For the past 5 years, I’ve been approached by BET to reunite with Jeffrey Daniel and Howard Hewett for the BET Awards to close the show as surprise performers. Throughout the process, my representatives as a condition on with their desired Shalamar reunion of the particular renowned classic line-up in the evolving entity, that I be allotted a spotlight as well. With a solo catalog of hits it just business sense and recognizing the strength of what I bring to the table. Other artists who have come from groups and gone on to great solo success while also making a mark in pop culture request the same. At the core, it’s always down to business for me – nothing personal. All parties agreed finally after 4 years of no to a “Jody Watley”, “we don’t want her to do that” by various people in other camps – so it seemed we were finally on for 2014. The reluctance or (dis)agreeance was baffling from a business point of view despite these hits which span R&B/Pop/Dance and Hip Hop (Friends with Eric B & Rakim). Having sold millions, and impacted pop culture through my music, video, style, etc. is something I will never allow to be diminished for the benefit and ego others as long as I live. With my fans, I always encourage people to not let their personal value be defined and diminished by others. We all have a choice of how we let other’s treat us. I live that as much as I can in my personal and business life. Some think ‘Oh, you’re not hot, or this or that anymore’ and believe that it’s an opening to get you to think less of yourself and drop your standards. I will never have that mentality. Understand a lot of people are still upset at my solo success – trust me. I say, never give up your power. On my official invitation letter it appeared they agreed, a solo segment for Jody Watley, a Shalamar reunion with Howard and Jeffrey. I was actually looking forward to it, try as some continuously go around trying to paint a picture of me as some sort of hold-out, or with personal differences.
As I’ve said for decades – I have no personal differences with anyone, don’t believe the decades of innuendo by Hewett and his team, Jeffrey and clueless Shalamar ‘fans’. The barrier is always business, creative and ego. Let’s put her in her place and marginalize all that she’s achieved. Never going to happen. I can’t force anyone to raise their standards, but I know I’ll never lower mine. Everything fell apart in May after a few conference calls. Over the past year my team and I had worked to put something together for two iconic performances for myself as well as the ‘Classic’ Shalamar lineup. I didn’t want to take a call and go into this unprepared. Always be prepared even if other’s don’t expect you to be is my advice. If you have followed my solo career at all, you should know this is nothing new. I plan, prepare, and always try to bring a level of fabulousness and style to what I do. As a woman, what I’ve learned is we have to be even more on point, because expectations are usually low or tinged with sexism.
I pitched something that would have made everyone look great. This was not just an opportunity from my point of view as was said “a chance to be on television in front of 8 million people”, as Hewett’s manager said angrily after the fact. For me, if it wasn’t going to be right, that was 8 million reasons to not do it. I don’t care about exposure, if it’s the wrong kind. I’ve never been about that. The politics in this business is real – what do you do? Keep pushing, keep doing the work and being true to yourself and keeping life in perspective. Enjoy the life and opportunities that come to fruition. There’s a lesson in everything. The possibility to reunite and perform with Rakim for our classic and groundbreaking “Friends” was thrilling. I teased this on my Facebook page, during a time discussions were taking place. There is no doubt, Rakim and I would have shut it down with that surprise performance alone, and it would have been perfect as Rakim with younger people is still seen as a Rap/Hip Hop god MC. It made sense to design a high energy and fierce Shalamar segment which would feature “A Night To Remember.” That is not what Howard Hewett and his team, inexplicably BET nor Jeffrey Daniel wanted. Once we got into it, their terms changed, and I felt like it was all a bait and switch – typical of how some of them do business. BET and Howard’s manager wanted a ballad section – where they envisioned Shalamar coming out. A ballad segment beginning with Howard, which I reiterate this was not in the original agreement that “I” agreed to. I still said fine. Let Howard do one of his ballads, which they wanted after my altered segment sans Rakim — then let’s hit them with “A Night To Remember.”
