In 2011, the only person stopping R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius from topping the Billboard album chart was Adele. Ambrosius, the songwriter behind Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies” and former lead singer of Floetry, would’ve gone No. 1 with her album Late Nights and Early Mornings if its release didn’t coincide with the sales peak of the Adele juggernaut 21. Four years later, her follow-up Friends and Lovers tells a different story: Released a couple months ago, the album debuted with less than a fifth of Late Nights’ sales, and didn’t crack the Top 10. What happened?
Don’t blame the sales downturn on the album—it’s wonderful. Instead, a subtle shift in the way Billboard counts its song charts has had a dramatic effect on Ambrosius and a whole swath of female R&B singers like her. Because of that shift, for the last two years, the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart has acted as a virtual mirror image of the Hot 100. These changes have made this R&B chart a safer, Whiter, and more boring place. And it’s making it hard to be a Black woman singing R&B.