PHOTO CREDIT: Walt Disney
Spirit (From Disney's The Lion King)
The track, Spirit (From Disney's The Lion King), is available via:
9th July, 2019
Walt Disney Records
I do not get the chance to review Beyoncé…
often but, with a new track out, I could not pass on the opportunity! Beyoncé appears in the new version of The Lion King as Nala - Simba's childhood best friend – and the film has been gathering some positive reviews. I have not seen it myself but I have heard a lot of people rave about Beyoncé’s performance and, as she sings on the soundtrack, it provided me a chance to review her in a different light. Before coming to the song, Spirit, which was written by Ilya Salmanzadeh, Labrinth and Beyoncé, I will talk about Beyoncé and how she remains this musical role model; the different sides to her art and why I think a new, almost-Gospel direction would suit her; the trailblazing women this year and why a full return for Beyoncé is needed right now; artists appearing in films and how that will provide inspiration to people and the legacy Beyoncé has already created; a little on her future and where she might be headed over the next few months. Let’s get down to business because, with Beyoncé, there is a lot to unpack and investigate. There are these modern artists that are able to project a strong message and act as a role model to people out there. There are articles explaining why Beyoncé is a role model and, in this one from Her Campus, it is obvious Beyoncé is keen to support others:
“She supports other women.
After the infamous MTV Video Music Awards in 2009 when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s speech after she received the award for Best Video of the Year, Beyoncé called Taylor on stage to finish her speech and allowed her to have her moment.
She is unapologetically black.
“I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros,” she sings in her song “Formation.” The music video for “Formation” features significant events for African Americans, such as the emancipation of enslaved people, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Black Lives Matter movement.
She promotes positive body image.
Beyoncé has always been proud of her curves , but in her music video “Pretty Hurts” she explores negative body image issues that girls and young women struggle with, such as eating disorders and addiction to plastic surgery. “Perfection is a disease of a nation,” she sings.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
She supports the LGBTQ community.
She supported the Supreme Court’s ruling for gay marriage by creating a remake of her 711 video, #LoveWins.
She has an amazing relationship with her daughter, Blue Ivy.
Her song “Blue” is dedicated to the love has she for Blue Ivy. Beyoncé’s Instagram is full of adorable videos and pictures of her and Blue.
Her organization, BeyGood, provides school supplies for underfunded schools an supports gender equality and environmental awareness”.
There has been some debate as to whether Beyoncé is a positive role model and whether she sets a good example – especially to young girls. The division has come when it comes to her music and money. Her songs, sure, have other writers on them and Beyoncé’s messages of empowerment have been highlighted when it comes to her own material and whether there is irony there. The fact that Beyoncé is wealthy has been highlighted – does this make her inaccessible and is she slightly submissive regarding her husband, Jay-Z? Some criticised her feminist stance after her 2016 album, Lemonade, came out and wondered whether it was all a bit of an act. She has had to face this sort of criticism a lot and it is perplexing. She does vocalise her love for her husband in her music and I think many expect her to be more independent and write the sort of material she was performing with Destiny’s Child back in the 1990s and early part of the last decade – the strong single woman who did not need anyone and could make her own way in life. I do think Beyoncé is a great role model, not just when it comes to feminism and body image but music as well. She is a strong lead for girls out there; someone who is an advocate for L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ rights; support black rights and really ensuring those who do not have a voice have one. Beyoncé will always face criticism and attacks but one cannot deny the fact she has inspired many and continues to do so.
PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell for Vogue
Her music, through the years, is especially powerful and influential. When she was performing with Destiny’s Child, we got these tracks of strength and independence and that inflamed and united women around the world. This strong and beautiful role model was definitely emerging and that continued as Beyoncé went solo. If a sense of subservience has been highlighted, that is because Beyoncé is a mother and wife; someone who has settled down but has definitely not betrayed her principles nor take any sh*t; she does not rely on Jay-Z or take her wealth for granted either. She has worked hard for what she has earned and cannot be accused or selling out or being a different person. It is the music that has thrilled and compelled the masses for decades. To me, it is the way Beyoncé changes and the fact her music is not rigid; someone who keeps moving forward and explores new territory. Her R&B smashes with Destiny’s Child were great but it is when Beyoncé struck out alone that her music broadened and she matched the fiery anthems with something more sensitive and pure. I do feel like Beyoncé, as she has matured, has not settled and slowed. That might be understandable as she is in her thirties but a lot of artists, when they have been in the industry for so long, tend to compromise or go in a whole other direction. With THE CARTERS (the moniker of her and Jay-Z), again, we got another direction and layer. Lemonade was a seismic album because of its political edges and powerful messages; the way she talked about infidelity and betrayal but also wore her heart on her sleeve. The role model Beyoncé was formed from this Destiny’s Child notion: the young black woman who was still making it but showing that she was a future star. A lot of the division regarding Beyoncé as a genuine role model has shaped up as her solo career has progressed. I think her music has grown a lot and she is much more interesting and layered than she was back in the beginning.
