When it comes to R&B, it’s definitely girls who are running this mutha. Just take a look at how R&B divas rocked the 2021 Grammy nominations announced in November. Beyoncé, who already owns a staggering 24 gramophones, leads all contenders with nine nods, including Record and Song of the Year for “Black Parade.” Jhené Aiko and H.E.R. also got love in the Big four categories — the former for Album of the Year (Chilombo), the latter for Song of the Year (“I Can’t Breathe”) — while Chloe x Halle and Brittany Howard are also among those represented in the R&B fields.
Going beyond the Grammy nominees, women like Teyana Taylor, Summer Walker, Kehlani and Lianne La Havas drove R&B in 2020, taking the lead in the genre with their creative vision. No shade, fellas.
“We’ve been in the forefront and changing the game, which is really dope,” says two-time Grammy winner — and three-time current nominee — H.E.R., who made a strong statement for the ladies by declaring “R&B is not dead” at the Soul Train Awards in November. “All these women have worked so hard, and they have been the soundtrack to so many women’s lives.”
Chloe Bailey, of Chloe x Halle, seconds that: “I definitely think women are running the game right now, and I’m so happy about that,” she says of R&B’s female movement, which includes two Grammy nominations for Chloe x Halle’s Ungodly Hour. “There’s just so many incredible women right now. We’re just happy to be amongst them.”
Even within the genre of R&B, there is a diversity of sounds, styles, and spirits represented by these bosses. “I’m glad that there’s a variety in our space,” says British buzz artist Tiana Major9, whose “Collide” collaboration with EarthGang is nominated for Best R&B Song. “I’m so glad that everyone’s doing their own thing. Jhené doesn’t sound like Chloe x Halle. Chloe x Halle don’t sound like H.E.R. H.E.R. doesn’t sound like me. It’s so important because it just shows that we have so much more to offer than just one style of R&B. And a lot of people can see themselves in us.”
There’s no doubt about that and Howard makes it plain why: “The simple answer is we’re all different,” says the four-time Grammy winner (as frontwoman of blues-rock band Alabama Shakes), whose five current nominations for her solo debut Jaime include Best R&B Song (“Goat Head”). “To fit into [a mold], that doesn’t work anymore. It’s old. That’s why you can have just such amazing musicians with their own style, their own message, their own personalities.”
Indeed, these soul women are taking control of their narrative and creative direction in every way. Halle Bailey says that she and her older sister Chloe learned that lesson early. “Ever since we were younger,” she says, “we were taught the value of what it is to own everything you create and to take part in everything that you do and to put your stamp on everything and not allow men to try to tell you what to do. Just be your own leader.”
Of course, they also learned a little something from watching Beyoncé, even before she signed the duo to her Parkwood Entertainment management company. “Yes, she definitely has pioneered that way for us,” says Chloe. “She has always been that prime example for us. And I feel like my sister and I really made that statement too, with having all-female musicians and continuing to represent what we stand for and all the incredible women around the world.”
For Howard, every time she straps on her guitar, she thinks about representing for all the little Black girls who may be watching her. “I remember learning [guitar], I didn’t know of any Black women that played except for Tracy Chapman. That’s the only one I ever saw,” she says. “I think it’s important, especially for young Black girls, to see. It’s hugely inspirational.”
H.E.R. — who recently became the first Black woman to get her own signature Fender guitar — agrees about the power of playing an instrument, especially for a female R&B artist. “We’re expected to either dance or just hold the mic,” she says, “and not everybody wants to do that.”
The enigmatic singer-songwriter also thinks there is power in the R&B sisterhood being “champions” for each other — even when competing against each other at the Grammys on Sunday. “We have to build each other up, and we have to support each other,” says H.E.R. “When one of us wins, we all win. I’m happy to see all the Black women win.”