How Melody Thornton made young black and Afro-Latina girls feel seen

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Most of us come out of high school with a plan or some kind of idea of ​​what we want our future to look like. Some will enter directly into first year at university, others will enter the job market and some may even opt for the entrepreneurial route and take matters into their own hands. For Melody Thornton, that next step at just nineteen felt like an MTV audition that would soon change the course of her life forever – a spot as a member of the Pussycat Dolls.

Amazingly, auditioning for the group was her first entertainment-based audition, which would ultimately catapult her to become one of the lead singers alongside Nicole Scherzinger, who was nearly seven years her senior. “The pressure of being compared to everyone else who’s been through this whole experience, I haven’t always felt like people understood that I’m in pain at the same rate as you are,” noted Thornton, now aged. 38, about his experience at a young age. age.

She admitted that the success and stardom after their 2009 single ‘Don’t Cha’ had a negative impact on her mental health and that her mental wellbeing “wasn’t good”. The band went on to release singles such as ‘Beep’, ‘Stickwitchu’ and ‘I Hate This Part’, but young Thornton’s mind was all about the overall well-being of her mind, body and soul. spirit. Thornton even admitted there are things going on in the industry and for her that she hasn’t shared with her parents, but is glad she didn’t because they “would have wanted me to quit. “.

“I certainly suffered from frequent panic attacks, I kept things to myself, because I didn’t want anyone to say that I was lazy or that I was making things up,” Thornton said. During her time with the group, she has done her best to keep her image squeaky clean and away from the tabloid limelight as she enters her early twenties. “I’m like you. I understand that if you want to be here, be here and make it happen, so I always send love to my younger self and say to myself, ‘Okay girl, you did that. You somehow made it” but it wasn’t good. My mental health was in a really bad state. I guess I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone. anybody.

Three years after leaving PCD, she has certainly sought out mental health resources and it shows. In a floral top, hair pulled back and the same infectious smile she’s had since their “Sway” debut in 2004, Thornton sat before me on Zoom, a whole, complete, contented woman. I remember giving my heart to her riff towards the end of their single “Buttons” when I was only fourteen and thinking to myself that I wanted to be as talented and beautiful as her. Now I had the opportunity to give her belated flowers for making me and other black and Afro-Latina girls feel like a young black girl who just wanted to be in the spotlight.

Thornton misted his eyes and dabbed the corner of his eyes with his delicate finger to keep the tears from falling. Part of the tears was of gratitude, and part of it was a sense of pride for how far we’ve come in those years with The Pussycat Dolls.

“It makes me emotional because I always, it was like a lot of pressure while I was there. The one thing I always kept in mind was, ‘You can’t mess up. You have to stick together because you’re the black girl. People know it, people see it and they want to see you win, so you have to prevail over any adversity no matter how it looks. I appreciate it. a lot of you saying that because I didn’t always know if I was seen,” she said emotionally. Indeed, Melody Thornton, you are and always will be seen.

“To see Melody stand out in the group not just because she was black, but for her style, her dancing skills and those voice was crucial,” says music and culture journalist J’na Jefferson. “That visibility meant a lot in the beginning especially, especially when there was such an influx of black singers pushing through the previously white-focused mold in pop like Amerie [and] like the Sugababes. Be part of a group of mostly white girls and make a name for yourself by simply being talented? It is enormous.”

Jefferson, who has also been a dancer since childhood and has always admired the confidence, sex appeal and aesthetic of the Pussycat Dolls, adds Jefferson, “Speaking from the perspective of someone who really admired PCD and what he represents, it’s really important for women of color to see that female power and success is both attainable and achievable, and not just for white women as is often the case in the media.

Thornton was never naive to the fact that she was in a predominantly white group. In fact, she noted how hyper positionally aware she was early on, when all eyes were on her as the only person of color — and not always in a positive way. “What I was in was a white pop group. That’s what it was,” she said. She recalled “being misunderstood a lot” and not always wanting to sit down and explain the parameters of their cultural identity to everyone in the industry.

“If you don’t understand my culture, you don’t understand my culture. You want me to have braids and beads, you need to hire someone who does braids and beads. It’s not me who’s picky; there are two sides to this,” she explained. “I can’t go out in braids and dusty beads because people are going to say, ‘dang, she’s really out of touch, she doesn’t know herself, she doesn’t know her culture.’ That’s not it, who hires who and who does what?

From start to finish, Thornton always felt like she had to be “active”, a term she used often during our conversation to describe the feeling of being almost in character as a young adult. famous in a pop group. As someone who grew up as an athlete, Melody always enjoyed the discipline of looking good wherever she went, but she admitted it was often exhausting. “Did I feel any pressure? The group I was part of was very sexualized and we were very objectified. My God.” To stay grounded, she wrote letters to herself and read affirmations aloud between stops on the tour.

“I loved that her style was fun and bubbly and made me want to dress like her. Of course, I was too young, but her makeup was always refreshing and the blonde highlights on her brunette hair always stood out”, expert in style and culture Venesa Coger told Girls United as she reflected on Thornton’s time at PCD. “I was immediately drawn to Melody because of her beauty, tone of voice and style. As the only black girl in the group, she was a reflection of me.

Jefferson has drawn attention to Thornton’s fame revamp in the Twitterverse, especially since his victory australia The Masked Singer. From there, videos recirculated the streets of the internet of a young pop star in her early 20s speaking on stage at award shows and music video rehearsals. “I think time has worked in Melody’s favor. I’ve seen so many people online who have commented on how strong her voice has always been and that she deserves a lot more time in the spotlight both in PCD and for his solo work,” Jefferson said of Thornton, who has released solo singles since 2020 topping with “Love Will Return” in her lioness eyes PE.

“I think even more positive retrospectives and current reflections on her talents will continue to reveal themselves as she releases new material,” she continued. “The funny thing about flowers is that even if you don’t smell them right away, there’s always someone with a full bouquet waiting for you right next door.”

Upon her departure from The Pussycat Dolls, rumors swirled from the tabloid mill that she was meeting other members of her group. While that wasn’t the case, Thornton had a hunch it would happen as she entered the world solo and unattached to the brand she’d been a part of for so many years. “I really didn’t feel like I was taking back power. There were a lot of narratives that I knew I was going to have to fight.

Thornton continued: “It was not an easy transition as it felt like a lot of hostility. I never meant to say anything to discredit other band members,” she said. “If I said what I needed to say to defend myself against narratives that supported other people, then I would destroy other people. Let the proof be in the pudding.

While she quite often felt, she added, the constant pressured comparison between herself and the lead singer who was a few years her senior, famed Interscope Records record executive Jimmy Iovine, s always looked to her for marketing and sound ideas because her age range at the time was the audience the band was trying to connect with. “Sometimes there were times when I was heard because I was younger or the youngest. When I didn’t know something, I certainly pretended and it worked, but you have to have real confidence .

The Pussycat Dolls once said, “I want to be famous, I want to be a star,” but former member Melody Thornton has done it before. A week shy of her 38th birthday at the time, she confessed that the best thing she had ever done for her mental health was to step out of the spotlight and into her self. “The best thing I’ve ever done was step back and let it be and let people say what they’re gonna say because I feel balanced for the most part – and I know when I’m not. .”

As she reflects on the legacy she leaves to empathetic young black girls in girl groups today, including Leigh-Anne Pinnock of Little Mix, Dawn Richard and D. Woods of Danity Kane and Normani Kordei from Fifth Harmony, there’s also a certain something Melody Thornton wants young girls to know. “You just named a group of women like me, I’m so proud of them. I’m so happy for them because you definitely have your moments where it’s like, ‘what I put my energy into, that ‘is developing a brand in an area that I’m not looking for.’ It’s nice to see they have a soft place to land and they’re off,” Thornton praised each of their solo endeavors after their girl group experiences.

Thornton continued, “Whatever the story, if it’s not true, keep doing you, keep doing it, keep doing it. Sometimes you have to push the bear, bring it back to life and then fight for yourself – and that’s it. It is what it is. Don’t let anyone define you. You are not defined by the narrative that is being pushed and you have power in this world.

About D’Shonda: Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, D’Shonda Brown is the associate editor of Girls United. When she’s not interviewing or writing, she enjoys running, dancing, shopping for sneakers and watching Lifetime movies.

Melody Thornton

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