After a few weeks of very legitimate retrospective looks at some classic albums, I thought it was time I mixed things up, and brought them into the 21st Century. With that in mind (and with Déjà Vu stuck in my head all day) I turned to the Queen of Pop herself, Beyoncé. While Bey got a lot of acclaim for her most recent self-titled album, for me there is nothing better than her second studio album, B’Day. In this, she mixes influences to create the perfect recipe of R&B-pop goodness, all served up on a steaming plate of sex appeal.
According to Wikipedia (which I am aware is a risk I take too often) this record was completed in three weeks, after Beyoncé was done with her performance in Dreamgirls and recording the last Destiny’s Child album. One Grammy for best R&B album, hits like Irreplaceable and Check On It and a Number 1 later, and I maintain this is Beyoncé at her best (not to slight any of her subsequent work). More than any other time, she calls on old school funk and soul influences to bring something classic to otherwise very modern urban pop. Get Me Bodied, for example, relies on a backing track of claps and cheers rather than a melody, letting Beyoncé’s voice do all the work. And work it does. Although she resists the allure of a half an album of ‘sad songs’, tracks such as the one I just mentioned are the perfect soul tones for her to show her range.
The main themes in the record seem to be that she enjoys sleeping with Jay Z which is, you know, good for them. As always, she encapsulates the sexual, determined working woman, taking complete ownership of her relationship, such as in Sugar Mama. While it’s not at all uncommon for female singers to sing about wanting sex, I don’t think anyone takes charge in quite the way Beyoncé does. I’m completely ready to comply when she tells Jay to “sit on Mama’s lap”, the lucky thing. She’s also going to Upgrade him, which is a feat in itself: “I can do for you what Martin did for the people.” It’s not always smooth schmoozing, though; in Ring The Alarm, Bey channels Bitch in what can only be described as an extremely convincing argument against cheating on her. Apparently, before recording this track she got Jamie Foxx and Jay Z to shout mean things at her so suitably rile her up. Commitment to her art aside, this obviously worked, with this track being a three and a half minutes of defiant passion: “I’ll be damned if I see another chick on your arm.”
These tracks are just some examples of Beyoncé doing what Beyoncé does best: being the boss. Culturally, I think the example that this sets is nothing but positive. Someone once said to me that Beyoncé wasn’t a real feminist because she takes to the stage in skimpy outfits, but I’d have to disagree. Yes, Beyoncé likes to wear sexy outfits, and she likes to have sex with her husband, and she sings a lot about relationships. But this doesn’t make her a bad woman; she owns her power over the man, as well as his power over her. She doesn’t apologise for being in love or wanting something from him. She doesn’t apologise for being the crazy girlfriend who won’t let him go. She also doesn’t apologise for leaving the guy who doesn’t appreciate her body anymore, as she repeats in Kitty Kat.
Ok, I’ll stop ranting about Beyoncé now. What I will say, though, is that while her recent albums have been impressive and culturally important (ignoring Four, which was a blip on her record) I think Beyoncé’s artistic direction on this record is clear, and she achieves what she sets out to do. For me, that’s a good enough reason to tell you to listen to this album before you die.