Identity Crisis: Beyonce is Every Pop Star, Except Herself
If you consider yourself a huge Beyonce fan, then this hub's not for you. If you think Beyonce is a fascinating and captivating entertainer, then again this isn't for you. But if you're like me, an observant critic of Beyonce's public image conceptualized through her music, then this is definitely your hub. It's not that Beyonce hasn't become a pop culture icon overnight, but the real question is how is she unique?
Now many people obviously call Beyonce a great entertainer, a dynamic performer, and a classy pop star. However, beyond what she gives us from a bird's eye view, what is she really giving to pop culture beyond the surface?
Does Beyonce rightfully deserve to be where she is or is it mere circumstance and happenstance that got her here? Well that's what this hub's for.
Part of a Rare Breed: Black Female Pop Stars
If you begin to name black female pop stars from the 1980s until now, you'll be hard pressed to find more than a handful. That handful includes names such as Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston. And to be honest, the list doesn't go much further than that. Of course there have been many black female artists in the past thirty years, but there are very few who have taken over top 40.
Why is this? There's no science to it. I think it has more to do with marketing and image. For instance, when the world was first introduced to Whitney Houston she had the looks of America's Sweetheart and the voice of a real diva. By hooking up with record industry legend Clive Davis, he managed to help her maintain a viable MTV presence as well as appearances on national shows that garnered attention from the mainstream media. When Houston peaked in the early 1990s, she was still seen as all-American and wholesome even though she married the troublesome Bobby Brown.
Janet Jackson also had the same innocence and appeal due to her following that was built from fans of her brothers (Jackson 5) as well as her own fans from her stints on shows like Fame and Good Times. By the time of her breakthrough album in 1986, Janet was seen as sassy and fun-loving but still relatively harmless. It wasn't until her 1993 album, Janet that people finally saw her as a young woman with a deep and powerful sexuality. However, because of nearly a lifetime in public, she was still highly regarded.
And then there's Beyonce who essentially picked up where Janet left off. She fronted the childhood group of friends that became Destiny's Child and around 2003 launched the solo career which she is currently known for. Destiny's Child was a powerful launching pad because of their girl-power anthems and sassy attitude. But due to frequent lineup changes and other issues, the group ultimately broke up. It was hoped that Beyonce would continue the legacy of the group's female-empowered anthems, but she opted to go in a different direction.
Beyonce's success has paved the way for more black females in pop, most notably Rihanna who inevitably drew comparison's since she was signed by none other than Jay-Z at the tender age of 16. However, for all of Beyonce's influence Rihanna's musical style is more of a fusion of dance, pop, and reggae. But the comparisons remain nonetheless.
A Strong Start
Beyonce released Dangerously in Love in 2003 to rave reviews and multiple Grammy wins. It was hailed as one of the best solo debuts for a young artist in several years and Beyonce managed to stand out in an era filled with young singers leaving their groups in hope of solo success.
She set the standard and booty shake for the decade with her debut single, "Crazy in Love." The go-go inspired beats and the electrifying video garnered a lot of acclaim. She followed that up with successful hit singles.
In 2006. she released her second album. The video for the first single,"Deja Vu" evoked images of Josephine Baker and the infamous banana skirt. Beyonce stated that she was paying homage to a fashion icon and trailblazer among African-Americans; she worked closely with Baker's son even to capture the essence of the look.
Beyonce had managed to get away with that, but by the time of her third album, people weren't hearing it. I Am.. Sasha Fierce garnered multiple Grammys, but that still didn't silence Beyonce's critics.
Dance Dance Revolution or Confusion?
"Single Ladies" was a movement in 2008. The dance, the look, all infiltrated pop culture at warp speed. However, it was not without controversy. The hand motions, especially gave way to the fact that Beyonce said she was inspired by the choreography of the legendary of Bob Fosse.
But no matter how many funny SNL parodies pop up, there were steal multiple controversies about that dance among others. While Beyonce continues to say she was inspired by the looks and performances of other icons, no doubt even performing with one of them. This question of stealing has now hit a peak in 2011.
"Run the World (Girls)" borrowed heavily from African choreography troupes, but the costume looks were said to also to be taken from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, starring Tina Turner.
Her follow-up videos, "Countdown" and "Love on Top" are also inspired by fellow iconic performances. One being a Belgian artist, another being 80's boy band New Edition. While Beyonce continues to say it's all an homage, the real question is where does the originality play in for her as an artist?
Borrowing or Stealing?
It's one thing when a younger artist is inspired by an icon to the extent they mimic a look, a movement, or even a sound but it's another thing when the movements and looks begin to mirror another artist than reveal a distinct persona.
Beyonce isn't the only young superstar to face this issue, but others have overcome it. Other pop stars have had the same battles. Britney Spears faced the Madonna comparisons, but in her own right has now built her own pop empire. Usher and Justin Timberlake were both heavily compared to their idol, Michael Jackson but somehow managed to create their own sound while still being true to their influences. Justin Timberlake even re-wrote discarded tracks intended for Michael Jackson's last studio album, Invincible, for his debut album. And while he faced criticism at first, he later reaped the rewards in the form of a few Grammys. Usher also has had massive success by experimenting with techno and dance music.
And while there is no real way to say what constitutes borrowing or stealing, there is something to be said for forging your own identity or style but almost ten years into being a solo artist, it's hard to classify something that uniquely applies to Beyonce. Sure she has songs like "Single Ladies" and "Irreplaceable", but those were written by other artists and collaborators. However, her other songs and videos even seem to resemble too much of artists' past.
Sasha Fierce or Sasha Farce?
Beyonce is still a relative mystery to many people. While she has opened up in recent years about her life offstage, it's only been in small doses. But beyond that, she hasn't truly established herself as someone with a unique offering to popular culture.
People have admired her career, but there has always been speculation about how she has not yet managed to creatively go beyond things that seem to be taken from someone else's cannon.
For instance in music videos, it's okay to pay homage to pioneers but at some point there has to be something that people see that is unique to you. Beyonce doesn't come across as very unique but more of a skilled borrower. Someone who can take something from someone else and master it, but nothing that we know to be purely unique to her.
While she did create alter ego Sasha Fierce to give her confidence and attitude on stage, where is the distinct persona? Even Lady Gaga's Jo Calderone and Garth Brooks's Chris Gaines gained notoriety for their outlandish antics in comparison to their counterparts. Sasha Fierce is only known as being sassy, but isn't Beyonce just sassy covered up by shy? I can't tell who is Sasha Fierce and who is Beyonce.
Maybe I am being a little harsh, but it seems like all of these recent accusations have proven that Beyonce is using the pop star equivalent of Pink Monkey to get ahead these days and she's finally getting caught in a very serious way.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments!