A little over two months ago, 2020k purchased the Deluxe Edition of Destiny’s Child group member Kelly Rowland’s third solo release, Here I Am. It was an interest in the R&B single “Motivation (Featuring Lil’ Wayne)” and fusion of prior Pop/Dance releases and collaborations with David Guetta that impacted the United Kingdom’s music charts and United States clubs. Plus, our love and adoration for the content, mainstream R&B production, and respectful mixing techniques applied to her records recorded with Destiny’s Child and previous solo releases Simply Deep & Ms. Kelly had us built up and ready to experience yet another aurally pleasing, empowering, and sonically honest album by the songstress.
While fragments of empowerment, confidence, and bold vocal presentation greatly impressed us, we unfortunately gave the record a less than stellar two-out-of-five rating, citing inconsistent mixing techniques, over-compression, borrowing similar sonic concepts from her contemporaries, and heavily relying on synthesizer sounds, percussive samples, and other musically structural elements that could be associated with a sound that is equivalent to badly programmed virtual instruments that created the illusion of an overall cheapened production value throughout the entire disc as the reasons Kelly Rowland’s release fell flat.
It was with those reasons that we blamed Rowland’s team as opposed to Kelly herself for all of the mishaps on the disc and as the promotional and marketing campaign for this album advances, it’s done nothing but further build poor execution after poor execution of desperation in searching for answers in the loss of knowing how to handle and take care of the current state of of Kelly Rowland’s career.
The puzzle pieces all seem to fall apart with Jeff Rabhan who replaced Matthew Knowles as new manager to Kelly Rowland in 2009. Interestingly enough, Jeff Rabhan also manages Lil’ Kim, KoRn, and Jennfer Lopez – three artists who have had a rough time in the passed couple of years staying true to the ingredients that catapulted them to stardom and have been switching up their games and style in order to recapture that original light (see KoRn’s latest collaboration with Dubstep artist Skrillex or Lil’ Kim’s Paypal released Black Friday mixtape). Regardless of Rabhan’s clients, it’s easy to see why Kelly would split with Matthew – especially through several incidents where Destiny’s Child bandmate and manager’s daughter Beyonce Knowles would be featured on award shows on the same night Kelly would be, which would consistently end with Beyonce having the spotlight, with one incident at a previous BET Awards show having Beyonce perform a song and Kelly Rowland being shortly featured along side the rest of Destiny’s Child members (and Beyonce’s sister Solange), unable to water the Ms. Kelly project with the performance of her song “Like This” being an aid to the Beyonce performance.
Anyone wanting to spread their wings as an artist wouldn’t want to be subjected to that, especially coming from a friend’s father, but it doesn’t seem like Jeff Rabhan is any better of an asset to ensuring a blossoming pop figure. Most of the mistakes made during the Here I Am campaign so far start right at the beginning when the album’s debut single “Motivation” started catapulting to radio, reaching over a million radio listeners, becoming the number one added Rhythmic song (#2 most added Urban) before going to radio ads and debuting on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts at number 55. It’s continued uphill climb eventually saw the song hit number 1 on that same chart and hold steady at respectful 17 on the United States Hot 100 chart, and an estimated 909,137 copies sold on iTunes (stalling at #23 on it’s chart). These numbers are extremely impressive for a United States debut single, but taking a look in the YouTube comments section and a few forums around the net, many listeners of the song originally thought the record actually had one of Rowland’s contemporaries Keri Hilson singing on the track.
Lack of promotion is anyone in mainstream music’s downfall and there was absolutely no trace of Kelly Rowland’s name or association with “Motivation” to her until it’s stunning live debut at the 2011 BET Awards on June 26th, 2011 where it was featured and overshadowed from it’s full potential by being included in conjunction to a Trey Songz performance.
Not only was the performance sheltered, but also hindered the song’s potential by debuting the song on television two months after the success of the song started to take off back in April. With Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock” peaking on the charts in Feburary of 2011, it was an easy mistake to casual listeners to believe that the unexpected hit “Motivation,” a polished R&B track with strong female vocals and sexually empowering lyrics was only a follow up to Keri’s smash. An easily avoidable incident if management would have started booking press, appearances, interviews, and performances that would have partnered Rowland’s name to the song.
“Motivation”‘s saving grace was it’s feature of the male rapper to go to, Lil’ Wayne and it’s accompanying video, released on April 5th, 2011 which is currently up to 40 million views on YouTube, comprised of Ms. Rowland performing very tight and over-sexually stimulated choreography with dozens upon dozens of half naked male dancers. Media interest peaked while bloggers and long time fans became enthralled with the new direction and authentic feel of the Sarah Chatfield directed (Lily Allen, Livvi Franc) sexed up video, which is arguably the main reason for the explosive positive response to the single.
