“I always battle with how much I reveal about myself,” Beyoncé Knowles shared with much gravitas in her 2013 documentary, Life is But a Dream.
How about everything but the kitchen sink, Bey?
Since detailing the “battle of her life” as “remaining current and soulful,” in the trailer for her HBO autobiography, the 32 year-old has blessed the world with a 15-minute Superbowl Halftime show, a “Queen B” Vogue cover, a brand new career-retrospective Pepsi campaign, a raunchy half-naked GQ cover and a 31-track surprise visual album. Low-key.
Beyoncé is a hugely talented performer, sure, but enough’s enough. It’s time to turn our critical faculties back on and ask, is she the visionary that so much of the breathless coverage of her life and work implies?
Her tactical career moves have made her famous, but also revealed her to be nothing more than a hugely successful product, spouting wisdom and empowerment while pushing Pepsi and calculated narcissism.
I’m not afraid to say it. We all give Beyonce too much credit. Here’s why.
She doesn’t write her own songs
Listen to THIS. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s essentially Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s 2003 single Crazy in Love. Just written 30 years earlier and arguably much better.
While her contemporaries like Katy Perry, Adele and Lady Gaga proudly write the majority of their music, Beyoncé hasn’t written a single one of her hits. Instead, she samples songs from other artists (like her use of Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen in Bootylicious) and takes other people’s songwriting triumphs and catapults them to mega-hit status (Irreplaceable was written by famous, but lesser known, R&B artist Ne-Yo).
Plus, many of her most memorable singles – Bootylicious, Crazy in Love, Deja Vu, Beautiful Liar, Telephone – were duets, often featuring her husband. Interesting.
Kanye West gets flak for being arrogant, but when Beyoncé shares gems like “I’m more powerful than my mind can even digest and understand”, she somehow gets away with it. A February 2013 interview with GQ Magazine revealed that her home has a temperature-controlled archive room holding all of her interviews and photographs, and that she is followed around by a videographer who documents her every move just for posterity.
In December she dropped a surprise album that was – big shock – eponymously titled. The album, that led many to hail her has a game-changer, is a “visual album” because clearly hearing her voice is not enough. Instead we also have to watch her writhe around in a series of costumes that would put Miley Cyrus to shame. Which brings me to my next point …
We let her get away with too much
Bey seems to benefit from a strange kind of double standard when it comes to her and other female artists. Although Miley Cyrus is slammed for wearing over-revealing outfits and singing about sex and drugs, Beyoncé is allowed to do this and sing lyrics like “I get filthy with that liquor, give it to me”.
At least Miley doesn’t have any children yet who will be supremely embarrassed by her antics. Bey’s daughter Blue Ivy has to suffer the consequences of hearing her parents explicitly sing about their sex life like this: “He popped all my buttons and he ripped my blouse/ He Monica Lewinsky-ed all on my gown/ Oh Daddy, Daddy, he didn’t bring the towel/ Oh baby, baby, we better slow it down”.
When Beyoncé lip-synched the national anthem at Obama’s inauguaration last year, the public reaction was only half as critical as when Ashlee Simpson lip-synched one of her B-list songs on Saturday Night Live. Never mind that Knowles had effectively faked patriotism at an incredibly important event, she remedied the situation pretty quickly by delivering a “fierce” live rendition days later and people vehemently apologised for ever doubting her.
Her songs aren’t memorable
Beyoncé has a great voice, but she’s got nothing on Adele. Her lyrics are catchy, but they in no way evoke the same kinds of issues and emotions evident in a song by The Beatles, Radiohead, Lorde or even Eminem. In fact, she mostly sings about being sexy, getting over dodgy men and … being sexy. You would have to be a serious fan to name a single Beyoncé mega-hit in the last five years that really made an impact other than Single Ladies. Go on, I dare you.
She’s not good at sharing
When Beyoncé took to the stage for the 2013 SuperBowl halftime show in February, fans were delighted by a surprise reunion of Destiny’s Child, the girl group that rocketed Beyoncé into the spotlight. However, it may as well have been just another Beyoncé performance featuring some famous backup dancers given that Michelle Williams’ and Kelly Rowland’s microphone volume was down so low.
Regardless, it was real sweet of Bey to give her Destiny’s Child band mates some time in the spotlight – of her 14 overwrought, energy-wasting minutes on stage, only three were given to Kelly and Michelle. How generous!
During these three minutes, do you think Kelly and Michelle were allowed to showcase some of the many songs that made their band so memorable? No. After a short version of Independent Women, Bey politely asked them “Can y’all help me sing this one?” before breaking into her mega-hit Single Ladies. A song about being better off alone. Kelly and Michelle halfheartedly sang along, all the while probably wondering when her ego had gotten so out of hand.
During my time at People magazine in New York, I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle Williams, who talked openly about her struggles with depression as a result of feeling inferior next to her more successful band mates. Way to rub it in, Beyoncé.
The notion that the pop icon is not keen to share the spotlight was further perpetuated when a video recently surfaced of a young Beyoncé scoffing at Kelly Rowland during an interview. Kelly introduces herself as Destiny’s Child’s “second lead vocalist” and Knowles reacts with an exaggerated eye roll and loud cough.
She claims to be a feminist but is really just a hypocrite
In a 2010 interview with The Daily Mail, Beyoncé described herself as a feminist and has been outspoken about her fight for female empowerment, performing at awareness-raising events like 2013’s Chime for Change. Then she goes and blows it all by posing scantily clad on the cover of men’s magazines and naming her tour Mrs. Carter in a nod to her husband’s last name.
Then there are her songs, which seem to suggest anything but an independent, fierce feminist outlook.
In the Destiny’s Child hit Cater 2 U, Bey admits her life would be “purposeless” without her man, offering to “Let me help you/Take off your shoes…Let me feed you/Let me run your bathwater/Whatever you desire/I’ll aspire”. Then there’s Dance For You, where she spends the entire film clip dirty dancing for a disinterested man while singing lyrics like “Tonight I’m gonna dance for you…loving you is really all that’s on my mind…sit back and watch.”
Let’s not forget her latest offering from her visual album – the song Partition – where Beyoncé does a striptease in a cage while admitting “I just wanna be the girl you like/The kind of girl you like”. Fantastic goal-setting for young women.
She’s merely a marketing pro
Beyoncé has a lot of things on her side – a famous husband, famous friends, a perfect body, good looks, an adorable baby, a great voice, wealth – and she is an expert at exploiting them. She orchestrates a secret album and ensures that it stands out from the crowd by being a visual showcase. She dedicates an entire song and video to her one year-old daughter, but never shows the child’s face. She networks like no other and has friends in high places, the leader of the free world among them.
PHOTO: A couple supporters in a New York state of mind last night. pic.twitter.com/vL3XyiZA
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 19, 2012
She carefully selects the products she represents, ensuring that they not only pay well but also support and strengthen her image. Her latest Pepsi ad served as a retrospective of her successful career, furthering her world dominance and barely featuring the drink she was trying to sell. She hustles, flaunts and endorses herself with such ferocity that it’s easy to forget there’s a clever PR team behind her strategic decisions.
Beyoncé is a prolific performer and undoubtedly deserving of her fame. However, the minute we start waxing lyrical about her being the voice of a generation, a living goddess and a pioneer in music, we have gone too far. She’s a pro at playing the game and, as a society, we are all too willing to drink her particular brand of Kool-Aid.
Disclaimer: The author of this article is in no way suggesting that her qualms about Beyoncé prevent her from blasting Single Ladies in her car.