A little over a year ago (April 5, 2016), Kelly Rowland and Frank Gatson set on a journey to create a banging girl group with the docu-series Chasing Destiny. The goal? To quiet fans' negative speculations of girl groups and make us all "Stand Up for [Girl Group] Love" again. "Everything has a beginning…I’ve been in one of the greatest girl groups of all time and I want to see it happen again," Kelly said in the first episode. The product eight episodes later? June's Diary. While there's no question of the group's talent (we've been waiting for their EP/album since the show's finale, but it feels like an eternity), there is one question that's worth asking:
Are fans attentive enough to soak up June's Diary's weighty notes and complex harmonies like they did from girl groups in the '90s and 2000s?
A case can be made that the coming of new social media platforms have stunted our ability to withstand substance and longevity in everything, including music.
Although not girl groups, '90s artists like Brandy, Monica, and Usher came from the school of media training, extensive practice, raw vocal talent and, the major key: fans' ability to unceasingly want everything these artists released.
Add in the likes of Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who, while not directly connected in genre, also come from the school of vocal hard knocks. Rehearsal, studio time, media prep and fan-demonium were king.
'90s girl groups like En Vogue, TLC, SWV and Xscape ruled this school (most recently making a huge return at the BET Awards and with their own reality show), making crazed fanatics eat up everything they served. The upperclassmen groups above made way for underclassmen like Brownstone, 702, Destiny's Child and the Spice Girls to slay stages while their little sisters Elektrik Red, Danity Kane, Little Mix, Fifth Harmony, Good Girl, Glamour and June's Diary watched. They were eager to learn, patiently taking notes. Most of them receiving mentorship from their more experienced big sisters.
A few weeks ago (Feb. 28), Xscape rose again from the catty ashes. Having squashed their beef regarding a nasty 20-year-old rumor involving members Kandi Burruss and Tamika Scott, the group announced that they'd get back together for another album and a tour. As an extreme fan of R&B, urban adult contemporary, urban pop and all of the sub-genres in between, I couldn't help but wonder if the rest of the world will bite into this succulent musical part of my childhood? Can R&B girl groups make a major come back in this day and age?
Current TV shows like Star, The Pop Game and even The Rap Game and The Breaks offer glimpses of a time when artists were developed, giving hope to Rowland's dream. "I feel like some of the artist development phase of the industry is sucked out or gone in some ways. Myself and Frank wanted to pour that back into [June's Diary]," she said about a week after Chasing Destiny's premiere.
While people's consumption habits have changed, could good music, like math, smiles and the alphabet, be the equalizer and garner the recognition that it deserves? It has in the past, right?
In an unreleased interview we did with Gatson (now June's Diary's manager) in September 2016, when the group had only been together for three months (see their journey here), Gatson was beyond confident that June's Diary will gain the recognition and success that their big sisters once received. Having years of experience in the girl group arena, he had this to say: "It could be a dead heat vocally with En Vogue and June's Diary, but I kinda let June's Diary win because En Vogue had been together a year before we heard about them. You see what I'm saying? I'm not taking nothing away from these [girl groups]. I had the opportunity to work with TLC, En Vogue, For Real [and] SWV. I had all those groups and I saw their talent and they were really great and they had great songs, but [June's Diary] are beasts."
We asked Gatson today (Mar. 30) what the plan was for gaining the type of success June's Diary seeks in this day and age, he replied, "If you sing from the heart and you have a gift. It wins."
Take Fifth Harmony, for example. Like June's Diary, the group participated in a talent competition show which afforded them the opportunity to receive a recording contract. They've been able to cross over into urban pop. It's worth noting that the group isn't marketed specifically as R&B. Nonetheless, we revere the group as a commercial success, but it took them about four years from their inception (forming in 2012 and signing their record deal in 2013) to really garner the worldwide success Billboard pointed out.
It seems that we're in a phase of undedicated fans eager for Grammy Awards and stars on the Walk of Fame but not interested in helping developing our faves reach new heights.
Of course, there's some leg work on the artists' part, but visiting fans live can get expensive. Groups today need stamina...and funds. June's Diary's grit comes from Gatson himself. "I always make them remember how blessed we are to do what we love and dont let nothing stupid get in the way," he said.
The group's got the tenacity, great people behind them and a solid fan base — their IG page alone houses 90K+ fans. Not bad for a group that's officially been together for only nine months. As for the mixtape and album? "[The mixtape is coming out] sometime before [the] ESSENCE performance in July. We want to have two listening parties, one in L.A. and one in NYC, to let the fans pick the records for the album...I always tell people the hit will speak for itself," Gatson revealed. While "budgets to tour...hotels, flights, etc getting to the fans live" may get pricey, Gatson's not worried about this fact hindering the girls' success. "I know a hit record and sponsors will change [things]...The album is coming even if I have to pay for it," he said.
For June's Diary, the girl group ceiling is about to be break any second now. Like their cover of Jodeci, we just need to "Stay" interested a little while longer to watch them break through it.
(Photos from Left: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Clara Lionel Fo, Paras Griffin/Getty Images, Johnny Nunez/WireImage)