spearheads all of the development of her work and takes an adamant role in carving out the sonic landscape for her albums and projects. No song she does is ever finished without her pen being utilized either. She’s doing what many of these current pop girls skate around, except she gets paraded in the media as a struggling artist who has no conception of what she wants her sound to be. Perhaps people find trouble taking her seriously because her label doesn’t, which leads to the second issue of the “Tinashe conundrum.”
RCA is a label that’s seen its fair share of woes and complications when it comes to fully supporting their artists with sufficient promo. The label itself has boasted an impressive roster of R&B and soul singers like Usher, Alicia Keys, Jazmine Sullivan, and even Justin Timberlake. So then why does Tinashe get the scraps and is left all alone to figure out the jumbled puzzle pieces of her career? RCA refuses to believe in Tinashe’s talent enough to really give her the backing she needs (and deserves).
Labels like Atlantic and Republic have shown that it’s possible to get campaigns and radio world premiere deals to work in the favor of rising and legacy artists in all genres. RCA is barely securing promo slots on late night television shows or award shows to promote Tinashe’s material. To reap the benefits of success you must be willing to throw revenue into your budding artists career or things will falter under the weight of indecision and elapsed time.
People aren’t sure how to categorize Tinashe, and her label doesn’t know how to market her because of the dissenting opinions on her worth in the music business. Instead of recoiling from what the general public has decreed on Tinashe, RCA needs to pump all of the sufficient funds necessary to make sure people know that Tinashe can be a force to reckoned with.
Aside from her musical ventures, the American populace also doesn’t know Tinashe as a character to root for her. It’s easy to be in the corner of an artist when you have a good sense of what their goals and aspirations are. And unfortunately, any sort of plight like that has been muddled by all of the conversations of what a flop Tinashe is. People judge her music and disregard the talent and humanity that lay underneath all of the underperforming records. It doesn’t help that Tinashe got into trouble over a presumed colorist comment made in her interview with The Guardian in 2017.
“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,” Tinashe claimed. This comment was met with controversy on social media with people stating that she was using reverse colorist arguments to justify her stagnant career.
The publication misinterpreted her words and framed her as a scorned artist, and people took the bait, using that slight lapse of a sound argument as more reason to dislike Tinashe. More recently, Tinashe has been in the media for her lukewarm feud with former flame and NBA star, Ben Simmons. Regardless of who is at fault for the failed relationship, the drama blew up in Tinashe’s face when Simmons put out into the world that she was stalking him. Although a jest at its worst, social media used it to vilify Tinashe and add another flower to the proverbial grave they’ve tried to put her career in.
But throughout all of the drama, underperforming, and misunderstanding, Tinashe has remained passionate about her craft. She’s resigned to making music — even under her alias, Nashe, — that is indigenous to her own strengths. She’s not trying to appease pop radio by curating throwaway singles that have a finite lifespan, anymore. If anything, this constant fight to secure her livelihood and musical integrity have made her skin thick enough to deal with anything.
Hopefully, Tinashe’s new entertainment venture on DWTS will usher in a new era of understanding for people in the world to see Tinashe’s hard work, albeit in a different form. Until then, Tinashe stands as a beacon of someone who is an underrated talent that should be given more flowers for her efforts. She’s also a harrowing statement of how unfair the entertainment industry can be to those who truly have the chops to take it by storm.
Words by Edward Dave
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