Beyonce’s current musical output is the worst she’s ever put out and her sales are way down – so why is she so loved by the media, her many millions of Beyhive social media followers, even Adele? What gives?
I’ll get to that soon, but first a small point of order. I am – or at least, was – a fan of Beyonce. I loved her in the Destiny’s Child era and her first two solo albums were brilliant. Ironically, it was during this time (roughly 1997-2005) that Beyonce was hugely under-rated.
That’s right. There was a time when not every single element of pop culture had a reverent Beyonce reference in it.
In my opinion, Destiny’s Child never got the props it should have. They had hugely successful hit songs and albums, won tons of awards and toured all over the world. Yet they never had the “street cred” (I’m white, so I need to use inverted commas) that TLC, En Vogue or Salt’n’Pepa did.
They also had line up dramas and red carpet looks that looked like they were designed by an overbearing soccer mom looking to live out her fantasies through her daughter (oh, wait). This all served as a huge distraction, and subsequently, the group’s legacy today isn’t as big as it deserves to be.
Then Beyonce went solo. That’s when the world fell in love with and worshipped at the altar of Beyonce right?
Actually Beyonce released her debut album “Dangerously In Love”, at around the same time Ashanti (remember her?) released her sophomore record “Chapter II”. The New York Times’ famous quip (headline in fact) when reviewing Beyonce’s album was “She’s no Ashanti…” Ouch! (Check it out here).
Despite producing killer singles (“Crazy In Love” is hands down my all-time favourite, perfect piece of pop music ever released), doing great in the album charts, following it up with another awesome album (“Bday”) and a lead role in “Dreamgirls”, it felt like Beyonce still wasn’t getting the recognition she so richly deserved.
Why? I have absolutely no idea. She was doing everything right, yet for whatever reason, people outside of her core fan base just weren’t that into her.
Which makes the current Beyonce hype and hoopla even more strange. Or perhaps, it explains it. Maybe what we’re witnessing and experiencing now is an overcompensation for all those years when Beyonce should have gotten the recognition and applause, applause, applause – but didn’t.
So what’s happened in the last 10 years to turn this Beyonce ship around?
Two words – Sacha Fierce.
Beyonce introduced her alter-ego to the world with her 2007 album “I Am…Sasha Fierce”. And something about it just clicked. In some ways it’s ironic that by introducing an alter ego, it felt like we got to see a real side to Beyonce. Because for an artist in the public eye for as long as she’s been, the real Beyonce remains elusive.
The album spawned a slew of hit singles. Most notably “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It). Now this is was you call a pop culture moment. Everything from the black and white retro video, to the hand choreography, to Kanye bumping Taylor Swift off the mic to declare it “the best music video of all time” – makes it a genuine, bona fide cultural event.
That’s when the Beyonce express really took off. The album was a huge commercial success, and importantly, resonated well with the critics as well.
So with Beyonce finally getting the adoration and love she deserved, everything should have been plain sailing. So why doesn’t this fairytale have a happily ever after ending?
A range of different ideas have been presented. Her change in management (from her father to her husband, Jay Z), to the decline of music sales in general, to Beyonce wanting to take a different path artistically, have all been offered up as possible explanations.
These may all be true. I don’t know. But for me, the biggest issue has been that as the public love for her has increased, her musical output has decreased (dramatically) in quality.
Let’s take a look at her latest album “Lemonade”. While frequently described as a cultural moment, it is in fact not that at all. It’s not memorable (aside from a brief scene of Beyonce smashing a car window and some throwaway line about “Becky with the good hair”). In fact, can anyone (outside of her core base fans) name any singles to come off it? Nope….
Oh wait, “Formation” the lead single. This would have to be Beyonce’s weakest lead single ever. It’s lyrically narcissistic, sung with an annoying gravelness in her voice, and the music video references Hurricane Katrina – a good 10+ years after the event. Not moving, not profound, not anything really.
But hey, “Lemonade” we’re constantly told is about a black woman’s empowerment from a cheating partner. That may be so, but this isn’t new territory for Beyonce.
She covered this in 2008’s Irreplaceable:
So go ahead and get gone
And call up that chick and see if she’s home
Oops, I bet ya thought that I didn’t know
What did you think I was putting you out for?
Because you was untrue
Rolling her around in the car that I bought you
Even the Destiny’s Child track “Say My Name” covers this:
Could it be that you
Are at the crib with another lady
If you took it there
First of all, let me say
I am not the one
To sit around, and be played
Oh and both of these songs are actually good too. That’s a bonus.
It’s great for an artist to get all arty on us, but the art – the actual work – has got to back it up. This is not the case with “Lemonade”. But hey, people weren’t adoring her back then, so maybe it really is a case of making up for lost time.
So, if you love Beyonce that’s fine. Just know that she’s done better before. Hopefully, she’ll get back to that place again. And in the meantime, even if she doesn’t, we’ll always have this: