Like the overwhelming majority of people who grew up with and consider themselves fans of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, a wave of excitement washed over me as I watched the video for her new single, “W.T.F.” featuring Pharrell Williams. The video is Missy to her core, yet manages to still come across as fresh, innovative, and necessary. Such is a testament to her long praise as a visionary— though when I see some celebrate her “finally coming back,” I pause.
Let’s not forget that Missy made a comeback attempt three years ago, but we just were not overly welcoming. In September 2012, Missy Elliott and her longtime friend and collaborator, Timbaland, reunited to release two new singles: “9th Inning” and “Triple Threat.”
To be fair, there’s a reason why so many took the “la-la-la, I can’t see you” line of defense on the offerings at the time.
On “9th Inning,” Missy offered some pointed critique of the state of the music industry. At the time, Timbaland told the Hot 97 host Angie Martinez, “The music game is in a bad state, so we’re in the ninth inning like World War II and we have to come in and try to salvage what’s left of it.”
It’s a bold declaration, only it didn’t really live up to its promise. I love them both, but the truth is this song was not the move. It was dark, not particularly catchy, and not as energetic as the Missy classics we hold near and dear to our hearts and hips.
The same goes for the other-half of the double single, “Triple Threat.” When I ask fellow fans about it now I get variations of “Huh? I don’t remember that.”
After these songs essentially came and went, the end result was Missy appearing here and there on a given song and popping up surprisingly at Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show. Now, finally, after three very long years, she’s making another go at releasing solo music. We love our stars, but if it something isn’t up to par, we tend to look away out of respect and pretend it never happened.
This is true for Missy, true for Lil’ Kim, and just as true for Janet Jackson. So, when we often say “we want X star” to make a comeback, we tend to forget that comes with an caveat. I don’t buy the Wendy Williams line and believe that musicians should just stick to the classics after a certain commercial peak. We have to make room for an artist to be an artist.
But, I will say if you cannot compete with your classics, maybe an oldie but goodie is the way to go. That is, until you figure it out. I’m happy that Missy Elliott has. The same goes for Janet Jackson. They have each brought back what we missed about them but managed to keep it modern without dating themselves. It’s taken them a little time, but both feel right on schedule. It’s like talking to an old friend and immediately falling back in sync.
I’m hoping some of my other favorites I long for to return figure out the right formula to comeback, too.