Take what she is doing now and the fact that, once more, she cannot be predicted and labelled. Spirit is less an aggressive statement and anthem but, instead, it has more heart and passion to it. There are Gospel touches but it retains a bit of R&B. It is an interesting song and, whilst it forms part of a soundtrack, it does make me wonder whether Beyoncé’s next phase of music will see her tackle Gospel or do something different. She is someone who never stops and is always exploring new realms. Any artist out there who feels you need to be pretty static and commercial with your work in order to succeed should look at Beyoncé and what she is doing. I know she has a lot of writers and producers who help craft her tracks but one has to consider the fact that, at the centre and calling the shots is Beyoncé. She is not an artist, like we see so often, who is a cog in the machine and just blindly follows what is put before her. Instead, we have a genuine and tireless role model who campaigns outside of her music and, when it comes to her art, there is nobody like her! I have talked about evolution and how Beyoncé moves into new areas and, to me, that is the secret to her success – or one of them at the very least. If she continued to make Destiny’s Child-like music after she left the group (or they disbanded), then that would grow tired and it would not reflect her life and how she has changed as a woman. Those who wanted Beyoncé to keep writing about being independent, shrugging off cheats and lying men and rallying the troops need to remember that she has a family and is not going to be writing about that still – even though it is important and she is still a spokesperson for strong and sassy women around the globe. I do think that Beyoncé is an icon and has the promise to be a legend; someone that is spoken about for decades to come.
One only needs to recall her performance from Coachella back in 2018 – I shall actually nod to that a bit later – to see why one cannot dismiss her. I will chat about Gospel first and the fact that there are touches of that on Spirit. Tomorrow, I am investigating Aretha Franklin as an icon; someone who has changed music and was vitally important. In terms of inspirations, one can tell Franklin means a lot to Beyoncé. I am not saying Franklin inspired Beyoncé’s latest track but I wonder whether we will see Beyoncé become a bit more Aretha Franklin on her next album. I think Beyoncé is at a stage right now where she is content with her family and life but sees so much divisionism and struggle around her. I know she is stable and comfortable regarding finance and her lot but that does not mean she turns a blind eye to those around her.
From the poorer black communities to the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community being marginalised and alienated, Beyoncé wants to raise awareness and lend her support. In terms of music, she has always been this inspiration (I think) and her words cannot help but resonate. I do feel like, when we see another Beyoncé album, it will have Gospel and Soul flavours. This is not to say this will be a new, permanent direction for her but it all comes back to evolution and the fact Beyoncé is not one to be pigeon-holed. Her music is always fresh and unpredictable so I am excited to see where she goes next. Spirit is a fantastic track that works in the context of The Lion King but also stands alone. I do hope we get another album from her very soon because, since 2016, there has definitely been a gap. Beyoncé has been busy but there will be many who wonder where her music will go next and what we might get. I do think politics and the state of the world right now will be on her mind. She will not want to ignore that and, rather than attack it with both barrels, she might go in a more soulful direction.
In any case, I do think that we need someone like Beyoncé in music. This year has been defined by strong and talented women and, from Lizzo (who reminds me a lot of Beyoncé) to Sharon Van Etten and Little Simz, there is so much to get excited about right now. I cannot say for certain how many female artists now take a lead from Beyoncé but one cannot deny her influence and how performers like Lizzo and Janelle Monáe do take the lead from Beyoncé to an extent. I mentioned her performance at Coachella last year and, to me, that set was one of the most powerful I have seen in many years. It is, perhaps, one of the best we have seen in a generation and make sure you get the album. It was Beyoncé running through a selection of her hits and showing why she is one of the most captivating artists in the world. The reviews for the performance and the live album that followed (earlier this year) speak for themselves. This is how Pitchfork judged the HOMECOMING album:
“The album sounds communal, like a revival meeting in a small, sweaty tent that leaves you lifted and fortified. It’s as much about Beyoncé as it is about the people who made her and the people who sustain her. As I was listening, my upstairs neighbors, two young black women, were also listening at full volume. My friend in Miami was texting me hot takes, while my sister, who’d attended the show on the second weekend, was tweeting about how much the white people in the audience seemed to just not get it. Every Beyoncé event is a gospel you want to tell somebody about, but this one doubles down on this feeling of communion. She’s singing songs you already know, and connecting them to other songs you remember, too. She’s drawing on her past, looking back, but also looking squarely back at us.
