SXSW: Kelly Rowland says women need more dark-skinned role models

The former member of Destiny’s Child, whose new show sees her putting together a girl band, said that she set out to include darker-skinned black women

Dark-skinned black women deserve more role models in popular culture, Kelly Rowland told an audience at South by Southwest on Saturday.

The former member of Destiny’s Child, whose new talent show Chasing Destiny sees her put together a new girl group, said that one of her aims was to include a dark-skinned African American woman in the lineup.

Rowland was responding to a question from a young audience member, who said that her sister had been rejected by a prospective boyfriend who told her: “You’d be prettier if you were lighter.”

Rowland, who is dark-skinned herself, responded: “It’s just a trip to me. One of the things I looked for [in the new girl group] first was chocolate girls because I feel it’s so necessary for my niece, my unborn kid, she has to see more chocolate women.” At the moment, Rowland said, the only darker-skinned woman in a group is Normani Hamilton in Fifth Harmony. “I want to be part of a change in that.”

She added that growing up, she was inspired by darker-skinned women like Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson, and by Michelle Obama today. “No disrespect for lighter women, but we have to see all colours,” Rowland said.

The equation of whiteness with beauty is pervasive throughout many cultures, including African American ones, giving rise to a multitude of products created to create a lighter appearance. In January, a Thai advert for skin-whitening pills with the slogan “Whiteness makes you win” caused international outrage, while the Guardian reported last year that, while skin-whitening creams had been banned on the Ivory Coast, women still continued to use them.

In a conversation with Stephen Hill, president of programming at the Black Entertainment Network, which will screen Chasing Destiny, Rowland said that her show filled a need in music for more girl groups. At the moment, she noted, the most popular female acts are solo artists, with only US X Factor winners Fifth Harmony, and Little Mix (winners of the UK equivalent) flying the flag overseas.

“Two girl groups? Get outta here. That is not enough,” said Rowland. “There’s nothing wrong with selfies and solos but it’s time for another generation to see female camaraderie and people coming together.”

Rowland also said that the current pop scene is lacking in ballads. “We’re missing ballads on the radio – we’ve just got Drake singing to us about things we already know – we know we’re cute! We don’t have slow dances no more.”

The 10-part show will see Rowland construct a girl group; she was at pains to point out that there would not be rounds of eliminations in the traditional manner of talent shows.

When asked whether the band would be allowed to write their own songs, Rowland said she would welcome the prospect: “It’s so important. It’s so great to see a woman on stage with a guitar, I used to wish I was Sheryl Crow.”

However, she was more traditional in her response about how she would handle the prospect of the band having boyfriends, saying: “I told them don’t let no dude get in the way of your paper. They sure ain’t going to let a female get in the way of theirs.”


Alex Needham in Austin

The GuardianTramp

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