’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Romantic”
The forty-ninth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Romantic” by Karyn White. Prior to “Romantic,” White in 1988-89 hit the Top 10 three times with singles off her first album. “Romantic,” the lead single off her second album, was her first and only No. 1 hit. It was followed by the wonderfully effervescent “The Way I Feel About You,” which peaked at No. 12. White’s third album spawned two singles that appeared on the Hot 100 but peaked outside the Top 40, in 1994, and she hasn’t charted since. She released her fourth album in 2012, but it was unsuccessful because it was true to her roots, and this genre is no longer popular.
“Romantic” is a percussion-prominent mid-tempo R&B/pop recording with flirtatious lyrics performed with the right touch of wantonness. When White sings, for example, “Baby my mind is on love when we get home tonight,” her delivery comes off like a wink emoji, not a nude selfie, to put this in modern terms. This track was, therefore, more fitting for a car radio than a bedroom, hence its success.
Let’s give “Romantic” a listen:
1991 was perhaps the best year for female Pop singers. And not just for established stars like Madonna, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Paula Abdul, Whitney Houston, Bette Midler, Gloria Estefan, Bonnie Raitt and Amy Grant, either. It was a great year for emerging artists like Tara Kemp, Cathy Dennis, Tracie Spencer and Celine Dion, each of whom, like White, had her first Top 5 single in 1991. That “Romantic” managed to make it to the summit while these other artists just missed it is perhaps attributable to the genre-crossover appeal of “Romantic,” which topped the R&B chart in addition to the Hot 100.
And “Romantic” is just simply a great piece of electronic music production, even without White’s vocals. The instrumental, unique in its heavy-handed, whooshy, funky use of snare, was so compelling it was featured as the B-side of the cassette single, if memory serves. White’s vocals aren’t as acrobatic as those of Carey or Houston, but they offer up sufficient sex appeal without sounding overwrought or dirty. And the bridge (2:49 to 3:23 in the video) is genius. All this said, we remember being a little surprised that this song made it all the way to No. 1. Pleasantly so, but surprised nonetheless.
Was it dope? This track, like many hits of 1991, didn’t have the most youthful appeal. It was a song for 26-year-olds, not 16-year-olds. So it wasn’t particularly dope, it was just a good track for Top 40 and R&B radio, and for VH1 and, to a lesser extent, MTV. It had class and cross-generational, cross-racial and perhaps even cross-gender appeal.
Does it hold up? Unfortunately and for whatever reason, “Romantic” seems to be the most wholly forgotten No. 1 song of 1991. There wasn’t a single person we mentioned it to or played it for who had ever heard of Karyn White or recognized the song. And that’s what we expected. But that’s why we’re doing this blog, to unearth these treasures. It’s really excellent, and one of the only No. 1 songs of the year we owned on cassingle.
Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?