Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why did Chris Brown take Sevyn Streeter's radio hit away from her?

There's a new sexy slow jam on GCI and Power 92 that you can't avoid hearing all day - Sevyn Streeter's "It Won't Stop." The rap and R&B radio stations brought it on hot and heavy, which was a clever move to get listeners acclimated to Sevyn Streeter. Before this single, I had no idea who Sevyn Streeter was. When I heard it for the first time I thought a lackluster Aaliyah had come back from the dead to make babies with Ciara.

It didn't take long for me to wrap my head around Streeter's instant hit because they kept playing it over and over like it's a new way of life.

When it was only Streeter singing, I thought, her lyrics about a man she likes because of the way he looks are unimpressive. But at least people are paying attention to a new female R&B singer. I have to admit, I'm sick of the only female voice I hear being the same Rihanna chorus between rappers' verses.

Plus, Streeter's chorus seems forgettable at first, but it grows on you like its swelling harmonies. And she co-wrote wrote the song, along with several other R&B radio hits.

The thing is, someone went ahead and thought it would be a good idea to transform the song into a duet with Chris Brown. Now you can't turn on either station without hearing the diluted duo version of what was simply just, according to Rap Genius, a "heteronormative pop song about how much a woman loves her man."

Nope, you instead have to hear the version someone chopped up and gave some of to Chris Brown.

Brown's timber distracts the listener from Streeter's bright sound that pierces through the whirring of the beat. His whiny belts adulterate the melody. He leaves you with the feeling that he cheated the song out of its potential.

The whole thing was done somewhat lazily too. No one changed the lyrics except for a subtle subject reversal. The only lines that change are:

So I hop up in your ride
Ooh it's hot as hell outside
Got the top down
With the doors off
Put your hand on my thigh

To this:

Baby hop in my ride
Ooh it's hot as hell outside
Got the top down
With the doors off
With my hand up on your thigh


Why did someone have to go and split the song for a man and woman? I don't fully understand why adding Chris Brown to a song makes it more of a hit than it already was, or why Streeter wasn't enough.

Plus, adding a man to the song cheapens the reasons why Streeter liked the guy she was singing to in the first place. When she was the only one singing the love song, she inhabited a version - albeit a maybe twisted or halfway one - of the male gaze. Let's call it "Male Gaze Lite."

But when Chris Brown came into the picture, he transformed the song into a normal duet. A normal duet in R&B tends to be one where two people objectify each other to deflect attention away from the fact that their relationship is actually kind of ickily patriarchal.

The weird forced conversion of the song is also illustrated in the music video, where it seems like a video editor tried to splice footage of Chris Brown - dressed like a hermit who is just ashamed enough of his past mistakes to still ethically inhabit a position of fame - in between clips of Streeter dancing and looking at a camera on a beach.

Musically the song sounds like Streeter and Brown are singing a love song to each other, but in the video he's just sitting there next to her, shady sunglasses draping his face, singing about how he loves some other girl while she's singing to a random model. All around, just weird.

However, I don't want to jump to conclusions. Streeter has written lots of songs for Chris Brown, and he signed her to his label. Their professional relationship might have just led to a collaboration.

At the same time, why take an already good, quality hit jam - a first for an artist who has previously solely been writing for other artists - and pile your name on top of that?

And, most importantly, why would the radio value the duet over the female anthem?

I love when you pulling up in your Jeep
Bumpin' all your beats
J's on, with your shades on
Just to bring me something to eat

Ok, maybe female anthem is taking it a little far.

Streeter posted an acoustic version of the song that showcases her voice stripped down so you can really hear her raw, shaky vibrato. And her vocal runs at their best are definitely reminiscent of Aaliyah's. The version is more personal, and straight from the person who wrote it in, according to her co-writer, a short half hour session in the studio.