Beyonce’s artistic strengths & weaknesses.
I initially was going to do a comparison article on Beyonce’s four solo albums (see the concert DVD’s compared here), but after heavily listening to Destiny’s Child records recently (DC4LIFE!), I decided to include the group work as well. I wanted to write this article after an interesting discussion with a die-hard Mariah Carey fan who claimed to love Beyonce`, but described her as an artist he primarily seeks to “shake his ass” or release anger with. This minimizing comment stunned me, considering “King B” has inspired me and I, of course, find her to be a substantial artist. However, after pondering the Mariah fan’s criticisms of Beyonce`, I could see why he had the opinion he did. Coming from the school of Mariah, any shortcomings Beyonce’s music has seem massive.
This discussion highlighted what I feel to be an important central issue in Beyonce’s work: her projects aren’t always a testament to her ability and talent. As bees, we’ve paid close attention to every performance and song and are keenly aware of her abilities. We know she can SANG; we know she’s a skilled technician with a wide range. We know she can write great songs; she penned the beautiful and romantic song, “Dangerously in Love” as a teen. We know she’s a great performer; most doubters become believers after seeing a live performance (see “10 Live Signs Beyonce` is Everything” here). We know she’s studied from all the right musical bibles, claiming to be heavily inspired by Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Prince, Josephine Baker, Broadway musicals & the aforementioned Ms. Carey. The problem is that we know this as BEES and dedicated fans. From the outside looking in, Beyonce` can and has been deemed as just another beautiful, fairly entertaining pop singer with nothing to offer but catchy songs. By breaking down her discography with constructive criticism, I hope to be able to give insight on why some people aren’t all the way sold on our queen diva.
The Destiny’s Child Era
First, I would like to say that it grinds my gears when people disrespect or disregard the members of Destiny’s Child or this portion of Beyonce’s career. One’s past is just as important as one’s present. To fully understand an artist’s growth, all must be taken into account. The ‘DC’ era was a pivotal time in Beyonce’s career. Part of the reason why her solo debut was so successful was because audiences were already acquainted with her and she, along with her group-mates, had established herself as a positive role model for youth and an advocate for female empowerment. We’re talking about one of the biggest-selling girl groups of ALL TIME here. Vocally, Destiny’s Child’s harmonies were flawlessly gorgeous and shined even more during acapella performances. Considering their age at the time of first album (17), their vocal cohesion was particularly impressive.
Destiny’s Child (the self-titled debut, 1998)
This was a great, classic, 90’s R&B album. By classic, I mean timeless. I can listen to this album now in 2012 and it sounds just as great; not dated. What’s fascinating, hilarious and somewhat uncomfortable is the see-saw between mature and age-appropriate content; for example, the sultry “Second Nature” (which uses an Isley Brothers sample) versus the youthful “No, No, No Pt. 2.” The production sounded a little cheap, by the harmonies were great and the writing was there. Fantastic debut.
Grade: A, Favorites: Second Nature, Bridges, My Time Has Come
The highest-selling DC album in America, “The Writing’s on the Wall” is clearly everyone’s favorite. With successful hit-singles like “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Say My Name,” WOTW put DC on the map, but that’s where the issue with the record lies for me. Featuring every hot R&B producer on the block then, it was obvious WOTW was designed for commercial success. There’s nothing wrong with seeking such out, but it’s a problem when that’s the primary goal and artistry is second. The album was so over-produced; beat heavy and noisy with too many effects. Lyrically, the ladies had more creative input, but struggled to keep the balance the first album presented between mature and youthful. It was like they wanted to sound grown up (ex. The scandalous, soap-opera storylines in “Confessions” & “If You Leave”), but just couldn’t help but be 18 (whining about your boyfriend ‘taking too long to call you’ on “Hey Ladies”). With the album centered around “dating commandments,” the quartet quickly got (unfairly) pegged as ‘male-bashers.’ The vocals were still on point; the arrangements were slightly more intricate.
Grade: C+, Favorites: So Good, BugABoo, Where’d You Go, Sweet 16
Post being burned at the stake for allegedly being misandrous and legal troubles with 2 original members who left the group (Letoya Luckett & Latavia Roberson), DC had their engines revved up. Beyonce` had the opportunity to write and produce on all the tracks. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams only had writing credit on one song, which didn’t help diffuse the perception that Beyonce` was a diva favored by her manager/father. “Survivor” added fuel to the group’s commercial fire, being a core-pop crossover album. Again, commercial curiosity kind of killed the cat. The production was still beat-heavy with cartoonish, theatrical effects. The writing was great in that it was full of positive messages about self-esteem, identity, independence, cherishing life and healthy relationships, but the approach to these messages only gave room for young people to identify with them.
Grade: B-, Favorites: Bootylicious, Independent Women I/II, Emotion, Happy Face, Dangerously in Love
Destiny Fulfilled (2004)
You know, it’s quite sad that “Destiny Fulfilled” was Destiny’s Child’s last album, because the group was just starting to get good artistically. With a clear platform (female empowerment), a trademark sound and personal growth (all 3 ladies had done 1 solo project, 2 were in serious relationships at the time), DC delivered their best album yet. A musical illustration of a woman who emerged whole after losing her identity in a crumbling relationship, “Destiny Fulfilled” was an enhanced version of their debut. Smooth vocals and dramatic, sexy production was matched with sophisticated, adult and expressive lyrics. Listening to this record, I really wonder how they would’ve progressed afterward. Sometimes I think they disbanded too early.
Grade: A, Favorites: Free, If, Girl, Gots My Own (Japanese bonus track), Lose My Breath