In 2015, the Black Eyed Peas performed at Coachella for what turned out to be Fergie’s final live appearance with the group—ever. Sometime after that (it’s hard to tell when) she left the BEP without fanfare or a public statement to confirm her departure, despite being the voice of one of the world’s most popular pop acts. In an E! News interview from June 2017, bandleader Will.i.am cryptically authenticated the rumors, claiming, “Since the beginning of Black Eyed Peas, we’ve always had amazing vocalists that appeared on the mic with us. People like Macy Gray, Esthero, Debi Nova, Fergie… We’ll always work with good females.”
Even after that dismissive shot across the bow, Fergie stayed silent. Her subsequent studio album, 2017’s Double Dutchess, failed to replicate the commercial success of her 2006 debut effort, The Dutchess, sending her hurtling toward D-list status. The whole world seemed to be breaking up with her. Then, a few weeks ago, this happened:
Following her widely derided performance of the national anthem at the NBA All-Star game in February, Fergie has become an internet punch line. Daily Show host Trevor Noah compared her to former Trump aid Sam Nunberg, claiming that Nunberg’s bizarre media interviews were like if “Fergie‘s national anthem was a person.” Deadspin, which isn’t exactly a flag-waving defender of anthem sanctity (see Kaepernick, Colin) called it an “absolute abomination.” Her jazzy take on the anthem was risky, to be sure, but it was also confident and unapologetic, and anyway, history has seen much, much worse. But the response online was so scathing that she was compelled to apologize, saying “I love this country and honestly tried my best.”
It’s only been a few years since Fergie was the face of the world’s most ubiquitous pop group, the strong woman brashly fronting a trio of men. Now, with the Black Eyed Peas working to rebuild their artistic credibility with the gritty, politically charged throwback single “Street Livin’,” the term “Fergie-less” is flying around almost as a badge of that credibility, as though her long tenure with the group had bogged them down rather than help lift them to global fame. And the world seems to be playing along. Why?
Fergie’s jazzy take on the national anthem was risky, to be sure, but it was also confident and unapologetic, and anyway, history has seen much, much worse.
Fergie, a former child actress and member of the band Wild Orchid, joined the Black Eyed Peas around the time of their third album, Elephunk. The group had already established itself in the hip-hop underground with a critically beloved, earth-toned earnestness that was summed up by the first song on their very first album, 1998’s Behind the Front: “We don’t use dollars to represent / we just use our innocence and talent.” With Fergie onboard, Elephunk became the Peas’ first platinum album, thanks mostly to mega-hit “Where Is the Love,” and it was followed by three more Top 10 albums. More hits, like “My Humps” and “Don’t Phunk with My Heart,” put her squarely in the spotlight, adding potent feminine flair to the band’s dynamic. Fergie’s voice was bold, and her star power was undeniable.
Her first solo album, The Dutchess, spawned five sex-positive hit singles: “London Bridge,” “Fergalicious,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Glamorous” and “Clumsy.” On “Fergalicious,” which turns her nickname (she was born Stacy Ann Ferguson) into a branded adjective, she revealed herself as a force of female power, rapping, “I ain’t easy, I ain’t sleazy / I got reasons why I tease ‘em / Boys just come and go like seasons.” After a 10-year break, Fergie, now married and the mother of a young son, returned with the equally bold “M.I.L.F.$,” from last year’s Double Dutchess LP. Its video plays with and challenges various maternal themes; Fergie bathes seductively in a tub of milk, and exerts confidence and sexuality alongside other hot, famous moms like Kim Kardashian and Chrissy Teigen. “M.I.L.F. $” is just as fun and flashy as “Fergalicious,” but to put it lightly, Double Dutchess flopped, debuting at No. 19 on the Billboard charts and plummeting to No. 131 in its second week. What was it about Double Dutchess that so turned off the public?
The Black Eyed Peas have been earning plaudits, including from Paste, for their “innovative and experimental” new direction, involving a partnership with Marvel on an augmented-reality comic book. But it all seems to be coming at the expense of Fergie, and there’s some hypocrisy, and perhaps even misogyny, to be found in Will.i.am’s comments about his former bandmate. By reducing her to one of several “good females” the group has collaborated with, he not only demeans her contributions to the band, but the contributions of all those female artists. Women can participate, it seems, but they can’t take ownership of their achievements.
Although Will.i.am’s label released both of Fergie’s solo albums, she is no longer represented by the Will.i.am Music Group. It’s hard to discern exactly what has happened, or not happened, between the former bandmates. When asked by Rolling Stone recently whether Fergie was still a part of the group, Black Eyed Pea Apl.De.Ap would only cryptically say “Fergie is family.” Sometimes families fracture, and if anyone can make it on her own, it’s her. She tried something different with the national anthem and it didn’t go over well. But what is a true artist if not a risk-taker, willing to sacrifice herself and absorb the wrath of the hate-mongering internet to show the public something new? Fergie has been a pop-music trailblazer, and most important, she’s had fun doing it. Now in her 40s, divorced from actor Josh Duhamel, and likely searching for the next mountain to climb, all she needs to do is turn inward. Ignore the Twitter trolls, Fergie—you’re doing just fine.