Riding the wave of her monster hit “Motivation” featuring Lil Wayne, some are proclaiming Kelly Rowland’s third solo album, Here I Am, her gateway to independence from Beyoncé’s musical shadow. Already, “Motivation” has topped Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts and inspired one hot remix with R. Kelly and another with Busta Rhymes, Trey Songz and Fabolous, which can both be heard in rotation on urban radio.
Also, her breakout performance during the BET Awards in her widow-inspired outfit, topped with a fierce and unmovable hat during some pretty intense dance moves, was really a truly coming out moment for Rowland. It proved that she could not only hold her own during a performance but, most importantly, bring the heat.
Now, realistically, Rowland has a long way to go before she reaches a fourth of the superstardom her “sister” Beyoncé has garnered but she now has a good start. Although Here I Am is coming out weeks after Beyoncé’s fourth solo album 4 has topped the charts but it’s, by no means, as dominating as her previous efforts, leaving plenty of room for Rowland. But the problem is that Rowland has been down this road before.
Her debut solo album Simply Deep in 2002 was bolstered by her number one single “Dilemma” with Nelly, which was powered largely by Patti LaBelle’s classic “Love, Need and Want You” and it flopped, failing to reach gold. Then her 2007 album Ms. Kelly fizzled despite her hit single “Like This” featuring Eve.
With “Motivation,” all that seems to be a distant memory. Still, reviewers from The Washington Post and USA Today weren’t impressed with Here I Am. Elysa Gardner’s review on USAToday.com is actually titled “Kelly Rowland says “Here I Am” with predictable pop.”
Meanwhile the Washington Post’s Allison Stewart seems unconvinced that Here I Am has what it takes to change the “conventional wisdom” that “Rowland was a charisma-challenged nice girl destined to forever be a musical bridesmaid.”
But let’s be clear: Rowland has done well for herself. If one is comparing her career to that of Beyoncé, of course it pales. It’s like having the turtle trying to square off against the elephant; it simply doesn’t work. However, in their respective context, each has impressive qualities. Rowland hasn’t exactly been at home twiddling her thumbs.
She’s guest-starred on television shows, appeared in films and even hosted The Fashion Show on Bravo with Isaac Mizrahi. In Britain, she will be seen as a judge this fall on Simon Cowell’s hot American Idol-esque show, The X Factor, which brought the world Leona Lewis, so that’s a huge deal. There are also reports that she has a role in the Stephen King mini-series Bag of Bones with Pierce Brosnan and Annabeth Gish for A&E. When it comes to her beauty, she’s had ample admirers. Last year, Kanye West erected her as the ideal of brown skin beauty in his hit single “Power” with the lyrics, “The system broken, the schools closed, the prisons open/ We ain’t got nothin’ to lose, Motha——er, we rollin’/ Huh? Motha——er, we rollin’/ With some light-skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands.”
She also starred in 50 Cent’s video “Baby By Me.” So, in an industry that has clearly established “redbone,” as her “Motivation” collaborator Lil Wayne often reminds us, as the beauty ideal, Rowland has carved out her own space, serving as a de facto spokeswoman for the chocolate sisters.
And, just as impressive, her lean, athletic frame has been embraced in an industry notoriously fond of ample backsides and outrageous curves. Destiny’s Child even scored a hit with “Bootylicious,” with Beyoncé, at the time, representing that ideal. Although Rowland reportedly had a boob job in 2008, she, as far as the naked eye can tell, didn’t go overboard. Instead, she added just enough to complement her already, svelte figure.
So there’s never been a question about whether Rowland has star quality. There was no doubt, even in the Destiny’s Child foursome days, that the two forces were Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams didn’t change that much in their trio days. Questions arose, however, about whether Mathew Knowles was the right one to guide Rowland to her true potential, especially in a solo career.
It’s no secret that Knowles has favored his daughter Beyoncé when it comes to sprinkling any superstar dust, even with daughter Solange. So those who long criticized his management of Rowland have to look upon her success after her split with Knowles in 2009 as proof positive that Rowland was purposely held back.
Indeed, her resurgence by delving into the European dance scene, surely aided by her decision to move to London, is probably a development that would not have really happened fully under Knowles’s direction. It’s in Europe that Rowland says she found her musical voice or, at least, came closer to it.
Collaborating with French DJ David Guetta literally revived her dreams of solo musical stardom. Their song, “When Love Takes Over” topped the dance charts in 2009 and even earned Rowland a second Grammy on her own. But it was “Commander,” which can be heard on Here I Am that really led the way. Its pulsating energy was too much to ignore plus it caught on like wildfire in the clubs, especially the influential gay ones. Those successes got Rowland her latest record deal with Universal Motown with its head at the time Sylvia Rhone knocking on her door.
So, today, Rowland is not standing in Beyoncé’s shadow at all. Glee’s most prominent black character Mercedes Jones may have once quipped with all seriousness that when it comes to performing, “I’m Beyoncé, I ain’t no Kelly Rowland” but it’s truly a new day for Rowland.
It’s irrelevant whether or not she can ever reach Beyoncé’s stature because, truthfully, very few artists of any genre will reach that pinnacle. In the last two years, she’s achieved something even more important. Today, she stands on her own ground and on her own name. She’s very much Kelly Rowland and not just somebody else’s Destiny’s Child.