DeepSoul Salutes Babyface: Karyn White - "Superwoman"

Babyface solidified his status as hitmaker with this 1988 R&B ballad.
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DeepSoul's look at Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds continues with "Superwoman," the Karyn White ballad that typifies Babyface's brand of glossy R&B.  In addition, it serves as a feminist anthem, with the singer demanding affection and respect from her husband.  White's ability to croon soulful ballads as well as slamming dance tracks gave her crossover appeal, and her 1988 self-titled debut demonstrated L.A. Reid and Babyface's skills as hitmakers.  

Born and raised in Los Angeles, White came from a musical family: her father played trumpet, and her mother directed the church choir.  After singing in church and performing in local talent shows, White toured with R&B singer O'Bryan in 1984.  Finally earning a recording contract in 1988, White was off to a great start at the Warner Bros. label: she was paired with producers L.A. Reid and Babyface.  Their debut collaboration, Karyn White, proved an immediate crossover success.  "The Way You Love Me," "Secret Rendezvous," and her duet with Babyface "Love Saw It" performed extremely well on the R&B and pop charts.  Combining R&B with pop and just a touch of hip hop (particularly on "Secret Rendezvous"), Reid and Babyface propelled the versatile vocalist's album to the top of the R&B charts and number 19 on the Billboard 200.  While all these tracks remain 1980s R&B classics, "Superwoman" may have the most enduring appeal due to its themes and timeless quality.

According to AllMusic, Babyface wanted to emulate two songwriters while composing "Superwoman": Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  Their 1971 hit "One Less Bell to Answer" contains lyrics such the title phrase and "one less egg to fry / One less man to pick up after."  Indeed, after the introductory keyboards and soft drum beat, White mournfully sings how she fixes her man breakfast every day, making sure his "coffee has its sugar and cream," his "eggs are over easy" and his toast is "done lightly."  Cowriting the track with Reid and Daryl Simmons, he uses food imagery to illustrate how the relationship has taken a negative turn: "you say the juice is sour / It used to be so sweet," she croons, adding that she believes her husband is referring to more than just the quality of orange juice.  

Babyface reportedly worked extensively with White to bring out the deep emotion of her voice, and that collaboration pays off when she reaches the chorus.  She cries out that she is only human, not superhuman, and that she needs more than just occasional affection.  "I'm not the kind of girl that you can let down / And think that everything's okay," she sings.  In other words, she will not be taken advantage of; as she repeats throughout the song, she has her pride and will not break down. Most women can relate at least somewhat to the sentiments of "Superwoman," and Babyface, Reid, and Simmons show remarkable insight into women's emotions and desires.  

The smooth sound, White's passionate performance, and the relatable lyrics sent "Superwoman" straight to number one on the R&B charts and number eight on the pop charts.  White would subsequently work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (she also married the latter) on her even bigger hit album, 1991's Ritual of Love.  Her 1988 debut album launched her career, and it proved that Reid and Babyface were songwriters and producers who could craft universally appealing tracks.  If it weren't for Karyn White, 1993's smash album Toni Braxton would have never been recorded.

"Superwoman" has been covered by artists, most notably the 1991 remake featuring a trio of classic divas: Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, and Dionne Warwick.