As Black History Month 2020 gets underway, so does a new station from Pandora: Fluent.
Home to a diverse selection of music from artists such as Summer Walker, SiR, Ozuna, Wizkid and Koffee, Fluent focuses on R&B’s evolving global influence. For the first time in Pandora history, six curators across various genres—including pop, rap, African, Latin, reggae and Caribbean—have teamed to program what R&B curator Akim Bryant defines as “an alternative international R&B experience.”
A 35-second Fluent promo says in part, “We were raised on the rhythm, beats that transcend borders, chords that cross genres. We are the voices of a universal language fluent in the vibe: R&B.”
Aside from Fluent, Pandora features more than 100 Pandora R&B stations and playlists. According to Pandora, the largest of these stations, Today’s R&B and Hip-Hop Hits, boasts 53 million+ listeners. R&B Love Songs is second with 37 million, while 90’s R&B claims third with 22 million.
In tandem with Fluent’s launch, Pandora is sponsoring the third annual Black Joy Parade in the company’s hometown of Oakland, Calif. (Feb. 23, blackjoyparade.org). Throughout the month of February and beyond, Fluent’s programming will include deeper dives into the creative mindsets and influences shaping the artists being played as well as infographics and other informational elements (pandora.com/genre/fluent).
Below, Fluent co-curators Bryant and Tiana Lewis, head of pop and R&B programming, map out the course for Pandora’s latest addition.
What sparked the idea to launch Fluent?
Bryant: Fluent came out of an organic conversation that a bunch of us on the team were having about R&B and where it is in the world today. It’s a genre that has never gone away. It has had its ups and downs, but it’s also at a point now where the genre has stretched into different parts of the world. So we thought, why not put all of these different types of R&B essentially onto one station. We brought in the Latin, Caribbean, African and other programmers to create this alternative international R&B experience that we think the world can appreciate. Especially the younger demo because they always have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening. It’s a vibe that you cannot catch anywhere else currently.
Which age demographic is Fluent specifically targeting?
Lewis: We’re targeting the younger, cooler, hip R&B listener but that’s not to say that it’s isolating those at the core of R&B. It’s a broader demo,18-35+.
Speaking of R&B’s ups and downs over the years, what’s propelling its current renaissance?
Bryant: Fluent needs to happen in this day and time because of Summer Walker, Ella Mai, Jacquees and other artists that are pushing the envelope, pushing the genre in a way that has expanded it. And once again, it’s becoming a bit more mainstream as people are turning their ears back to R&B. Not to say that they’re turning away from hip-hop. I think both can live in the same space at the same time. But it’s about giving R&B the respect it deserves as it also becomes such an international factor at this point.
What other artists can R&B fans expect to hear on the station?
Lewis: Looking at a broad spectrum, you’ve got Summer Walker, H.E.R., Lucky Daye. But then you also have Ozuna, Koffee, Bad Bunny and Wizkid. It’s definitely vibe-based. At the end of the day, the core of a lot of reggaetón, Afrobeats and Afropop is R&B—in a different language. So we’ve got the bigger artists in each of these different areas whether we’re talking about the Latin or African community. But it’s also an opportunity to discover artists like a Koffee, the first female to win a Grammy in the reggae category. She i also extremely young so we have no clue what she’s going to do next. But everybody’s just excited to watch her go. At Fluent we champion artists who are popping and doing great things. It’s just about good music.
What are you listening for in creating the station’s vibe?
Bryant: We don’t necessarily want this to be thought of as being put in a box. But during a recent discussion I had with our Caribbean curator, we were thinking in terms of what’s young, what’s cool. Like if you’re not necessarily in a club setting but in a lounge setting and the lights are dim. What do you want to hear to help create that mood and keep the good vibes going? I would also say in terms of the sound that it’s something that just feels universal, not so limited to one particular region of the world. Something that feels like someone in Mexico, Canada or Ghana might want to listen to if they’re really into R&B. Fluent is also a place for exposure. We’re going definitely play your heavy hitters. But we’re also going to play a lot of brand new artists and songs that people won’t recognize but that still fit the station’s vibe. Universal is the sound that we’re really trying to capture.