Black women and rock’n’roll pioneers like Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Etta James, and contemporary queens of rhythmic music like Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott have not received sufficient credit for their innovations. Beyoncé, famously, was the first black woman headliner of the nearly 20-year-old festival. In a space where she was not obviously welcome, she made an enduring impression. A home. Then she made it about something other than herself. She brought an entire lineage into the room”.
Beyoncé is still in her thirties so it is slightly scary imagining how far she can go and what more she can achieve. Her legacy already is clear, both as a role model and an artist. She is one of modern music’s true stars and, years from now, a legion of new artists will pick up her words and music and take them to heart. Not only is Beyoncé inspiration to women and girls around the world but she is someone who compels everyone; an artist who is fascinating to watch and is a very strong and undeniable role model. One can debate the merits of Beyoncé and whether she is as honest and genuine as her music suggests but, to me, one needs to stop assuming and judging. It is a bit maddening seeing these articles that question Beyoncé’s integrity and whether she is a good role model for girls out there. Anyway, I shall put that to bed for a minute. Now that Beyoncé has appeared in The Lion King, I do think other artists will follow her. There is nothing new about musicians getting into film and, as Lady Gaga recently proved in A Star Is Born, one cannot assume artists are not strong actors – she proved people wrong and delivered a knockout performance. In Beyoncé’s case, I actually feel she has a long acting career ahead. I think she has appeared in bits and pieces here and there but one thinks of Beyoncé and wonders why she has not done more film and T.V.
PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell for Vogue
I think she is a naturally talented actor and could inhabit so many personas. Beyoncé is a strong artist and businesswoman; she has her own brands and is a very busy person. I think she is inspiring people in different areas and different ways but, when it comes to an area relatively unexplored, I do think film and T.V. is somewhere she could clean up. Whether it is producing documentaries about black lives or strong women or appearing in front of the camera in a gritty drama or a comedy, I think Beyoncé could be a real success. Look at her acting credits and you can see most of her work has been in music videos. Look at artists like Lady Gaga and Eminem (in 8 Mile) who won plaudits for their honest portrayals and I do think Beyoncé could follow them. Maybe that is something she has planned but I can imagine her easily stepping into film and T.V. and succeeding. Not that Beyoncé has anything to prove but lending her voice to stunning dramas and putting something inspiring on the screen could see her reach and touch new lives; conquer new areas and cement her reputation as an icon.
I think her performance in The Lion King is great and it will have provided pleasure and wonder to many children. I like the fact she did it and, whether it was to please her own children or something she really wanted to do, other artists will see what she has done and go into film. I keep coming back to the idea of Beyoncé as an icon and how many areas she has conquered. We can leave aside the ethical debates and whether she is the real deal because, to me, there are few that have such passion for change and equality. I think Beyoncé could bring this to the screen away from music. We live through a time when the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community are not as respected as they should be and there is needless poverty and division. Beyoncé alone cannot cure these problems but I do think she has a chance to bring her talents to the screen. I could imagine her fronting a powerful drama where she is a mother in a tough neighbourhood and has to face prejudice. Maybe a film where she is an aspiring politician but is put down and overlooked could make for a compelling piece. I am spit-balling here but one could easily picture these possibilities.
IMAGE CREDIT: Walt Disney
There are African vocals that lead in Spirit and give it a very evocative and stirring start. One would expect it in terms of The Lion King and the context but, as a standalone song, it adopts this new meaning and nuance. One can check out the song here and see the credits regarding background vocals but, when Beyoncé comes to the microphone, her voice is settled yet hugely arresting. She talks about the wind talking for the very first time. After that potent and rousing beginning, one sees the song develop and takes the word ‘spirit’ to mean a number of different things. To me, one can apply it to The Lion King and a sense of pride and fortitude but, in a larger sense, there is this nature of freedom and growth. I pictured scenes of a figure growing and battling the elements; letting their spirit roar and not being tied down. Beyoncé’s voice is graceful and soulful throughout and she delivers these powerful messages with composure. The messages in the song are strong and moving without descending into cliché and the obvious. Many artists would approach a song like Spirit and make it too saccharine and formulaic. Instead, one gets a real sense of personal meaning in the song. Beyoncé definitely pours her heart out and her always-stunning voice bring the words to life. In the chorus, she talks about this spirit and the heavens opening (and whether we can hear it calling). Again, one might frame the song in terms of The Lion King and her character’s arc but, to me, I was intrigued by wider implications and possibilities. There is a defiance and power that extends beyond film and actually can be applied to so many situations. One can extrapolate guidance and fortitude from a song that asks (us) to keep heads above the waves and fight the water; to see the stars gathering by your side and know that there is a sense of hope out there.
PHOTO CREDIT: Shutterstock
Many songs, as I say have and could have descended into treacle and not resonated but Spirit captivates because of Beyoncé’s voice and the fact that the track has so much depth. The earlier vocal introduction gets the listener engaged but there are tribal beats and the chorus is typically defiant and affecting. Beyoncé’s voice has grown and strengthened through the years and I think it holds more weight and depth than it did on her earliest solo albums. Beyoncé talks about the light shining and having your heart lifted; your destiny coming close and, against the struggle, standing tall and proud. If the song were too Lion King-centric regarding its lyrics and sound then I would probably not have reviewed it but, as I keep explaining, Spirit is a song that can be taken away from the soundtrack and interpreted in so many ways. That sense of defiance and keeping strong cannot help but register and stir the blood. I have listened to Spirit and a few times and am always moved by its power and meaning. I do not think Beyoncé has sounded as engrossed in a song for so long and, whilst that might sound a little dismissive, I mean this track really means something to her. I have talked about the modern world and how Beyoncé acts a role model to various communities; those who struggle and have to fight for their rights. Spirit is a call to those who are feeling the pain and are alone to see that there is a hope in front of them and a path that leads to better things. Many talk about Beyoncé in terms of her moves and anthems but, in pure vocal terms, I do not think her voice gets as much credit as it should. It would be premature of me to rank her alongside the great Soul singers like Aretha Franklin but that sheer power that comes from Beyoncé cannot be ignored; the way she can convey a range of emotions and put her everything into every song. It is emotional hearing a voice so strong break through and get into the heart. I shall leave things there because I think people need to check out Spirit and let it do its work. It is an amazing song and one that, I hope, leads to some more Beyoncé material soon enough.
PHOTO CREDIT: Tyler Mitchell for Vogue
I shall wrap things up in a bit because I know we are all busy! I have covered a number of different subjects when it comes to Beyoncé and, if you want to experience more, keep your eyes open. It has been three years since her last solo album and, even though she released EVERYTHING IS LOVE with The Carters last year, there are going to be people out there hankering for more Beyoncé material. As a live performer, she is always in demand and I do feel like there is something imminent. Beyoncé is a mother and wife but, living in modern America, I do think she will have a lot of fuel for a new record. One cannot help but notice how President Trump has affected the U.S. and what he is doing. He is one of the most maligned leaders of the U.S. ever and I do think artists like Beyoncé will want to express that. There are no album announcements or plans in the fire right now but keep your eyes peeled and watch her social media feeds for more details. Spirit is a great song and one that, as I said, stands alone and does not need to be reviewed in the context of The Lion King. I am intrigued by the sound of the song and the fact that she can conquer and succeed in genres like Soul and Gospel.
PHOTO CREDIT: Robyn Beck
Beyoncé has blossomed as an artist since the 1990s and she has plenty more years left. I am excited to see where Beyoncé goes next and what her future holds. I shall bring things to a close now but, when it came to this Saturday’s review, I could not pass up the chance to assess Beyoncé’s latest track. It is a stunning thing and very different to what she has done in the past. It projects powerful messages and it is a song that stands up to repeated assaults. I really love it and can imagine Beyoncé keeping that type of sound close to her chest on a future album. It goes to show that, when it comes to predicting Beyoncé, few can keep up and define her. She is, despite what some people say, a genuine role model and guide for so many out there and, with so much trouble in the world now, there are few artists who can make as big an impact…
AS the amazing Beyoncé.
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