We have to talk about Beyonce.
In the last two decades, no artist has come close to her influence and cultural impact. She has industry wide respect, accolades from critics and peers, and a cult following. Her album releases become more anticipated and her performances go viral. But what’s interesting is the inverse relationship this had with her dominance of radio airplay and streaming services. She’s not popular music’s darling anymore. But she sits as one of the music industry’s great legends.
Truth be told, I was a skeptic of her magic. How much artistry could she could demonstrate outside of Destiny’s Child? She stood out, yes. But unlike Justin Timberlake or Gwen Stefani, her potential never appeared thwarted by her belonging to a female group. For a short time, when “Dilemma” exploded, Kelly Rowland looked to be the breakout star. It also didn’t help that Beyonce was managed, and even styled, by her parents.
She kicked off her solo career with “Work It Out” from “Austin Powers in Goldmember”. The record flopped. While there was “Like I Love You” by Justin Timberlake, there was also “Help Me” by Nick Carter.
She quickly recovered with the release of her first album, “Dangerously in Love”. The world of music would change forever. “Crazy in Love” made her a household name and it would be her most memorable hit to date. Critics fell in love with her and was heavily rewarded for it. But as with many Grammy women, sustaining this momentum would prove to be the real challenge. Just look at Norah Jones, Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse.
Her sophomore album “B-Day” continues in the direction of hits. The sound was interesting enough but predictable and uninspired. She would deliver the “Pink Panther” soundtrack single “Check on It”. While it would hit number one, it was just another blip in music history. Thinking of this era gave me no clue to how amazing she could be and made me even question her longevity.
At the time her third album’s release, “I am… Sasha Fierce”, it would appear to be masterpiece, at her best form yet. With “Single Ladies”, she managed to find a way to make critics and the masses converge on a sound they could agree on. “Halo” would be one of the most beautiful songs ever written.
But it was the latter releases in the album that showed her embracing hip-hop and not compromising to radio sound that got attention and garnered respect. Tracks like “Ego” and “Diva” stand out not because of their chart success, but how distinctive their beats and melodies are. She began exploring and crafting her creativity.
She continued moving against the current and redefine her music. This metamorphosis solidified with “4”. In my humble opinion, it is the most underrated album of the decade, not just by Beyonce, but by any artist. “Love on Top” showcases her vocal chops and just how timeless music how can be. “1+1” and “Best Thing I Never Had” are classic ballads that fit no mold. “Countdown” and “Party” are innovative, yet fun. Nowhere in the album do you feel like she dropped the ball.
“Beyonce” catapulted her to legendary status. We know she has a good voice but she also has something to say. She has drawn so much power from reducing her inhibitions and letting her guard down. If any other artist released “Flawless” or “Drunk in Love”, it would have fallen on deaf ears. Beyonce can afford to be artistic but she does not have to be. It’s a great thing she chose to be and music is better because of it.
No matter who the Grammys end up rewarding, Beyonce delivered the best album of 2016 with “Lemonade”. No record has come close to humanizing the experience of betrayal and pain, mixing it with realities of having to forgive and compromise. It is Beyonce opening herself up on her own failures and insecurities, images of herself that make her one of us. She’s also taking on something bigger than herself and demanding answers and change through her craft with “Freedom” and “Formation”.
I bow down to Beyonce. She came to slay.