He's not wrong – the music business has a colourism issue
Mathew Knowles, the father of Beyoncé, has gone from being at the heart of her success to existing somewhere on the fringes.
Having pushed her into singing by entering her into competitions from a young age, he followed a Joe Jackson-esque model of fame – Beyonce has said countless times how she used to study Jackson 5 videos. Eventually when she was eight, he teamed her up with local girls from Houston to form a girl group called Girls Tyme, a precursor to Destiny’s Child, which he managed throughout.
None of it, he has said, might have been a success if his daughter was darker skinned. Speaking to Ebony magazine, Knowles, 66, explained how the industry favours lighter women.
“When it comes to black females, who are the people who get their music played on pop radio? Mariah Carey, Rihanna, the female rapper Nicki Minaj, my kids, and what do they all have in common?”
Knowles and his daughters have a tumultuous relationship since he fathered a secret love child and allegedly stole money from Beyoncé. References in Lemonade flit between lovingly reminiscing on his guidance to weaving in references to his infidelity. So when the interviewer suggests that all of the women, his children included, are successful because of their lighter complexion and he appears to agree (“Do you think that’s an accident?”), some fans were quick to rush to her defence.
Idiot Mathew Knowles. I appreciate Beyoncé for her voice. Her color of her skin doesn’t even factor into whether or not I like her.— Kate Kasten (@ak4lotk) February 5, 2018
This has nothing to do with skin color. She got everything she has based off talent. The long hours spent in the studio and practicing choreography.— Octavia Herrington (@Live4Now2day) February 6, 2018
While this might feel like an odd thing to say about your own children, Knowles has been privy to the mechanics of the industry for decades, and there’s a lot of evidence to support his claim. Only recently, fellow Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland said she wants to be “part of a change in” this exact issue.
She’s started a reality TV show called Chasing Destiny, and is on the lookout for more dark-skinned girl band members like Normani Kordei of Fifth Harmony. “I feel it’s so necessary for my niece, my unborn kid, she has to see chocolate women,” Kelly said.
The story of 3LW, a fleeting girl group in the 00s, is a prime example of how easily discarded dark-skinned band members are. When in-fighting happened in the band, the darkest member Naturi Naughton was blackballed from the industry – a victim of the well-established “mad black woman” stereotype. The other, more ethnically ambiguous members Adrienne Bailon and Kiely Williams went on to have a successful career without her in the Cheetah Girls, fronted by Raven Symoné (who is also light-skinned).
This is also a conversation currently taking place in the rap sphere. Amara La Negra was ridiculed by interviewers last month while she explained that dark-skinned Latinas are rarely as visible or successful as artists like Cardi B and Jenifer Lopez. A few years ago, Azealia Banks tweeted that she wasn't light skin enough “yet”. “Depression. Watching white/lighter skinned women advance all while having worse music than mine is confusing,” she wrote. Shortly afterwards she started bleaching her skin.
To say that Beyoncé is only famous due to her skin tone would be a massive overstatement. But when you look at the trends of the music industry, it's clear that it certainly has worked to her advantage.
Watch our recent documentary on colourism within the black community here