We are Witnessing Peak Beyonce
Being a pop star must get so boring. Seriously. All the photo ops and events and interviews and dumb interview questions plus all the kissing up and making records for a boardroom so it can decide whether the thing has commercial value. On Beyoncé, 2013’s album slay, she sings "all these record labels boring / I don’t trust these record labels I’m touring,” giving us a cryptic look into her creative process and really the future of Beyoncé.
With Lemonade we get a Beyoncé who shows us just how bored she is with the music industry and is conventions. Forget an album release date and advance promo, just upload a single cryptic picture on Instagram with a time and a date. PEOPLE WILL CANCEL THEIR PLANS. Forget a music video, just create an entire movie of music videos woven together with spoken word poetry. And while we’re at it, forget a music genre, too. Make one of your best tracks (“Daddy Lessons”) bluegrass and snatch everybody’s wig in the process.
Over the course of the visual masterpiece Beyoncé pushes herself sonically, enlisting people like Jack White, and James Blake to produce and write material, which, whoa. I couldn’t believe that Beyoncé branched outside of the box, clearly influenced by Solange and her Afro-indie-electro aesthetic, to bring in folks known for their experimental voices and sound textures.
We have reached peak Beyoncé. This is a Beyoncé who is telling us in no unmistakable terms that she’s an artist, not a radio-hit maker. It’s not so much that she doesn’t have or can’t produce radio hits.
She sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker. Remember?
It’s that, now, she’s above the radio. She’s above chart topping hits and dance crazes. If you think about her first three records Dangerously In Love, B’Day, I Am…Sasha Fierce, all great albums, you’ve got a Beyoncé who is radio-ready. With 4 she starts pushing into a slightly more experimental place. The visuals are more polished, more high concept fashion and she reaches this high-end editorial place. This somewhat experimental, less radio focused Beyoncé is amplified on Beyoncé and reached its apex on Lemonade.
We know Beyoncé can sing. We know she can dance. We know she can create a viral dance craze with a single YouTube upload. But the Beyoncé we have now, post-Lemonade, is thoughtful and expressive, one who has comfortably left radio singles and conventions behind in favor of creativity.
Above all else, Beyoncé is an exercise in how to stay relevant as a singer. How many pop stars who came up with Beyoncé in the 90s and early 2000s are still relevant today? I don’t mean sliding by album-by-album. I mean relevant? Over the 15+ years of her career Beyoncé has moved from just some really good singer to the icon and artist of a generation.
And she did it by starting to say “I run this,” which I guess you can do when you are as famous and have as many commas and decimal points as she does.