In 2014, music journalist Dean Van Nguyen, in a cover feature for Wax Poetics, said of Ms. Watley “She’s one of the most prominent visionaries of her era, and one whose influence remains a key touchstone in contemporary pop music.”
“Everything I’ve ever done has been to be distinctively Jody Watley,” says the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/fashion icon when asked why she thinks she’s lasted over three decades in the cut-throat music industry. “From my first solo album through right now,” she says thoughtfully, “everything that I will ever do has to be authentic to me. It’s not so much about, ‘Oh, this is going to be popular,’ or ‘Oh, this is going to be a big hit.’ It’s always been so personal to me, everything that I do. The fans can feel that. They connect with the honesty. It’s in the music.” That enduring connection between the artist and her fans recently received a dazzling jolt in the form of “Nightlife,” a global smash for Ms. Watley that offers just a taste of the forthcoming EP Paradise. The track – her 19th Billboard Top 20 Dance hit; a UK Top 10 Commercial Pop and UK Top 5 soul hit – adds another notch to her impressive chart history: six Top 10 Pop singles; thirteen #1 Dance Singles; seven Top 5 R&B Singles; two Top 20 pop albums; 2 Top 10 R&B albums; and a Top 5 R&B album. A horn-laced, bass-driven, beat-pumping call to glamorous arms, “Nightlife” is an anthem of uplift where the dance-floor is a refuge of self-creation and spirit preservation. The track celebrates dance music tradition, its classic sounds and motifs (nodding to disco, House, soulful R&B,) while looking squarely to the future. As an artistic statement, it’s a perfect encapsulation of Ms. Watley’s career thus far: This is where I’ve been / this is what I’ve done / this is where I am and what I’m doing right now / this is how I’m mapping the future.
From her days as a dancer on the iconic TV show “Soul Train” (where she first amassed a huge cult following) to her breakthrough as one third of legendary pop-soul trio Shalamar (whose lush harmonies on such hits as “A Night to Remember,” “There It Is,” and “Second Time Around” led the UK press to coin the phrase “Shalamar sound,”) to her groundbreaking career as solo artist (kicked off with her Grammy-winning 1987 solo debut album Jody Watley, whose chart-topping lead single “Looking for a New Love” launched the Watley-penned catch phrase “Hasta la vista, baby,” into pop culture vernacular ), Ms. Watley has always been ahead of the pop culture curve.
The video for her 1987 hit “Still a Thrill” was the first time a major pop star showcased waacking, the underground freestyle dance (an even more beat-driven cousin to voguing) that is now a worldwide phenomenon; her classic 1989 cut “Friends” carved the template for both R&B/hip-hop and pop/hip-hop fusions to come, being the first time a rapper (the legendary Rakim, of Eric B. & Rakim) wrote original verses for an R&B/pop song; long before making his mark as a film director, David Fincher (Se7en; Fight Club; Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) cut his artistic teeth on Miss Watley’s sleek music video for 1989’s smash hit “Real Love,” premiering a signature visual style that he would later impart to other pop divas and fine tune for his films; in honor of her visionary fusion of fashion, music, and music videos, Ms. Watley was featured in VOGUE Italia’s groundbreaking “Black Issue” in 2008. But that was all then. “Nightlife” and the smoldering, groove-driven EP Paradise are now as Watley.
“I respect my past,” she smiles. “I respect the journey, taking time off from the glare of the spotlight to raise my children. I gave up a lot in terms of visibility for a while though I continued to grow artistically. But I’m not the type of person who is nostalgic, except about my children being little. I hate it when people say, ‘Oh, the good old days…’ Well, the good old days are now, what you make of the now. One of the things I wanted to come through in “Nightlife,” right from the get-go, is right there in the lyrics I wrote – “Life’s not easy / think I want to get out and have myself a good time, forget all my worries…” I’m telling people to be in the moment. Make the most of right now. I am.”