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Beyoncé: A Modern-Day Music Powerhouse
THERE are a few reasons why I...
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am putting this feature out. I was scheduled to write a new Female Icons feature about Nina Simone but that is going to have to wait for a few days. Beyoncé turns thirty-eight Wednesday and many around the world will be marking her birthday. Naturally, when it comes to any big star, they are never too far from the news. At the moment, alas, there is more negativity and controversy than anything productive rumbling in the press but, as this is a slow time for music news, people need something to talk about. I know every artist has a birthday but, when it comes to modern artists, how many true icons are there? I celebrated Beyoncé in a recent Female Icons feature and it made me think about modern artists and whether truly have icons in our midst. Of course, there are some incredibly popular artists but how does one determine what constitutes an icon or merely a star? I think you need to have more about you than the music alone. In an age of streaming, we are counting streaming figures and assigning numbers as a mark of success. Reviews are great and we can get a lot from that but I think an icon needs to be someone who goes further; someone who is a role model and inspires others. In terms of modern artists, I guess you can call Taylor Swift an icon. She does a lot for charity and is a supporter of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ rights. She is getting more involved in politics and is influencing a lot of people.
PHOTO CREDIT: Paolo Kudacki for TIME
It is hard to mix music with the wider world but, if you can balance both, then that is something special. Also, the musical quality needs to be great: if you are a mainstream artists who has a lot of fans but the music does not translate to other demographics then, arguably, will you remain years from now? I am not bagging on modern artists but it is difficult creating music that crosses borders and then matching that with a persona that is inspiring. Look at some of the iconic women who have gone before: Madonna, Kate Bush; Etta James, Nina Simone, Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell among them. They have all given the world so much incredible music but each of them is groundbreaking; they have paved the way for other artists and remained hugely popular today. I guess you could say artists like Lady Gaga, Dave Grohl and others are icons and will go down in history but, for my money, the last of the true music powerhouses is Beyoncé. Maybe it is a subjective matter and opinion but, from her days with Destiny’s Child in the late-1990s to now, she continues to push forward and influence others. Since Destiny’s Child’s eponymous debut in 1998, we have seen this strong and independent artist blossom and strike. On The Writing’s on the Wall (1999) and Survivor (2001), Beyoncé grew in confidence and marked herself out as a solo artist to watch. Given the fact there are rumours Destiny’s Child are reforming and will tour, it makes me wonder whether there will be a new album from them next year.
I think we are living in a time when modern Pop and R&B is not that strong. There are some interesting artists around but, in terms of music that cuts to the core and stays in the mind, there are not many artists that cut the mustard. So many artists either appeal to a specific demographic or their songs are too commercial and lightweight. Aside from one or two artists/bands, I think we have lost the days of the icon. In many way, Beyoncé is one of the most recent and relevant powerhouses in music. There is no doubt that, when it comes to Beyoncé, there are contradictions and paradoxes that defines her iconic status. She has natural beauty and sex appeal but works tirelessly to succeed; she has riches and wealth but is a source of inspiration for young women coming through. Of course, she has a lot of people around her making the music come together but at the centre of everything is Beyoncé and her vision. Of course, many will say Beyoncé has had money her whole life and has been raised by marketing teams – whereas other artists have come from less and had fewer people in the mix. The legendary Dionne Warwick recently stated how much she admires Beyoncé and her fight but states that, in order to become an icon, many more years need to go by.
Perhaps, then, we need to shift the argument away from discussing Beyoncé as an icon – even though she is – and framing her as a modern powerhouse and leader. Back in 2015 – prior to the release of Beyoncé’s latest studio album, Lemonade - a BBC article argued why Beyoncé speaks for a generation:
“Beyoncé is a true Renaissance woman: a musician, a business mogul, a feminist, a mother, and a brand whose cultural gravity seems to emanate not from any one of these talents but from all of them in concert.
In an American corporate world disproportionately governed by men, Beyoncé distinguishes herself as the founder and CEO of her own record label and production company, Parkwood Entertainment. According to Forbes, her personal earnings more than double those of her husband. He is a shrewd entrepreneur in his own right who famously declared himself “not a businessman but a business, man.” Beyoncé’s self-titled album sold a staggering 617,000 copies in three days following its release, doing Kanye West the poetic justice of swiping an iTunes Store sales week record from Taylor Swift.
