The 26-year-old's blossoming career has exceeded expectations at every turn while performing in a genre many in and from Nigeria maintain an adamancy regarding viability.
Tems, born Temilade Openiyi, has exceeded expectations at every turn in her career while performing in a genre many in and from Nigerianmaintain an adamancy regarding viability. The 26-year-old’s trajectory appears to be changing that notion for the better and more than a few artists are riding the boon at the moment. Not only creating records for herself and artists on the continent, Tems is effectively aiding in the same process for other global acts. Future’s “I Never Liked You” LP earned him his eighth No. 1 album to debut atop the Billboard 200, with 222,000 equivalent album units earned. Much of the album’s success is owed to the record of numbers alone. Outside topping the charts, the singer is slowly but surely impacting musical history and culture, in and out of the continent.
Unfortunately, not many artists enjoy the same benefits albeit pursuing careers in the same genre. CKay might be the closest act in terms of direct comparisons with Tems. They pursue similar genres; they both have found unprecedented chart success and they both appeal to a foreign market primarily even though they have found success in Nigeria.
Historically, Nigerians have found success in the genre, stalwarts like Paul Play and Styl-Plus found mainstream success with a variety of Nigerian R&B that in many ways was a fusion of arguably the most popular American genre at the time and firmly African elements. A lot of the music from the 2005-2008 time period relied on the same formula but very few could recapture the success both of these acts enjoyed at the heights of their commercial runs.
However, recent departures into the increasingly popular Afrobeats genre and all of its mainstream offshoots have perhaps dissuaded more acts from trying their hand at anything but these (sub)genres and as a result, the Nigerian sonical landscape is plateauing alarmingly fast. Any music that does not fall into these buckets is often considered alternative for an ease of identification, similar to the World category at award shows employed to describe any non-white music.
Tems’ success should be viewed as clear evidence of the genre’s viability for the rest of the market. Without too much investigating, one clear-cut piece of evidence regarding her success is the quality of her music. Tripling as a producer, singer and songwriter, Tems’ triple threat status is not one many artists are likely to attain before their first project release however they already existed in her arsenal. While this has undoubtedly helped her hone in on an appropriate sound and its execution, a lot of credit is also due to her team that appropriately positioned her for a market many struggles to conquer.
There is a common theme amongst Nigerians, one where our appreciation for our art or invention is informed by what the rest of the world thinks about it. This theme/theory can be proved correct by Burna Boy’s real-time rise through the global ranks. The approval of the Nigerian market only emerged after the global success of Outside. It also applies to Tems’ career in a manner. Up until Essence – the Wizkid summer hit from his Made In Lagos album – Tems’ ascent was staggered. The RCA signee had released two projects – For Broken Ears and If Orange Was A Place – on streaming platforms (one with RCA and the other with her Leading Vibe imprint) with her first project, Time Swap coming as early as 2019. Up until her breakout single later that year, Try Me, there were no English-speaking primarily R&B artists attempting anything similar and Tems’ inclination to dominate what many consider a niche genre has more than paid off.
Comparisons with acts that emerged around the same time as she did are jarring, especially when gender and general appeal are put into perspective. Fortunately, more than a few Nigerian (or of Nigerian descent) artists are paying more attention to the possibilities beyond what the Nigerian market demands. Nascent and more established acts are directing their efforts towards establishing themselves beyond the limitations of Afrobeats and are keener to express themselves as global artists performing a global genre.