Their intention and vision was completely different. Rakim was cut, once the music medley was sent. If you don’t know, “Friends” featuring Eric B and Rakim is one of the first to feature the blend of Pop R&B/HipHop/Rap. The single was a multi-format hit single Pop, R&B and Dance. It’s a touchstone in popular music and a formula that became a dominant force in music – the collaboration with a full 16 bar verse. Respect. The ‘Club Paradise’ theme was cut, and the ability to mash-up my section into something with production elements, video screens, classic imagery, dancers, “Real Love” fashion walkers, etc. It was probably a mistake to begin with to try to link all of these performances, however it has worked for Justin Timberlake (MTV Awards brining out NSync) and Beyonce (Superbowl bringing out Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland for a Destiny’s Child moment). For “A Night To Remember” my team and I had Jeffrey Daniel coming out in lights to showcase his body popping. Dramatic lighting, sound effects, the whole bit. Modern Shalamar logo, more use of the big screen – a full party vibe for the audience in the venue and at home watching.
This, from my point of view and how I saw it – was also something to generate positive social media as well not to mention any potential upside. No one seemed to care much about an iconic moment – just let’s get those 3 together onstage. Some were just content to be on TV. The dance feature was dismissed as something that was being forced on them, from my perception “Well, Jeffrey wants to dance” of course he did – as if this was a bad thing? It was in my synopsis! Jeffrey’s dancing, as well as Shalamar as a group concept at our creation by Don Cornelius, the dance was one of the key elements that made Shalamar unique. Our choreography and style made us stand out as a perfect compliment to the music – which began with disco, no matter how much some might hate that fact. BET and Howard’s reps wanted a more ballad heavy presentation which for me would have been lackluster and would have ruined the impact. They requested a full medley with the group coming out on ‘This is For The Lover In You’. I said this isn’t a concert it’s television ‘moment’ let’s hit them with some fresh moves, the ultimate party jam and impact of “A Night To Remember.”
Proper time would have been required to properly stage and rehearse including choreography to really ‘bring it.’ Some people involved don’t want to dance or be bothered with choreography it appears – that’s not Shalamar, nor is it me. 2 days to rehearse monumental performances wasn’t cutting it. I love to entertain and give 1000%. Bringing a sense of style is apparent in all of my work past and present. Although the Shalamar that Howard and Jeffrey have morphed into when they’ve done a few shows in the U.K. with their hired singer the dancing is gone, and that’s comfortable for them to simply sing behind Howard – this is not how Shalamar was created before he got there. To each his own. They can get away with this once a year at Indigo2 in London (using my photo and likeness I’d add to assist with selling the show, one of the reasons I’ve now acquired trademark rights, do the show – stop using my likeness). They wanted to do what they do – I wanted to do what felt like the best for ‘television’ for everyone; something bigger and more exciting. It was not to be, again. This isn’t the first time, and for me at this point represents that are creative understandings and ways about doing business are too far about to bear. Big Boi had done a mash-up of “A Night To Remember” and we had him in our pitch, for the younger viewers if he was available — and I was aware he’d be in town for the BET Experience with OutKast. Shortly after it all fell apart, Mary J. Blige released her cover of the same song.
To me it was another sign from God and the universe. That was the song we were supposed to do – and I had agreed to do it! They were stuck on ballads as if this was the BET Lounge. Fail. They don’t get it and probably never will. To each his own. I felt compelled to write this so you the fans know what happened, as I’m sure there are those who behind the scenes will once again paint me out to be the villainess, and put words in my mouth or misrepresent what went down. They were the ones not willing to compromise. If it were me – I would have agreed to at least have a hot as fire version of ‘A Night To Remember’ for that segment as opposed to nothing at all. The concept of “Club Paradise” was also torpedoed, with new music on the horizon it also didn’t make sense for me to just go on and sing classics, as if my musical journey and continued evolution had stopped. The setting would have been a chic and contemporary one that would have been fabulous for everyone; not simply an uninspired ‘old-school’ moment where we are just onstage meandering about.