In 2014 Forbes declared Beyoncé to be the world’s most powerful celebrity, and she has leveraged her global brand in support of gender equality through her influential charity, the #BeyGood Project. Her hit single Flawless samples from a TEDx Talk called We Should All Be Feminists by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Beyoncé belts the anthem’s first verse and then cedes the floor to Adichie, who relays the definition of a ‘feminist’ as “the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”.
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One can debate whether some of Beyoncé’s popularity and success is earned and how much of her image is genuine – and how much has been manufactured. It is clear that, between her charity work, speeches and motherhood, she is inspiring so many people around the world. Artists such as Lady Gaga, Adele; Rihanna and Britney Spears have been influenced by Beyoncé and, unlike so many modern artists, Beyoncé’s music has extended across the age, gender and taste boundaries. Her fanbase is so diverse and extensive and, when you hear her music, you can tell why. Beyoncé has received numerous awards. As a solo artist she has sold over seventeen million albums in the U.S., and over one –hundred million records worldwide (a further sixty million additionally with Destiny's Child), making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) listed Beyoncé as the top-certified artist of the 2000s decade, with a total of sixty-four certifications. Her songs Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), Halo and Irreplaceable are some of the best-selling singles of all time worldwide. Some have critiqued Beyoncé’s brand of feminism and its authenticity. There is no doubt she has compelled generations with her powerful messages and music. She has a successful marriage – one that has weathered a few storms – and balances music with business and motherhood.
For me, it is the strength and memorability of the songs that really stands out. I am thinking, as I type this, of her career-defining performance of Coachella last year. Her Homecoming documentary still feels so relevant and, if you have not seen it then make sure you do. The album is scintillating and it shows just how hard-working Beyoncé is! The set she performed must rank alongside the finest of this generation: a performance that will go down in history and will not be equaled. I will end with a Beyoncé playlist but, in terms of her six studio albums, they range from the promising (I Am… Sasha Fierce and Dangerously in Love) to phenomenal (Beyoncé and Lemonade). With Jay-Z, Beyoncé formed The Carters and they released Everything Is Love last year. A lot of popular and commercial artists release a couple of great songs per album and they can put out four or five decent albums in their career. Not only did Beyoncé have a string of huge hits with Destiny’s Child – including Survivor and Bills, Bills, Bills – but every one of her solo albums has at least three or four true gems. From 2003’s Dangerously in Love there is Crazy in Love (with Jay-Z); Naughty Girl, Baby Boy and Me, Myself and I. From B’Day there is Déjà Vu, Get Me Bodied; Ring the Alarm, Green Light and Irreplaceable.
Look at I Am… Sasha Fierce and there is If I Were a Boy, Halo; Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) and Diva. 4 has I Care and Party (ft. André 3000); there is also Love on Top and Run the World (Girls). Beyoncé boasts Pretty Hurts and Drunk in Love; Partition; XO and Heaven. It seems that, with every album, Beyoncé grows stronger and more compelling. Beyoncé was the strongest album of her career in 2013 but, three years later, Lemonade took that to a new level – songs such as Hold Up, Don’t Hurt Yourself (ft. Jack White); Daddy Lessons, Freedom; All Night and Formation rank alongside the best songs she has ever created. One can see big leaps from her earliest days with Destiny’s Child but, even though she has worked with talented writers and producers, one cannot exclude the sheer passion and talent from Beyoncé. The songs and albums I have just mentioned are packed with hugely impressive songs that will endure for years to come. As I said, Beyoncé’s music and popularity goes way beyond Pop confines and a young audience. I do hope there is more music from her next year because, at a tense and divided time, who knows what she can unleash! Whether that album is with Destiny’s Child or solo, I do not know. She has put out some music recently, but there is a lot of anticipation as to what comes next. I wanted to write this feature to mark Beyoncé’s thirty-eight birthday but, more than that, nod to an icon (or not, as some see it!) that grows in stature and importance as time goes on. She is a businesswoman and proud mother; a spokeswoman and feminist leader; a voice for young, black women and, above all else, one of the strongest artists…
PHOTO CREDIT: Beyoncé
IN the world.