After many uses of the word “diva” and a DVD’s worth of insane music videos, my time at the helm of OWOB has come to an end. Beyoncé Week is over, and I have to dole out some thanks:
- To Hendrik, for allowing me to spend the week on an artist who falls outside the usual spectrum of OWOB topics. You’re a great editor and a better dude - thanks a bundle!
- To my fellow Beyoncé fanatics on Twitter, Tumblr and in the real world, who never blinked at questions like “What do you think about ‘Check on It?’” They make fandom more fun.
- To Beyoncé herself, who provided all of the excellent source material and has kept me entertained for more than a decade. The finest compliment I can pay her is that I’m still not sick of her, even after a week where she controlled my entire life.
- To everyone who read, liked and/or reblogged this week. Your enthusiasm and encouragement kept me going and ensured the week was an enjoyable, memorable experience.
I hope this week was as much fun for you as it was for me. If you have any questions or comments (or demand to know why I omitted “If I Were a Boy”), feel free to fire me an ask or an email; I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks again, and good night!
Now that I’ve evaluated the entirety of Beyoncé’s career up until today, I think it’s safe to pose the following question: what’s next for Queen B?
Here are some possibilities, again presented (out of laziness) in a handy list format:
- Assuming Beyoncé keeps releasing conventional studio albums, I believe she’ll trace a path similar to that of Janet Jackson in the 1990s, who with janet. and The Velvet Rope conveyed maturity and growth without compromising musically. However, unlike Janet, I think Bey will stay the course and continue her musical maturation indefinitely (whereas Janet regressed into releasing dance fluff like All for You and Discipline). She’s already reached a rarefied position of wealth and respect; what could she possibly stand to gain by blindly grabbing at hits and current trends? (I suppose you could’ve said the same about Janet, but I have faith in Beyoncé’s discerning ears.)
- A Destiny’s Child reunion seems almost inevitable. Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle remain friends, and all speak fondly of their time together in the group. I don’t think the latter two girls would ever be opposed to a reunion, for obvious financial and popularity reasons, so ultimately the fate of a second go-round is dependent on Bey. She doesn’t have any great reasons to decline, and a DC reunion would generate tremendous amounts of goodwill, buzz and clams. What self-proclaimed pop fan wouldn’t jump at the chance to hear “Bootylicious” and “Say My Name” again?
- There’s an outside chance that Beyoncé could follow in the footsteps of megastars like Celine Dion and Shania Twain with a stint in Las Vegas, raking in outrageous amounts of money for a semi-regular revue. The precedent is already in place with Dion and Twain, and Bey herself has completed short-length residencies at Vegas’ encore theatre and at the Roseland Ballroom in New York. I can’t think of any current pop star better suited to such an arrangement; her catalogue of hits is ocean-deep, she’s the consummate show-woman, and this sort of stint would ensure she remains prominent for its duration.
- Finally, what if Beyoncé does the unthinkable and steps away from the pop star game? Think about it: she’s got a baby on the way after years of proclaiming her excitement and anticipation for motherhood. She has more money than most of us could ever spend, and that’s without considering her half-billionaire rap mogul husband. There aren’t many chart titles left to attain or accolades to earn. I’ve already compared her to Michael Jordan: what if she extends that comparison one step further and retires at the peak of her career? It would certainly make “I Was Here” a lot more poignant.
Of course, all of the above is rampant speculation, but it’s quite fun to imagine the twists and turns Beyoncé might take in the coming years. She’s never been this respected or powerful before; now, everyone gets to witness what she does with her stature and experience. I can’t wait.
The working relationship between Beyoncé and Lady Gaga receives an unfathomably low amount of attention, given the status of the two stars and the depth of their collaboration. Imagine Madonna and Janet Jackson appearing in each other’s videos in the late 80s or early 90s: the publicity generated would have been enormous, especially in a pre-Internet, video-driven era.