I will never be talked into doing something I don’t want to do – nor do I expect it from others. That is the great divide and why I work with like-minded people. Life is too short. Bringing forth a quality product in entertainment and not go through the motions is always important – but that’s just me. Creative differences derailed the BET Awards 2014 appearance. I was not willing to diminish my brand as Jody Watley nor the brand of Shalamar which I helped create and am now the legal trademark rights holder of to pump up someone else’s profile and ego. I look forward to rejuvenating the Shalamar brand, which really began with my inspirations for “Nightlife” a topic I’ve talked about over the past year – whether some were paying attention or not. “Nightlife” was a full circle moment bringing me back together with original Shalamar male vocalist Gerald Brown of “Take That To The Bank.” “Nightlife” went into the Top 5 in the UK (Commercial Pop and Urban) and garnered a position at #18 in Billboard on the Hot Dance Club Play Charts. My love of disco, dance, dance music and fashion is at the core.
Perhaps at some point, the ‘Classic’ lineup can get together and get on the same creative page for a ‘Farewell Reunion Tour” which I did pitch some years ago as quiet as it’s kept, but was met with the same dismissive tone. I’ve always said I’m not much for reunions however from a business standpoint, I have been open to it if done the right way – creatively, respectfully and equitable on the business end if it makes sense. However, as a business woman I see no reason to let the name “Shalamar” be relegated solely to the past, which was part of my enthusiasm to join forces with Gerald for ‘Nightlife’ and revisiting my own disco roots. Gerald and I will be doing a select round of Jody Watley Presents: Shalamar concerts with a spotlight and celebration of disco soul.
I have many exciting ideas for a younger generation and marketplace and look forward to working with my team to see them to fruition as acquisition and extension of my business umbrella, as well as for the classic heads that just wish to hear ‘the music.’ I’ve continued to work on my planned release of “Paradise” which is coming soon, and wish everyone the best. This is the same BET who have never invited me to be a part of Black Girls Rock – and I’ve certainly earned an appearance or two (performer, presenter, co-host, etc – that’s another blog) and the same Howard and Jeffrey who have allegedly been dissing me for years or sending others around to do it on their behalf, put publicly creating a false desire of a reunion. There is a lot of sexism in the media and marginalization of black women in particular, that point is not lost on me. The BET Awards have a terrific line-up this year, congratulations to Lionel Ritchie on his Lifetime Achievement Award – no one seems to hold it against him that he never reunited with The Commodores – but he’s a man in this business.
It would have been cool had it worked out but it was not to be. I’m totally fine with that. Artist with longevity and recognized to be a pioneer/trendsetter -songwriter, producer, entrepreneur (Avitone, Avid, JodyWatleyBoutique, Jody Watley Music, Jody Watley MultiMedia Group, etc).
UPDATED: JULY 1, 2014 Lots of comments on my Facebook, under the thread. To those who say I should have just done Shalamar – Jeffrey and Howard could have certainly done the performance without me the past 4 and this years ceremony with Carolyn who they perform with in the UK which is more in line with they way they like to perform. I know what’s up – and made the right choice. I watched the BET Awards and enjoyed it. although I wish they’d found time to honor Bobby Womack somehow, or mention him by name in the “In Memoriam.” The segment with 90’s groups Troop, Color Me Badd, and Sylk for the “Throwback” Surprise Performance, which the fans loved. It did affirm my decision to not be a part of it. To my knowledge, none of those acts still record and make music but it was a good look ‘for them’. I’m guess personally not ready to be relegated the the “throwback” surprise part of the show – again unless it can have the same production and excitement as other artists in today’s commercial music scene. This was probably on my mind as well – my career as a recording artist, songwriter, etc. continues. Perhaps BET will sponsor a package tour for veteran acts who perform in the segment and keep the music alive beyond that moment – just a business thought. I enjoyed the Lionel Richie speech and watching him receive his “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Either you come on to do something new, or you wait to be acknowledged properly — although they did turn around and misspell the Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient’s name on screen as “Lionel Ritchie.” The beat goes on.