THE PACKAGE: UNWRAPPING THE STANDARDS PLACED ON WOMEN IN MUSIC–BROOKLYN JAMES

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As a young woman, there comes a certain point in life when you discover that you have power. You realize that you have breasts, a waist, curves–and for some reason people enjoy looking at them. Like any superhero, learning that you possess a power is often a confusing and awkward experience. It’s something that’s complicated further when under the influence of a society. Western society in particular likes to send young women a lot of mixed messages once they discover their superpowers. If you got it, flaunt it. Love your body. Hate your body. Don’t show them your body. Show them just a little. Sell it. Don’t sell yourself short. Be empowered. Be modest. Be fierce. Be humble. And truthfully, the whole dialogue is exhausting. As a woman, getting to a place where you feel genuinely settled in yourself takes a while. Some of us never get there at all. But if you’re lucky, all those voices begin to quiet. The voice within starts to sing. And sometimes, you learn exactly who you are.

Brooklyn_1Brooklyn James is a singer, mother, educator, and woman that totally knows who she is. A southern California native, she started singing in the youth choir of the church where her mother was a minister. But despite knowing pretty early on that singing was the career path she wanted to pursue, her mother was against going for it so soon. “I was around a lot of people [in choir that sang professionally] and they would always encourage me to do it, but my mom wouldn’t let me because she felt like I was too young. I was asked to go out and audition for a tour when I was like 14 or 15 and she wouldn’t let me go…” So, like any respectable young lady, she heeded her mother’s words and waited until after she graduated high school to start pursuing music professionally. It was then that she joined the girl group Paj 3 (pronounced PAGE-THREE). As a young trio, the girls performed shows around the L.A. area and even did some work in Las Vegas. “We were actually about to be signed to Elektra around the same time that Brandy went over there. But, as girl groups do, it fell apart because of personalities and that type of thing.” And in an all-too-familiar scenario, like so many young women encounter as they grow up, one of the main sources of contention within the group was Brooklyn’s early physical development.  “I was curvier than they were. And so, going to fittings and different things, they would have us put on these clothes, and you know, my boobs are all out…and nobody [else’s were] because…we could wear the exact same outfit but it’d just fit me differently. And so… we’d go out to different places, to clubs, [to perform] and I’m getting the attention because of my curves and they weren’t.”  So after a few years, the group began to unravel, and Brooklyn started considering other options. “We spent a couple of years trying to find a person to replace that person who left, and finally, I decided that, you know, I didn’t love it anymore. It wasn’t fun anymore, and so I stepped away to do the family thing.”

At the tender age of only 23, Brooklyn stepped away from music and got married. She wed into the industry; her new husband a recording artist himself. And in supporting his dreams she happily put her own aside. After that, she gave birth to her son, Ryan. I’d expect this to be somewhat of an unfulfilled time in her life, having left her music career behind, but Brooklyn confidently assures me that wasn’t the case.  “[My son] was my priority at the time and so I really didn’t do a lot with the music, but I was still doing sessions, studio singing, background stuff…” And it’s in this moment, as I listen to Brooklyn speak during our FaceTime  interview, with her bright pink tank top and sparkly eyes flickering through my screen, that I understand the kind of woman she is. While so many of us struggle to find our confidence, struggle to accept our bodies, struggle to believe we’re on the right path and can truly “have it all,” Brooklyn James is a woman that’s never doubted any of that–not once. She may have had her fair share of struggles, but nevertheless has kept the faith.  

After a few years passed and Ryan was a little older, Brooklyn started to feel those musical tingles creeping up again. “One of the guys that I worked with when I was with the girl group called me and he was like, ‘What are you doing now?’… and so he kind of pulled me back in and said you know, ‘We’re going to do a project on you’. And so that’s when we started working on the single that I put out a few years ago [with Jon Jon Harreld]… since MayPromo3then, I’ve been back into it again.” The single, Fragile, is a classic R&B-sounding tune that details a relationship at its breaking point – something Brooklyn experienced in her young marriage. She even shot and edited the video almost entirely by herself, having worked in video production as a teenager.  “In the summer times when I wasn’t at school I was working at this company in Inglewood called Heart and Soul…we would go out and do different-like cable commercials and different things…and I was the main editor there.”  In the single that would follow, Grow, Brooklyn writes of all the trials and tribulations that can precede true happiness.  “You said you’d never leave, nor would you go forsake me again, but I had to go through what I had to go through to grow,” she sings. Appropriately, the video is a testament to the love between her and her son as they jetset from city to city. And when so many women artists might try to conceal their motherhood in an effort to come across as young and available, Brooklyn once again proudly defies that convention, including Ryan wherever and whenever she can in her work.  And that’s the thing with her. Despite being out of the game a while, despite a failed marriage, despite jumping back into a presumably “young” industry a little later in life, she’s 100% comfortable with herself.   

As we wrap up our conversation, I ask Brooklyn where she gets her confidence from. In a business that isn’t particularly welcoming to women over 30, to single mothers, or to women over a size zero, she carries herself like a kind of superhero–perfectly settled and content in her superpower. One could argue that she even looks a little bit like the original Wonder Woman. As she preps for her next adventure, what she hopes will be a tour in Australia and the UK, she shares a final piece of advice with me: “What I experienced was mostly when I was a certain age everyone thought that I was ‘too young’.  And then all of a sudden once I got passed, I think it was maybe 24 or 25, [then I was] ‘too old’… [But] we just have to know who we are and believe in our talent…your talent will make room for you…coming back to music is what taught me that. There’s hope.”

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Watch “Grow” on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKZ1HMd5Lzk

Visit the Brooklyn James page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Br00klynJames

 

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