Alternative Girl Summer: R&B takes over the charts in 2019

Summer 2019, better known as Hot Girl and City Girl Summer, has been transcendental for musicians. With new releases dropping what seemed like every weekend, summer 2019 was the jumpstart to many new artist’s success. More specifically it was the alternative R&B genre revolution that consistently dominated the music charts. The reason? Research shows that it could be linked to recent generational concerns of being more progressive. 

According to entertainment writer, Holly Rubenstein of The Independent, alternative R&B, or experimental rhythm and blues music, is a mesh of traditional sultry R&B components along with other facets of nontypical genres such as electronic, rock, and ambient sound. Also, it is typically dominated by African-American artists

“Key attributes are a lo-fi yet richly textured sound, ample use of atmospheric synths, occasional samples from indie music and thoughtful, often dark, philosophical lyrics” Rubenstein said. 

The term, alternative R&B, first gained prevalence in 2003 at the 43rdannual Grammy awards when India Arie won Best Urban/Alternative Performance for her song “Little Things”. Music critics created the subgenre due to Arie’s song that contained typical R&B characteristics along with ambient sound and classical components.

Other fusion artists such as FKA Twigs, Frank Ocean, and Solange are notable contemporary front-runners of the experimental/alternative R&B genre. 

The genre since, has been wildly popular for audiences. In Nielson Music’s annual mid-year report on music consumption and sales comparisons, the R&B genre as a whole has been the most streamed music style in the United States from January 4, 2019 to June 20, 2019 — surpassing rock music for the first time in Nielson Music’s reported history. 

Although mostly mainstream R&B artists, such as Khalid and Bruno Mars, came in as top streaming artists this year, the genre takeover also included alternative artists and their many contributions to the music scene during the summer as well.

Tyler, the Creator kicked off a strong summer for alternative music with the release of  his fifth studio album, “IGOR”, on May 17. It garnered attention and praise for his brightly colored visual aesthetic promotion and new approach to traditional hip-hop and R&B. 

“Tyler’s wide-ranging interests in jazz, rap, soul, and electronic music meld into lush, winding suites” music critic, Craig Jenkins of Vulture.com said about the album. 

Although Tyler, the Creator has had a consistent and steady fan base since 2009, “IGOR” has done comparatively better than his renowned Grammy-nominated album “Flower Boy” on music charts. According to Billboard’s Top 200 List, “IGOR” climbed  no. 1 whereas “Flower Boy” peaked at no. 2 after its release. 

Tyler wasn’t the only alternative R&B artist to do well on the charts this summer. Lucky Daye, a newcomer on the scene, released his first complete album, “Painted”, on May 24 that received wide praise from music critics and typical listeners alike. Daye was recognized by HYPEBEAST as a promising artist to keep on radar, performed at the 2019 BET Awards and was listed as a top artist to watch by onestowatch.com 

“I can’t get over how good Lucky Daye’s album is. I’ve had it on repeat all summer. Dude is destined to be the next RnB star,” Twitter user @helbringer15 tweeted.

The single “Roll Some Mo”, off of Daye’s “Painted” album eventually made its way to no. 8 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Songs List, beating out more well-known  artists like Chris Brown, Fantasia, and Lizzo. Other alternative R&B artists with successful releases during the summer of 2019 included Steve Lacy, Joy Crookes, Ari Lennox, and Willow Smith. 

 “Streaming has really opened up people’s exposure to different types of music,” said Calkie Fisseha, Board operator and music programmer at SiriusXM.  she said an increase in the popularity of streaming services could explain the alternative R&B revolution. “Fifteen years ago if you wanted to listen to a song, you had to buy the whole CD and go to Best Buy or whatever but now you have the ability to make your own playlists and hear new stuff.”

 Fisseha isn’t wrong either. According to The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s 2019 report, streaming services have consistently contributed to global recorded music market growth in this past year. The federation released that “total streaming revenues grew 34% to nearly half of all revenue, driven by paid streaming” and in another study done by statista.com, 37.9% of all music streams belonged to rap and R&B music.  

Others think differently. Chris McPherson, Brand Social Director of The New York Magazine, thinks that a  generational interest in politics may contribute to the genre’s success this summer. 

“Black culture is such a hot commodity in pop culture now. It always has been, but it seems as if the community is slowly reclaiming the credit for it now,” McPherson said. He also mentions that “Whenever a country goes through really tough political times, the music is really indicative of the comfort that people need to get through that. Now more than ever, especially a lot of teens; they want music with a message.”

And his claim matches up with  a January 2019 report by The Pew Research Center. Their findings showed that Generation Z — those born after 1996 — advocate the most for racial and ethnic diversity in American society compared to other genertations.  They also push the most for progressive and political interests. 

It is this same progressive and diverse generation who consumes the most music on a daily basis according to a study conducted in June of this year by statista.com. 

“Young kids don’t really care for the boundaries of genre anymore: They listen to anything they can vibe to,” McPherson said, “They don’t subscribe to all the boxes that they might have previously been forced into,” he said.

Generation Z aged Howard University student, Nigel Wimberly can attest to this statement. Wimberly mentioned that “they [recent generations] like what they like” when referring to the globalization of African American dominated genres as chart toppers.

As for the future of alternative R&B and typical R&B alike, music commentator and expert, Hope Willis of Capitol Hill believes that nonblack artist participation in the alternative R&B music scene will continue to help promote the genre’s popularity in years to come. 

Willis hopes that the genre continues on the upward spiral of this past summer. “My hope is wherever it goes that it’s going somewhere new, somewhere unexplored, somewhere that will push the boundaries of what’s possible for the genre because otherwise it’ll stagnate,” 

But as for the reason behind the alternative girl summer of 2019, Wimberly mentions that it is best explained by Tony award-winning director, George C. Wolfe. He said: “God created black people and black people created style.”