India.Arie Talks First-Ever Adult R&B No. 1 & Why It Might Have Something to Do With 'Black Panther'

Benedict Evans
India Arie

She needed 18 years and 15 attempts, but India.Arie claims her first career No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult R&B Songs airplay chart as “Steady Love” jumps 3-1 on the chart dated Nov. 2. The single also snags the chart’s Greatest Gainer honor, thanks to its 13% surge in plays in the week ending Oct. 27, according to Nielsen Music.

Upon hearing the news, the singer-songwriter burst into a round of applause. 

“I love it -- it’s cool to be 20 years in at this point and have a No. 1,” India.Arie tells Billboard on the achievement. “The thing that makes it really cool is to be with people who support you to work hard enough to get something to No. 1.”

"Steady Love" is India.Arie's 15th entry on the Adult R&B Songs chart and eighth top 10. She first hit the list back in 2001 with her breakthrough single "Video," which reached No. 6.

As to a reason why “Love” has surpassed all her other singles’ performance, the singer draws from a Marvel movie: “My mission and intention has always been to make meaningful music, and people are open to it in a different way again. There was an era in like 2008-2012 when people thought that was boring. After, what was that movie? -- Black Panther -- it was interesting to be cultural again, be spiritual again, be black again. People are hungry in a different way for what I do now.”

That sentiment touches on a key element that helped “Love” court the adult demographic on its 26-week journey to No. 1: a well-received official music video, in which rapper David Banner plays India.Arie’s love interest. The clip, which depicts the couple in everyday, domestic situations, resonated with several viewers as a refreshing depiction of black romance, and for the singer, age was an important asset.

“It’s not just that we’re black and in love, ‘cause you see that all the time on the screen -- but we’re adults. She’s trying to have a child, she has a partner, they fight, but they stay together. My social media guy had to point out it has a lot of views, but the negative comments are really low.”

The triumph comes on the heels of shifting to a new record label, BMG, after 17 years on the Motown roster. The new home has already produced some key accomplishments for her chart résumé: In addition to “Love,” previous single “That Magic” peaked at No. 6 on Adult R&B Songs last December -- India.Arie’s first pair of consecutive top 10s on the chart since the one-two punch of “Video” (No. 6) and “Brown Skin” (No. 9) in 2001.

Both “Love” and “Magic” appear on the singer’s Worthy album, released in February, which marked her first full-length effort in over five years. As is her custom, she almost pulled the plug on her career for good, fed up over label politics and backroom bickering.

“If you don’t hear from me between two and three years for an album, you can pretty much assume I’m thinking about quitting,” she confesses. “[Labels] treat artists like they’re dispensable. I heard one executive talking about another female artist, saying, 'We’re gonna squash her.' And in my mind, I’m thinking, “You know you’re talking about another human being, right?” But you’re supposed to push through the hurt and produce beautiful music. There’s a lot expected of you in the face of people who don’t give a shit about you.”

Despite the obvious past friction with her label, though, the singer calls her short time thus far at BMG a “good experience,” finding particular joy in feeling that she’s being heard and experienced as herself again.

“It’s nice to be with people who listen to the songs and say, ‘What can we do with this?,’ not 'I don’t hear a hit!' That’s why there’s always been a through line and a common thread through my work, because my work is based on my values, my spiritual life and my point of view."

The new No. 1, then, is a welcome affirmation of a nearly two-decade commitment to her process, her way. 

“People have been walking down the aisle to ‘Steady Love’ and have their first dances to it -- it’s heartwarming, and I need it, because I always think about quitting. Always.”

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