At first glance, that comparison seems a little reductive, but there are plenty of similarities between Madge/Janet and Gaga/Bey teamups. The obvious points of comparison are commercial dominance and skin colour, but consider each woman’s artistic approach. Madonna and Gaga are boundary pushing, identity-focused Italian girls who fill the role of provocateur with their sexual and religious antics. (Watch “Like a Prayer”, and then watch “Alejandro”. There’s a reason why Gaga is sometimes described as derivative of the Material Girl.) On the other side, Janet and Beyoncé were both somewhat prominent before their solo careers, and successfully tackled themes of female empowerment and independence in their music while maturing with each studio release. When the Gaga/Beyoncé collaborations are framed in this manner, they seem much more noteworthy.
It’s tempting to speculate on the possibility of future teamups between Beyoncé and Gaga. Were the above “Video Phone” and “Telephone” wholly commercial one-offs, or would the two queens ever consider a larger-scale collaboration? Those two songs inhabit the same sort of vaguely danceable electro-pop terrain, with no obvious concessions to either woman’s signature style. Could the world eventually witness the release of a Watch the Throne-type Gagayoncé record?
If such a project never comes to pass, at least we have the fourteen minutes of “Video Phone” and “Telephone” insanity for our viewing pleasure on YouTube. (I encourage you to watch the nine-minute “Telephone” video, an extravagantly bonkers production that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.)
Beyoncé’s performance of “Love on Top” at this year’s VMAs was the only true “big moment” of a marathon, sprawling show that always strains to manufacture “big moments”. I believe it’ll eventually be considered a defining moment of Beyoncé’s career: the five-minute stretch where she completed her transformation from dominant young diva to graceful, universally respected pop legend. Below, a few notes about the show and its context, presented in convenient bullet-point format:
- Beyoncé’s appearance benefitted greatly from the viral, light-speed nature of 21st century news and social media networks. Although there was already a groundswell of anticipation for her performance, the buzz began to build at an exponential rate when online prognosticators noted a slight baby bump in her red carpet dress. Within half an hour, it seemed that all of Twitter and Tumblr was afire with speculation. By the time she found her way on stage for “Love on Top”, every pop fan was primed and ready for a huge announcement. Perhaps you’re dismissing this as social-media hyperbole, in which case I direct you to take a look at the facts: the announcement of Beyoncé’s pregnancy broke the record for tweets per second, with 8,868.
- It’s difficult to illustrate the magnitude of that 8,868 tweets per second, or to describe how fascinating and fun it was to follow along with such a huge event in real-time. I was tweeting and chatting along with friends and other Beyoncé stans all night, and when she rubbed her belly with that huge grin on her face we all rejoiced like our sisters and wives had announced their own pregnancies. The sense of community and kinship was overpowering. The introduction of Babyoncé is an example of social media at its finest, transcending geographic obstacles and boundaries to bring people all over the world together in shared experience.
- The performance illuminated just how respected Beyoncé is by her peers, an honest metric for evaluating an artist’s importance and success. I already mentioned the quick cut to Adele in my Thursday “Love on Top” take, but this video shows a gaggle of other pop stars revelling in Beyoncé: Kanye, Gaga, Katy Perry. Even 124-year old Tony Bennett looks like he’s having fun. It’s difficult to watch this clip without feeling as though Bey is operating on a higher plane than her pop contemporaries.
- This performance was powerful and influential enough that “Love on Top” jumped to a peak of #20 on the Billboard charts afterwards, without receiving an official single release. To this day, no song from 4 has charted higher on the iTunes Store, and only “Best Thing I Never Had” has achieved a higher Billboard standing.
- Has there ever been a better opening line at the VMAs than “I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside me?”
"Check on It" is bubbly, harmless pure pop fare. It taps into the same schoolyard-melody realm that I briefly mentioned within my take on "Single Ladies" for its candy-sweet chorus, where Beyoncé implores you to "come over and check up on it". She pairs a rapid cadence with a lighthearted, flirty tone, and the result is a bouncy, ridiculously adhesive hook that’s great fun to sing at the bar when looking for someone to, well, check on it.
On a (slightly) more serious note, “Check on It” is interesting because it’s a rare example of Beyoncé simply acknowledging that she’s quite attractive. She sings a great deal about love and relationships, but she’s often concerned with the associated tumult or the fight for female identity in the aftermath of damaged unions. “Check on It” inhabits a different world; its message is along the lines of “I’m cute! Come take a look!” And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s nice to hear that Beyoncé doesn’t spend all her time dreaming up scenarios where men have wronged good-hearted women or found their perfect partner; sometimes, she has a little silly fun.
