A Love Letter to R&B Girl Groups of the '90s

What do you think about when you think about girl gangs? If you were a teen during the ’90s R&...

What do you think about when you think about girl gangs?
If you were a teen during the ’90s R&B girl-group renaissance like I was, or even if you’ve more recently been exposed to some of their music, you may very well think of groups like En Vogue, Xscape, Sisters With Voices (SWV), TLC, and, later, Destiny’s Child. Ladies who riffed and swayed their way into my living room (via the Box, of course) and my heart. I simultaneously looked up to them and identified with them, coveting their impeccable style and undeniable sex appeal while marveling at how accurately they captured the adolescent intricacies of my boy-crazy mind.

Like their cultural predecessors from the Motown era—the Supremes, the Ronettes, the Marvelettes—these groups were in many ways adhering to a classic model: talented, beautiful black women singing what were for the most part straightforward rhythm-and-blues tracks with gusto and showmanship. But they were also doing something new: their songs tackled themes like sex and relationships from a female perspective. These ladies, with their soul-baring harmonies and midriff-baring crop tops (always paired with baggy pants), were able to redefine the R&B genre, and to reach new audiences for crossover success.
And did they ever deserve it. They were all so talented! Yes, even the groups that came together less-than-organically, with the occasional help from music industry manipulation or aggressive stage moms, were brimming with talent.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the video for Xscape’s “Just Kickin’ It.”
I knew smooth when I saw it. The women in that video rocking bandanas and baggie jeans and winding hard and slow to the beat, well, that was smooth. And it wasn’t just a pop-culture sugar rush; that song stirs a deep nostalgia in me. When I first heard them, the lyrics “Kick off your shoes ’n’ relax your feet / Party on down to the Xscape beat / Just kick it” connected perfectly with a vision I had of a perfect day spent hanging out with my best friends, talking about crushes. That song made me feel nostalgic before I knew what nostalgia was.

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