Unviersal Motown then stepped into the picture and announced the release date of the record: July 22nd, 2011 – while it was moved up form an original fall release, it still sat on the shelves of manufacture warehouses until three months after the success of “Motiation” and a refusal of promotion until the aforementioned appearance on the August BET Awards. It was just enough time for “Motivation” to start it’s gradual decline from the charts and by the time Here I Am debuted, it had moved a dismal 77,000 copies, debuting at #3 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart.
Since the record’s release, it’s moved a grand total of 151,000 records in the United States (as of September) and unfortunately isn’t looking like it’s going to do much more of a dent as far as making an impact on the 2011 mainstream music scene. After the release of the record, promotion and marketing once again stalled and instead was filled about with rumors of which single would be next and what type of material would be included on the international release of Here I Am which is due out November 28th 2011 off the heels of her taken position of judge on the United Kingdom’s version of X-Factor and is another marketing technique gone wrong, as the album should have been released with the premiere of the show (please see the same thing happening to Pussycat Dolls’ front woman Nicole Scherzinger who is a judge on the American version of the show and is desperately trying to squeeze in press for her debut solo album).
There is still no word of the track listing of the self-described “up-tempo, dancey” version of the record and singles have just begun pouring out in the Untied States, starting with the Big Sean featured “Lay It On Me”. Word on the promotional video for the single started making it’s way into the internet with blog blips of an elephant named Suzy who “appeared shy and demanded cookies” on the set. It was something humorous to hype the fans and prepare them for the overall third single released from the project, but a delayed release worried listeners that the time taken to shoot the video would hinder the project’s overall press and radio hype, which was happening as initial impact of “Lay It On Me” was steadily climbing, once again becoming the #1 added song to urban radio, but fading away fast, currently charting below “Motivation” on the iTunes chart (Motivation @ 103 & “Lay It On Me” @ 124) and on the Billboard’s Top Hip-Hop/R&B Charts (“Motivation” @ 15 & “Lay It On Me” @ #47, slipping from it’s peak position of #43).
“Lay It On Me” debuted it’s video on YouTube October 12th, 2011 and while most of the comments lead to viewers still commenting on the over-sexualisation featured in Rowland’s videos from this era, it’s the only thing this video gets right. The rest of the video is a poor attempt at sexual innuendos including Kelly getting down with Suzy the Elephant (if you got a big ELEPHANT NOISE, let me search ya) and yes, she suggestively plays with a Slinky throughout the song’s run. Beyond that, it’s a video comprised of Kelly behind dull backdrops, including one that looks like foil, and is a video that overall falls flat upon the song’s pop oriented behavior and has done nothing to save the song from the failing life support it’s on, on the U.S. charts.
A few days later, word and screen caps of “Down For Whatever” the next single for the United Kingdom began to leak and interestingly enough, comparisons between Wynter Gordon and Rowland began to pop up on the internet. Comparisons were made upon Here I Am’s release that Kelly seemed to be channeling the R&B, Pop/Dance infusion that Wynter’s EPs and singles possess, but a resurface between the two was brought up when several screen captures were placed side by side between “Down For Whatever” and Gordon’s “Believer” video, in which several scenes looked like complete ripoff’s of the “Believer” music video. It’s a fact to be taken with a grain of salt, (after all there is a hysterical Tumblr blog dedicated to celebrities who “ripoff” R&B star Brandy) but another one that defends the case of Rowland deriving influences from her contemporaries, that ironically derive influences from Rowland herself, and looking at the two videos side by side, it’s too coincidental to completely ignore.
It’s an unfortunate case that a musical veteran has had such trying times with singles that hold so much potential to have a lasting impact upon the Mainstream Pop/R&B audience in 2011 and an even more unfortunate case that it’s the team behind Kelly Rowland’s current career that these mishaps keep appearing throughout the campaign for Here I Am. With Universal Motown folding and having Kelly’s career moved to another record label once again, it’s a tossup from what will happen with this album domestically and overseas, as well as what future projects from Rowland will look like, but lessons are hopefully being learned by the new team behind Rowland and lessons learned within Kelly herself.
A successful return to being our commander and making us bump like this is uncertain, but one we are all holding our breath for. It’s an ongoing dilemma…and one music business disaster we hope to not see repeated.
EDIT: For a more less number analytical based critique on Kelly Rowland’s Here I Am era so far, please check out Soulbounce’s latest article on the video for “Down For Whatever” – the writer echos our sentiments perfectly. Click here to be taken there.