Ooh Child

MTV's blockbuster TRL Tour proves black is beautiful and profitable

"I think ethnic beauty is very beautiful today -- especially to teenage girls who see possibilities in it," Salzman elaborates. "Somehow ethnic is more expansive and less specific, also less contained."

Young people with even the slightest mixed blood in their lineage are celebrating it in their appearance -- from Alicia Keys braids to Fat Albert clothes. Those lacking in pigmentation compensate for it with a brash, keep-it-real attitude and an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop slang.

"They can imagine and glorify without mimicking -- although I think some of the 'attitude' that's associated with African-American women is emulated by girls of all ethnicities," Salzman adds. "They want that edge, that sense of style which says, 'I know me,' and also that toughness which is both feminine but genuinely tough."

Destiny's Child: The new millennium Supremes.
Rod Spicer
Destiny's Child: The new millennium Supremes.

Indeed, some of that edgy attitude that's grown up around hip-hop now actually alienates a lot of blacks -- particularly older African-Americans. Rap hall-of-famer Russell Simmons, creator of Def Jam records, recently told Rolling Stone that roughly 80 percent of the hip-hop audience today is non-black, And you can see that at the TRL shows. By the time Nelly and his group St. Lunatics take the stage to inject some much-needed testosterone into the female-dominated evening, it's the white teens in the audience who are most enthusiastically waving the glow-sticks and hollering along with the crew's signature "Uh-ohs" on the hit "E.I."

"I can't understand half the words they're saying," complains a black father of three teenaged girls who's taken this time during the St. Louis rapper's 50-minute set to accompany his daughters to the Destiny's Child souvenir booth out in the Ice Palace concourse. "And the other half just sounds ignorant -- all that 'E-i-e-i-oh' . . . ," he laughs.

Many of the young white kids who've mastered all the hip-hop lingo in an effort to achieve some kind of honorary blackness may also be surprised to learn that R&B and hip-hop are just a couple of the many genres of music many blacks listen to. "I'd rather it be Nelly Furtado up there," says a black woman in her mid-30s. "Now her stuff I can get into!"

But for younger girls like 17-year-old Naturi Naughton, the darkest-complected member of the beige, brown and black trio 3LW, growing up in an era where people of all skin tones are striving to emulate the features of personality and appearance that just come naturally to her just feels good.

"It's great to look out there and see we have such a variety of fans who are different," she says, eyeing the packed crowd that only an hour or two ago cheered so loudly throughout 3LW's short set of hits. "They're giving us so much love when we're up there on stage," she says, before chanting the mantra that's now crossed over into the language of young people of every race: "It's all good."


The TRL tour is every bit as fast-paced as the MTV show it's named for. Kicking off with a few quick numbers by mid-tour addition City High -- currently riding high on the strength of its provocative (and irresistibly catchy) message song "What Would You Do?" -- the energy is kept at a fever pitch throughout the youthful 3LW's driving four-song set.

Dream follows with an equally short performance that finds the P. Diddy protégées working extra hard to win that love of the Destiny's Child crowd. In another era, these four white girls with the classic cheerleader good looks would be the ones stealing the fire from the talented black performers on the bill mining the same dance territory. But here, in Beyoncéland, you can see the perfect blondes sweat, working at a disadvantage to come across cool amidst all their naturally-blessed competition.

The concert heats up -- literally -- when the charisma-packing Eve takes the stage in an explosion of flashpots, pouring out tough (but toned-down) rhymes between a pair of giant gold scorpions. You can see her bite her tongue on the more explicit lines in her hits "Who's That Girl" and "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," but the Philadelphia Ruff Ryders' first lady does her best to keep the show on a Teen's Choice Awards level for the sake of the tour's family-friendly atmosphere.

Ditto for Nelly, who nevertheless manages to one-up the showmanship level when the multiplatinum rapper and his St. Lunatics actually pull a handful of fans from the crowd to bounce along on the four parked ATVs hauled out onstage for his megahit "Ride Wit Me."

All this escalation of showmanship and star charisma is just buildup, of course, for the megawatt electricity generated by Destiny's Child. After running a pack of their biggest hits, "Independent Women Pt. 1" (opening the show in perfect gun-totin' Charlie's Angels stance), "No, No, No," "Bug A Boo," "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Say My Name," the trio heralded as the new millennium Supremes prove their talent is much more evenly distributed with a series of dynamic solos: Kelly with a moving "Story of Beauty"; Michelle with a remake of the old school slow jam "Ooh Child" (accompanied on the monitors by home movies of the trio as little girls); and Beyoncé with her star turn on "Dangerously in Love."

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