Finally, “Check on It” contains what is likely the funniest line regarding Beyoncé on Wikipedia: “…lyrically, the song takes place in a club, where Knowles is letting the male patrons know that they are welcome to come and look at her sexually attractive body when she is dancing.” Why did I even bother writing anything? That’s one of the funniest sentences on Wikipedia, period. (I like to imagine it being said in Werner Herzog’s voice.)
Tomorrow I’ll evaluate a couple curios tucked in the broom closet of Beyoncé’s career that you might not have heard before. Sunday will be devoted to some non-musical thoughts, supplementary links, and my surely-emotional goodbye to OWOB. Stay tuned!
(Also, a quick shout-out to softcommunication, who in a reblog practically begged for “Check on It”. I originally wasn’t going to cover it at all, so this is for you, the people! I read all those reblogs!)
While “Work it Out” is a whirlwind of funk and frivolity, “Listen” can be found at the opposite end of the Beyoncé spectrum - it’s a melodramatic, triumphant, incredibly weepy ballad from the Dreamgirls soundtrack. When Dreamgirls was working its way through multiplexes and award ceremonies in 2006, “Listen” was overshadowed by Jennifer Hudson’s bombastic rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, a technically astounding performance that suffered from a lack of nuance. I believe “Listen” deserved a lot more attention; it represents a finer balance of showy, bravura vocals and emotional subtleties.
"Listen" is a master class in the sort of slow, measured build that separates the classic from the mediocre. Beyoncé makes excellent use of dynamics throughout the song to enhance climactic moments: the first verse is soft and tender, and each run-through of the chorus increases slightly in volume. The effect of this gradual ramp-up is nearly subconscious until "Listen" reaches its zenith at "If you DON’T… if you WON’T… LISTEN!" (Obviously, that segment is much too dramatic to be rendered properly with simple text; insert a lot of ohs, oohs, and artful squealing at each instance of all caps.)
In addition to her skilled deployment of varied dynamics, Beyoncé expertly applies layering to certain words and syllables at key points. I call it “layering” because I’m not sure how else to describe the phenomenon; perhaps a more adequate comparison is the use of filters in photo editing software to transform pictures into black and white or sepia snapshots. Beyoncé’s repertoire of filters would include Lusty, Growling, Whispery, and something like Diva Stank. An example of such vocal filtering can be heard in the last “I’m more than what you made of me…” Bey digs deeply into this line, roars and thrusts at each word; at one point, she actually rumbles and revs, as she leads into “more”.
Small touches like the ones notes above are what transform “Listen” from a standard showcase ballad into an anthem worthy of Queen B.
(The video for “Listen” is quite strange. It looks as though it was produced for $50 and a tray full of jello shots: the camera angles are shoddy, Beyoncé’s outfit may have been purchased at Target, and the stage is utterly bare. I realize the production was an afterthought in the wake of Dreamgirls, but come on, Bey - we expect better.)
"Work it Out" is one of Beyoncé’s earliest solo tracks, released a year before Dangerously in Love as part of the Austin Powers in Goldmember soundtrack. Beyoncé co-starred in the film as blaxploitation heroine Foxxy Cleopatra, and appropriately “Work it Out” is the funkiest track of her career, replete with wet, mouthy horns and James Brown-ian howls. It’s a great opportunity to hear a more playful, loose side of Beyoncé, vocally unrestrained and experimenting with her range and tone. This makes sense, given that “Work it Out” can be evaluated as a heat check before Dangerously in Love, a safe zone where Bey could let her freak flag fly before toning down the proceedings for the album.
In truth, Dangerously in Love probably could’ve used a touch of nasty oddball funk a la “Work it Out”, if only to protect listeners from the previously-discussed train wreck “Signs”. Beyoncé sounds like she’s truly enjoying herself when she shrieks, “I like this!”, and then unleashes a hair-raising descending vocal run. Even if her debut would’ve benefitted from some of that unbridled exuberance, “Work it Out” is still great fun to listen to on its own terms.