‘Queens’ Season 1, Episode 2: ‘Heart of Queens’
Hearts of queens
Photo: Kim Simms / ABC
REMIX… so a mom, a stranded musician, a disgraced daytime TV host, a lesbian church lady and a young rapper fresh out of rehab go on a world tour! Six months have passed since the Ladies’ impressive BET performance. As they stand under their more unified promo-concert billboard, Brianna shares that she forgave her husband for cheating. Suddenly, Eric appeared out of nowhere, sweaty with a bruised face. When the girls ask him what happened, he offers no valid answer. Just an “I’m fine”. But before you know it, a man in a black mask appears and shoots Eric and the ladies.
This all happens in the first minute and a half of the second episode. What in the Straight out of Compton?? We don’t know who the trigger-happy individual is or who got shot. I guess Eric owes someone some money or got a bad deal involving the ladies, and now the person wants revenge. It will be some time before we know who got shot or pulled the trigger, as it’s now a throwback to 2001, and the ladies are in San Diego playing with rapper Cam. ‘ron (played by Cam himself). In real life, Cam was at the peak of his career in the early years; he had signed a deal with Roc-A-Fella, filmed Fully paid, and became an overnight fashion sensation for her love of pink. Who could forget her iconic pink mink coat moment at Fashion Week in 2002?
The song is dope, and the performance goes well until Naomi is triggered by Valeria (by the end of the episode, we find out why). She stops halfway through to express to the girls her dissatisfaction with the group. When Naomi lowers the mic and announces that “the Nasty Bitches are dead,” fans react by booing the hip-hop quartet.
We learn that the Ladies disbanded at the peak of their careers due to big egos, a love triangle and a shady recording deal. Besides the love triangle between Eric, Naomi and Valeria, which is actually very messy, having sold 40 million records, all the women except Valeria have been broken up. Industry Rule # 4,080, the record label folks and some band members are shady. The girls fell victim to bad industry practices by signing a bad deal orchestrated by their manager and friend, Eric. Ever since Eric was sleeping with – I mean, dating – Valeria, she joined her plan and decided to only take care of herself, not her daughters. You could read the character of Valeria as a self-centered woman who used her privilege of fair skin to benefit from colourism in the industry. When she approached Eric at the club in 1997, she was well aware of the optics; sex sells, and Valeria is both beautiful and sexy. As she saw 20 years ago, she didn’t need talent. When Eric introduced her to the group, they saw her actions for what they were and called out to him, “Isn’t our hair straight enough? Is our skin too dark? Jill asked. (In real life, Naturi Naughton has had her own public battles with colorism in the industry.)
For Naomi, talent is the most essential quality, and that unfortunately made her ego big. During their prime, Naomi constantly threatened to leave the group and go solo. Her talent is ultimately the reason she chose her career over her love life. That and the music industry’s gender policy. If everyone knew she was sleeping with A&R on her label, people would have thought she got screwed just because she “let Eric Jones hit”.
Twenty years later, we now see that it takes more than talent to be successful in the industry. When she has the chance to meet musical directors from the Cam’ron label, they throw a curve ball at her when they say that she would be the perfect “authentic” writer for a 21 year old “exotic” artist (the colourism come back) . Caught off guard, Cam reiterates his desire to sign Naomi on his label but comes up against the fierce ageism of the industry. For the label’s manager, Naomi, in his own words, “is just a 41-year-old rapper singing folk songs who doesn’t have that unmistakable something.”
So Naomi shows up to the executive and performs in her backyard to prove to her that she’s a star – and it works! He suddenly sees her quality as a star and offers her a recording contract with a take: if she signs the contract, she will no longer be able to play with the Nasty Bitches. She is forced to choose between a chance in the solo career she has always dreamed of or an epic comeback with her band mates.
Meanwhile, in Montana, Jill and her girlfriend, Tina, share an intimate moment in bed which is disturbed by Jill’s ex-husband, Darren, who offers to go poly with them. She refuses, and honestly, breaking Darren’s heart is the least of her concerns. Jill’s “coming out” hit local headlines, and she can’t stand it. Maybe she feels guilty about the homophobic rant / attack she carried out in 1998 during their MTV cradles together.
As Jill struggles with the increased publicity surrounding her sexuality, Lil Muffin is in a Montana rehab center and struggling to settle in, so she escapes and ends up at Jill’s house. Without really thinking about her decision, Jill decides to leave Tina in Montana and meet the girls in Los Angeles. Even though keeping a young bubblegum rapper wasn’t part of her plan, she allows Muffin to go with her.
Fortunately, in LA, Brianna’s husband’s brain surgery was successful and he should be cancer-free after his chemotherapy treatment. As if by magic, after the surgery, Jeff does not remember having cheated on his wife. Over a glass of wine, Valeria tries to convince Brianna that he’s got plenty (she should really be worried about Eric, but hey). They recap Valeria’s babysitting experience, and Brianna is shocked, but not really shocked, that Valeria took the kids out to buy some lingerie and had them do yoga stretches to tap into their chakras.
In some sort of disguise, Jill and Muffin make an appearance at Brianna’s, crushing her and Valeria’s wine party. Naomi and Eric show up immediately after them. Eric shares his good news with the whole group: he booked a show for them in San Diego (the girls are afraid of San Diego). As a mom, Brianna is resilient and starts babbling about her priorities and how she’s agreed to only do a spectacle. She gives me Keisha from Total and Kandi from Xscape in this scene! (Love you, ladies!) Valeria gives her a dodgy reality check by reminding Brianna that Jeff “doesn’t think of her when he calls a white girl a queen in their bed” (umm, ouch!). The conversation between the two band members turns into #MomLife vs. #KidFreeLife, which is tricky territory. Brianna throws a lower blow, and Valeria is visibly affected by her comment. But Jill reminds the ladies of the opportunity before them – a second chance to befriend and find their voice.
Naomi and E-Jones have a “moment” where she bends over so gently reminding him that she doesn’t agree with what he’s done to their relationship. Her apology is interrupted by Valeria, who asks, “What’s going on?” as she walks around the room. (I sense problems.)
While she’s happy to exaggerate her man for getting the job done, he drops a bombshell on her: If they don’t sell, he owes the promoter $ 500,000. Luckily, she has that kind of money and promises to keep her man back. Once again, the two lovebirds find themselves keeping secrets from the ladies. Fortunately, the show sold out in 12 minutes! Nasty Bitches are always in demand.
Before hearing the news of their sold-out show, Lil Muffin tries to escape Brianna’s house but ends up falling out the window. Jill asks to speak to her on her own after the ladies scolded her and made a few jokes about her Care Bears outfit. She took on a big sister-mentor role for Lauren (she refuses to call him Lil Muffin). The moment, however, becomes a match “who can speak for themselves to the other person”. Jill warns Lauren (not Lil Muffin) that a drink will become too much, and in return Lauren reminds her that in 2021, no one cares if she’s gay, adding, “Who isn’t a little gay? ” They both have good points. Jill offers a solution: If Lauren returns to rehab and finds out who she is, Jill will commit to determining who she is. Lauren shares with the girls that she is returning to rehab and asks them to hold her crown until she returns.
It’s show time! The women are in exactly the same room as 20 years ago, but Naomi is missing. The ladies refuse to let her stop the show. As Naomi ignores Eric’s call, P-Sex hype the ladies, reminding them that they have the opportunity to show the world that they still have it, with or without Naomi.
Throughout their performance intro, the camera gives us a glimpse into their current life. Brianna’s husband returns from the hospital and her family is reunited again. Jill, with Tina by her side, stands up to her church. She exposes all she is: a black gay rapper who is also a woman of God.
Naomi doesn’t let her daughters down, however. She has paternity issues to work out with Cam, but she appears on stage ready to hang out with her daughters. Wicked Bitches Forever!