Toni Braxton is hoping to reverse a decade-long record sales slide with a new reality show, her third, called "Braxton Family Values."
A story in today's paper looks at Braxton's career and why she ended up on a reality TV show on We TV, the network responsible for "Bridezillas" and "Joan Knows Best?"
It's a long way from the singer's stratospheric success in the 90s, but it was, in many ways, an inevitable fall.
Braxton's "Secrets" has sold a career high of 5.4 million copies since its release in 1996, according to Nielsen Soundscan. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified it eight times platinum.
It's the kind of blockbuster that made her an international name but also one that set an absurdly high benchmark to overcome.
All of her other albums - including her self-titled debut, which has also been certified several times platinum by the RIAA - have had fewer listeners.
In fact, since the 2000s, Braxton, who became synonymous with 90s pop, has been shedding listeners by the millions, so that now she's played mostly in oldies stations like Baltimore's Magic 95.9, where she's one of its core artists.
"Toni's no longer hip," says Tim Watts, a DJ at the station. "She's basically an adult contemporary artist now. The 35 to 50 bracket is now where her audience is." At a station where Luther Vandross (dead) and Anita Baker (53) are the No. 1 and No. 2 most-played artists, the 43-year-old Severn native is in the top ten, Watts says.
Like many of her 90s contemporaries - Janet Jackson, Boys II Men, Whitney Houston - Braxton's at a generational impasse.
"There's a bunch of them that I could mention that are caught between the hip hop crowd and older audiences," Watts says.
Gail Mitchell, a senior R&B editor at Billboard magazine, says they have all struggled to evolve.
Instead of playing to their roots, Braxton and others have unsuccessfully tried to stay relevant with a tougher, more hip-hop friendly sound than what made them fan favorites to begin with.
"It's material," Mitchell says. "You can't pretend to be something you're not. You can't go back and try to appeal to the kids by being a copy of what's out there. You have to stay true to who you are."
Braxton's decline in currency can be seen in her sales figures, below:
Braxton's album sales:
"Toni Braxton" (1993): 5,135,000
"Secrets" (1996): 5,364,000
"Heat" (2000): 2,093,000
"Snowflakes" (2001): 243,000
"More than a Woman" (2002): 438,000
"Libra" (2005): 441,000
"Pulse" (2010): 145,000
(Figures according to Nielsen Soundscan)
This makes "Heat," released over a decade ago, her last major hit.
Instead of trying to remain relevant, Watts suggests Braxton embrace her new image. "She's transitioning from being the hip new artist in the 90s to being more settled. She's got family. She's gotta keep that image. She's no longer hot with the young crowd any more, she's got to start feeling the older crowd."
Mitchell says it's not a matter of image, but of taste. Instead of working with hip hop producers, she should try to pursue a Harvey Mason Jr. - whose work with Jennifer Hudson pushed her new album, "I Remember Me" to the No. 2 slot on the Billboard 200.
"If she finds writers or producers who can handle voices like hers, she can be contemporary and stay true to herself," Mitchell says.
Braxton, however, has already taken that advice. Mason Jr. worked on her "Pulse" album, and it was still her lowest selling ever.
Photo: Braxton and family at the TV show's premiere last week (Getty Images)