Issa Rae’s INSECURE and how Mainstream Music could Take Notes from Television

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by Dom Jones

My mom probably wouldn’t have been friends with Claire Huxtable, and my dad definitely wouldn’t have hung out with Cliff. While there’s no denying the iconic nature of The Cosby Show, I just couldn’t relate to it. I tried (and failed) to find myself in shows like Friends, Gossip Girl, or even Sex & the City. When I was a kid, diversity wasn’t really a constant thing in television. It seemed like every time I started relating to someone on the screen, the show would get cancelled. Queen Latifah’s Khadijah on Living Single was me (until it was cancelled), the friends on Moesha were entertaining (until it was cancelled)… well at least we had Martin! (until it was cancelled). When Martin, Living Single, New York Undercover, Moesha, All of Us, The Parkers, One on One, The Hughleys, and The Bernie Mac Show were all cancelled within a few seasons of each other, there was a gaping hole in the African-American experience on television that wouldn’t return for years! In the interim, we had Girlfriends: you guessed it – until it was cancelled. Television hasn’t been my friend for a LONG TIME when it comes to showing me people who can relate to my unique cultural experience. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling the love and a lot of it is because of Issa Rae.

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Photo: DOWN Magazine

I first discovered the brilliance of Issa when watching her web series “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” on Youtube. From the very first scene of the very first episode, she became my best friend. Yes! I wasn’t the only one who did the most in the car when listening to music. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t fit into these monolithic archetypes of blackness and femininity that were shoved down my throat by the media. I wasn’t the only one with their own brand of awkward and side-eye galore. Issa Rae was writing both authentic and relatable narrative, and I was forever an ABG fan from that first four minute episode. She’d do other (hilarious) things like “Ratchetpiece Theater” and even play a role in creating some super cool romantic series like “FIRST.” Now, like I always knew she would, Issa Rae has hit the big time with her new HBO series, “INSECURE.” Watch the trailer here.

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Photo: medium.com

The basic premise of the show is that the protagonist (played by Issa Rae) has just turned 29 and isn’t feeling confident about her job, her relationship, or herself. We watch her navigate her insecurities with her best friend in tow. The storylines are so real that you’ll find yourself saying, “That happened to ME last week!” And that’s the magic of the show, but it’s not just INSECURE: it’s Ava Duvernay’s “Queen Sugar,” and Donald Glover’s (or Childish Gambino, if that’s how you know him) “ATLANTA,” making me see me on the screen (or at least my cousin, auntie, co-worker, and that one lady who goes to my church). Music could take a lesson from Issa’s brand of television because all of this trap-based everything is basically The Cosby Show of music. It kind of looks like me, it kind of sounds like me, but not really – I can’t relate. It has the ingredients to be authentic, it’s just not delivering. Where The Cosby Show is a relic of the past, today’s music is a relic of the present: a corpse, an artifact of the greatness we could be producing, basically DOA. Where music used to be a five star, five course meal that you could savor for months, it’s now a bag of popcorn and an off-brand can of soda, leaving you unsatisfied after listening. Of course, this year we’ve gotten a few good meals, thanks to the Knowles sisters (Solange and Beyoncè), Frank Ocean, BJ The Chicago Kid, and the like, but the majority of music getting radio airplay is junk food: tastes good on the car ride until you have to pull over to puke.

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Photo: medium.com

The way that INSECURE depicts relationships is also something to love. Issa’s character has grown bored with her boyfriend who quit his corporate gig to start his own business, but has stalled on writing his business plan. She wants more, and laments never having found bliss with her college “what if” guy who we’ll see throughout the season. Issa and her on-screen boyfriend deal with their relationship challenges in a real way: there’s a Rite Aid argument over a package of panties. At first you think her boyfriend is a bum, but what the show illuminates is the complexity of trying to build entrepreneurship for a person of  color. The layers are endless, and that’s the point: WE HAVE LAYERS. All people do, and INSECURE does a fantastic job of showing those layers. How does that relate back to the music? C’mon, guys. Who is making real love songs in R&B anymore and getting mainstream love? Musiq Soulchild released a fantastic album this year, and I have never heard any of the music on radio. All we get are the wham, bam, thank you ma’am songs to (of course) a trap beat replete with auto-toune or strangely enough… to a pop beat! There are no layers. There is no love. The radio has become a bag of popcorn and off-brand can of soda to which even our legendary performers feel they must acquiesce to remain relevant. The point is this: we don’t have to surrender good content for currency. People still want complex art in their entertainment. And even though I’m a music producer and she’s a television producer, I’m taking notes from Issa Rae. My mom would be friends with her.

HAVE YOU SEEN INSECURE YET? WATCH IT SUNDAYS @ 10:30PM! 

CLICK HERE TO WATCH ISSA RAE GIVE YOU THE LOWDOWN ON HOW TO WATCH FOR FREE!

And HBO NOW account gives you instant access to HBO’s amazing line up of envelope-pushing series including Game of Thrones, Westworld, Vice News Tonight, Insecure, Silicon Valley, VEEP and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, plus every episode of every season of HBO classics worth seeing again like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, True Blood, The Wire, Six Feet Under and Deadwood. In addition, HBO NOW subscribers can stream must-see box office hits like Deadpool, The Revenant, Ride Along 2, Sisters, Straight Outta Compton and The Peanuts Movie, and coming soon—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  All for a discounted rate of $9.99 per month for students, with a one-month free trial to start.

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About the Author

domjones
Dom Jones is a dual major in Music Business and Songwriting, and her work has been published in Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, Blavity and Ebony.com. She released her debut album, Wingspan, in 2014 and her follow up EP, Blackbird in 2016. Find out more about her at iamdomjones.com