At June’s Diary’s recent performance in New York, I had the opportunity to speak with the man behind the group, creative director Frank Gatson Jr. Gatson has choreographed for the biggest names in music including En Vogue, Usher, Destiny’s Child, and most of Beyoncé’s solo career.
Currently, he manages R&B crooner Luke James and still lends his hand at creative directing. This year, he teamed up with Kelly Rowland and BET to deliver the hit show Chasing Destiny where lucky young ladies all vied for a chance to be part of a girl group under his direction. Five young women were chosen and June’s Diary was the result. REVOLT got his take on the industry, how a male group could be bigger than a female group, and the biggest lessons he’s learned from Kelly and Beyoncé.
1. You have to have a gift.
I’m not going to try and be arrogant with this but I think first of all you have to have a gift. I think what a lot of people don’t see is the gift. God blessed me with the knowledge and the eye to see a gift. When I met Beyoncé when she 15 years old, I left out of the rehearsal and said "I just saw the second coming of Michael Jackson." So I think my gift is to see, and that’s important. A lot of executives and people who put people in the business they don’t see the gift. You’ve got to find the gift first. And then once you find the gift now you develop them. You tell them the simple things about how to be on stage, how to be fearless, how to be like Kobe and Michael Jordan! People have to possess that. And that’s why I love Beyoncé, I love you Beyoncé! Because every time she shows up! You know that’s what artists don’t know how to do, they don’t know how to show up. Don’t get on stage being half-assed, show up! Put the work in.
2. Follow organic talent and listen to your fans.
I think my gift was Kelly Rowland allowing me to be on that show and I was relentless. I was like, we’re picking magic baby! She always wanted me to say how many we were going to pick for the group, “Is it going to be four or three?” And I said, "No, let’s be organic about it, it will tell us, we’ve got to follow it." People, don’t follow it — the fans will tell you.
3. Understand the difference between art and commercial success.
People have to get out of their way and stop thinking they know. We don’t know, we’re just commercial whores in this business. We have to always listen to what the fans say. You know this is not art. I hate when people say, "I’m an artist." No you’re not. If you’re selling R&B, pop, whatever, you are a commercial whore. And what that means, you have to do what the people like. Art is Alvin Ailey. Art is Joffrey Ballet.
4. On what could be his next venture.
I want to do a male group edition of this so bad. It’s no disrespect to June’s Diary, Destiny’s Child, En Vogue but there is no way a female group can be bigger than a male group. I’m not being a chauvinist about it, it’s just women buy music more and straight men would have respect for the group so the demographic would just be bigger.
5. On the biggest lessons he’s learned from Kelly Rowland.
Kelly understands the game. She understands how to be a team player. She understands how to be committed to something she decides to be a part in. A lot of people forget that Kelly was the first girl of Destiny’s Child to get a Grammy. No one ever remembers that; I remember that because I was there. And just to be clear, it was with "Dilemma." So Kelly taught me humility. Kelly taught me, like when everybody trying to hate on her, she [remains] steadfast. She taught me that, and she’s talented. She just has to get the right record, "Motivation" was the right record. Now she’s got to get another right record. So Kelly, I love her for teaching me humility and how to stay committed to something that you decide to do and don’t let the haters f-ck with you.
6. Your entire team must be full of stars.
Beyoncé taught me anybody that goes on your stage, background singer, band member, dancer, they have to be gifted to. Because say if Beyoncé leaves stage, Beyoncé don’t want to leave her stage to someone who is not gifted who can’t maintain her audience. Beyoncé taught me that. She hired a male background singer years ago, and he was incredible as a singer but we didn’t hire him again because when Beyoncé left the stage he didn’t hold the stage down because he was just so fascinated by Beyoncé that he let his guard down. He was supposed to get out there like a franchise basketball team and pass the jumper to her. Pass the ball to her, so what I learned from Beyoncé is that even though you’re the star, you got to have other stars on stage with you and she does that.