En Vogue Defines Girl Power

En Vogue Defines Girl Power

The seminal '90s girl group is here to stay.

The seminal '90s girl group is here to stay.

Text: Nicola Fumo

This interview appears in the pages of V113, The Music Issue, on newsstands now. Order your copy of the issue today at shop.vmagazine.com

This spring, En Vogue released its first studio album in 14 years. Titled Electric Café, the full-length floats between R&B, soul, hip-hop, and dance to create a sound that feels both relevant and true to the group’s roots. But—as the saying goes—don’t call it a comeback. “We’ve grown with [the music industry] because we’ve never stopped moving,” founding member Terry Ellis says. “We never stopped recording, we never stopped performing. It’s been 27 years now and we’ve consistently been able to work and stay in this industry.”

Those years haven’t been without friction. Founding members Maxine Jones and Dawn Robinson have been in and out of the group multiple times, culminating in a 2012 lawsuit over rights to the En Vogue name. Since then, the group has been a three-piece, consisting of original members Ellis and Cindy Herron-Braggs, with the addition of Rhona Bennett, who has filled in during lineup turbulence since 2003. Ellis understands that fans loved the original group, so it has been important to be transparent with them about the band’s evolution and its new chapter. “[Our fans] deserve an explanation; they deserve to know. Our hope is that they understand. Change is a part of life,” she says. Ellis is positive, light, and grateful. She seems to see the group’s every schism as evolution: an abstract element as certain as fire and water, or death and taxes. “The transitions we’ve gone through and the ups and downs—all a part of life—what comes with that is wisdom,” she says. “We’re older now and we’ve gained so much in experience. The industry is definitely different, but I think because of the experiences that we’ve had, we’re able to continue to navigate in a way that is positive.”

The group’s foundational tracks include “Free Your Mind,” “My Lovin’,” and “Whatta Man,” which featured fellow superstar girl group Salt-N-Pepa. “The ’90s was just ...” Ellis trails off. “It was special.” The decade was the defining cusp between analog and digital, a time when musicians (not computer programs) still played instruments and vocals-tweaking technology wasn’t advanced enough to be used as a crutch. “You had to work,” Ellis emphasizes. “That required more of you as an artist. It required more of your creativity.”

That work is evident in the enduring quality of En Vogue’s catalog of catchy hits, with messages that still resonate. In “Free Your Mind,” the women sing about being judged on sight, from clothing choice (“I wear tight clothes and high heel shoes, doesn’t mean that I’m a prostitute”) to racial profiling (“I can’t look without being watched, you rang my buy before I made up my mind”). “The song became a hit, I believe, because all ethnicities can relate to those moments or experiences we’re singing about,” Ellis muses, “and it’s unfortunate that we’re all still experiencing that today. It’s a bit saddening, but I’m proud we were able to write a song from our perspective and share it with the world and to have such a powerful message.”

STILL'S FROM EN VOGUE'S "ROCKET"

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