by George Alexander
Raven-Symoné is widely known as a good girl-the girl who grew up next door, gained fame on The Cosby Show and who's grown up to be a television, movie, and recording star with a carefully crafted and well-maintained wholesome image. This week her self-titled album hit the shelves. As with her previous discs, the 22 year-old wants to unequivocally honor her past commitment to nice-girl fare. "I am not going to sing about sex, drugs, and violence. That's just not who I am," she recently told Jet in a cover story.
Raven-Symoné's album comes at a time when the music industry continues to face a grueling ride. Record sales fell 9.5 percent in 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan, amid a climate where listeners continue to download singles and where CD sales continue to face competition from DVDs, games, and an onslaught of entertainment choices from social networking sites to YouTube.
With grooving party beats and funky, cool lyrics on songs like "That Girl," "Love Me or Leave Me," and a remake of the R&B dance classic "Double Dutch Bus," this album is the stuff of the Disney sweetheart Raven-Symoné has become-albeit with a bit more grown-up edge. Much of the style is attributable to the fact that this time around she has teamed up with hot hip-hop producers Eric Hudson, Sean Garrett, The J.A.M., and the Clutch. Further, her Disney Channel program That's So Raven was a hit along with the TV movie franchise The Cheetah Girls, based on the books by Deborah Gregory. Her recent movie College Road Trip, which she also executive produced, earned a respectable $43.3 million.
Raven-Symoné's new album and pledge to her image arrive after last month's report by watchdog groups Parents Television Council (PTC) and the Enough is Enough Campaign on the daytime programming of BET and MTV (both owned by Viacom.) The organizations released data that suggests that children who watched BET's Rap City and 106 & Park and MTV's Sucker Free were "bombarded with adult content-sexual, violent, profane, or obscene-once every 38 seconds." What's most alarming is that in a portion of the study-which analyzed adult content airing on the shows in question for a two-week period in December 2007-the researchers found that children under 18 made up approximately 40% of the viewing audience for 106 & Park, 41% of the audience for Rap City, and 39% of the audience for Sucker Free. It further states that because the programs tend to re-air throughout the day, study results underestimate the percentage of unique children who are exposed or have been exposed to these programs in total.
According to the PTC/Enough is Enough report, consumer products giant Proctor & Gamble was the largest advertiser on the three shows of the study during the December period, having aired 78 ads within 27.5 hours of programming. Prompted by the report, P&G this week started soliciting feedback from consumers on whether it should continue to advertise on BET and MTV. The company has set up a hotline for consumers to respond to the survey.
P&G's survey move is not without its own provocative elements. In a video on the Website for its "My Black Is Beautiful" campaign, a P&G spokeswoman earnestly and convincingly says that the campaign is all about "celebrating and honoring black beauty." Meanwhile, P&G recently announced that it has partnered with Island Def Jam to launch TAG Records in an effort to reach its product TAG deodorant's target market-the young male consumer with a focus on hip-hop.
But Enough is Enough, led by the Rev. Delman L. Coates, Ph.D, thinks that P&G's advertising on BET and MTV is a direct contradiction to the "My Black Is Beautiful" campaign. Telling P&G it "can't have it both ways," Enough is Enough states, ".video programs that sexually objectify women, portray black men as pimps and gangsters . are antithetical to this 'My Black Is Beautiful.'" I must agree.
That brings us back to Raven-Symoné. While sex definitely sells in our sex-crazed world, Raven-Symoné has found a way to make her formula work sans being model thin and embracing boundless, hypersexual innuendo, other salacious accoutrements that have largely come to define popular culture and the pursuit of fame today. There's no question that Raven-Symoné sets a great example of what "black is beautiful" and success can really be. "I think it's very important that you be your own individual. Trying to be someone else isn't good or fun," Raven-Symoné has said. "I've gotten a lot of flack for being thick and fabulous my entire life. But I'm comfortable with myself."
George Alexander's column on the business of entertainment appears weekly at blackenterprise.com. He is the author of "Why We Make Movies" (Random House, $15.)
Copyright © 2008 Earl G. Graves, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.