Heels & Picks: Confessions of a Beyoncé fan
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
I have a confession to make.
I like Beyoncé, the artist, a lot. But I often find her actual songs to be sort of take-it-or-leave-it for me.
While this statement might earn me a solid week of silent treatment from my gay-boy besties and the ire of anyone who may think I’m suggesting I write songs that are better — I am not — let me back up my theory.
Going back to my gay-boys for a moment, last year there was a Beyoncé concert on TV with some football game on either side of her performance. Though most of America was more interested in the NFL championship game, I can assure you, around our cottage it was all about Beyoncé.
That day, my boyfriend and our besties Jesse Wenkoff and Melissa Downey (one gayer than Christmas, both loud and fabulous) settled in on our couch to watch Queen Beysus tear it up. And tear it up she did. But when it comes to Beyoncé, you better stick to “Single Ladies” and “Crazy in Love,” because once you hit a B-side, no amount of fabulousity is going to make you care about her other songs.
However, I am always enthralled with HER and the images she presents of herself via a tightly-controlled image factory that only features extremely high-end fashion. This is what we expect from Beyoncé – sleek, over the top, seriously sexy and pretty much perfect at all times.
So what happens when she gives us a loose album, one that’s less a pop record and more a skittering R&B album that feels dark?
Well, if said album is dropped at the stroke of midnight with zero promotion straight to iTunes and 17 accompanying music videos, the answer is we EAT IT UP and make it the fastest-selling album in iTunes history.
As much as I adore and emulate Beyoncé’s image, I have always found the wall of perfection she works hard to maintain is kind of exhausting. It always feels like some of the good stuff is being glossed over in the interest of being perfect and minivan culture-friendly. So when she blows up iTunes and Instagram with an out-of-the-blue, self-titled album ripe with dark themes, I was instantly into the results. In another highly uncharacteristic move, the album is also highly personal.
With the February 2013 release of her HBO documentary, “Life Is But a Dream,” Beyoncé gave fans a peek into her life. She was filmed, unguarded, without a wind-machine, minding her daughter, Blue Ivy. Then came the Instagram account, one she uses to share images from her life, including pictures of her family. The final installment in the trifecta of surprising Beyoncé Moves of 2013 came when the self-titled “Beyoncé” went straight to iTunes on Dec. 13. The 14 tracks are full of imagery of Beyoncé’s marriage to Jay-Z, their home and their family.
And we’re not talking about a “Leave it to Beaver” family portrait, either. She delves into the realms of postnatal depression, insecurities of womanhood and also some fairly direct songs about sex.
In the song “Partition”, Beyoncé advises the limo driver, “Driver roll up the partition please / I don’t need you seeing ‘Yonce on her knees.” This is far more into the realm of Janet Jackson’s “Velvet Rope” than we’ve ever seen her go before.
“Drunk In Love” sees the “Crazy In Love” couple, 10 years later, ripping down Warhols in their foyer with their foreplay before they get into the bathtub where Beyoncé is ready to “ride it with my surfboard.”
“Serfbort,” actually, is the way she pronounces the word. Super-catchy, but also a departure in how Beyoncé’s albums are usually styled vocally. Clean, impeccable production from top writers and producers is what we expect from a Beyoncé album, and while a team of hot shots are all at the table and a few more guests have pulled chairs, the result is more sparse, futuristic R&B. The vocals are more playful, with room to move and emotional pull that feels genuine rather than purely large.
Dropping her album to iTunes with no promotion is another bold career move. A few other artists have tried the same thing in 2013, but none with the stature or prior massive success that Beyoncé has.
In my world, this is what I am told often these days: “Release a pop song that EVERYBODY can get into. After that, you can hit them with whatever challenging songs you feel you’d like to release.”
Following years of booty call and single lady anthems, Beyoncé is ready to make art the way she wants to, without appeasing us with “Independent Woman, Part 47.” As a powerful married woman with a child, perhaps she thought it would be more interesting to let people into her world rather than giving fans what they expect.
With “Beyoncé,” she lets us in the front door. Just don’t mind that broken Warhol on the floor in the foyer.
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.