By Moses Kamuiru.
All of us know Queen Bee. She has been around for quite some time now. Destiny’s Child had their first hit in late 97 and became absolute megastars in 1999 with their second album, The Writing’s On the Wall. That’s nearly two straight decades of success for Beyoncé, which is a longer run than Whitney (1985–1999), Mariah (1990–2000 — I’m not counting her awful Emancipation of Mimi comeback), and even Janet Jackson (1986–2001) had. Although Beyoncé has never had a peak period as dominant as these three artists had in their primes, her longevity, stylistic diversity, and, new artistic maturity make her catalog much more attractive. I know this is a bold claim, so let me take each artist one by one and explain why they fall short of Beyoncé on the all-time ranks.
Those who understand her music can divide it into two periods: her early New Jack Swing stuff and her hip-hop infused late 90s period, which looking back was less revolutionary than it appeared at the time. Despite being so well known for her collaborations with rappers, in her prime, she only had a few hits with hip-hop artists, notably the “Honey” Bad Boy remix, “Heartbreaker” with Jay-Z, and of course the classic ODB “Fantasy” remix. Her best moment was her MTV Unplugged performance in 1992. Early on, critics wondered why she never toured despite having five number ones hits in her first 15 months out the gate. They assumed her voice had to be doctored in the studio if she couldn’t perform live, but she just struggled with crippling stage fright. Her performance was flawless, turning what was supposed to be only her coming out party into the highlight of her career.
Bigger than a pop star
Queen Bee is a place in her career where even calling her a female pop star sounds ridiculous. Although the “female pop star” label is certainly helpful when considering the kinds of artists we’ve been discussing, it always points to something artistically limited, which is why people are so often quick to insult female pop stars in general. We expect them to fit a particular mold: they don’t write their music, they have a team that’s always collaborating with them on their image — or, if we’re cynical about it, completely controlling their image, and, perhaps most importantly, they’re singles artists who aren’t able to craft albums that are complete works in their right. As high as Madonna was, she never put together a great album from front to back.
However, for her last two albums, while producing lots of great singles, are fantastic albums. They’re cohesive, experimental, and are great from front to back. Calling Beyoncé a female pop star now, after she’s released her self-titled album and Lemonade back to back, would be like calling Marvin Gaye just another Motown act while he was making experimental, beautiful masterpieces as I Want You and Here, My Dear. And sure, she’s had tons of amazing hits over the past 15 years, but many artists have had long stretches of hits. Beyoncé’s the first female pop star to make the term “female pop star” sound like an insult to her brilliance. That’s what truly sets her apart as the best of all time.
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