Tag Archive: Beyonce

  1. A Discourse on Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”

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    The candidly personal, the retro and the acoustic have dominated music for about a year.

    You could say it started with the massive and simultaneous hits “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky,” two songs that harkened back to an earlier era with their disco beats and gentle falsettos. Pharrell Williams, mastermind behind both songs, returned to the formula to create “Happy,” which predictably became the most ubiquitous song of early 2014.

    Finding the real source of pop’s current obsession with low-fi and low-key requires that we travel even further back: to the deluge of glitzy, futuristic, synth-pop ushered in by Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas and nurtured by the likes of Ke$ha, Flo-Rida and Katy Perry. The reign of techno was so relentless, that somewhere in the long expanses of 2012, I propose, the novelty wore off. People got Auto-Tuned out.

    The ensuing pendulum-swing has had a few major themes. Stylistically, hit songs have tended toward the acoustic, the folksy, the funky, the disco-ish and the Reggae-esque. In their lyrics and packaging, stars have chased after a stripped-down, vulnerable image. What the post-Gaga pushback has sought is entertainment that feels organic.

    We’re still living in the aftermath. Glance at the top 10 songs in this week’s Billboard Hot 100 and you’ll find that Pharrell’s minimalist funk is enlivened with comic candor in Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Listen to the Afro-Carribean lilt permeating Magic’s “Rude” and Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong.” Think of Sam Smith’s acoustic smash “Stay With Me” or the flavors of neo-soul running through superstar collaboration “Bang Bang.” Left by the wayside are those who refused to evolve — the Britney Spearses and Lady Gagas, clinging to their icy club bangers as current tastes drift away.

    It is in this climate that we get “Anaconda,” a song that jumped 37 spots last week, landing at number two and becoming Nicki Minaj’s highest charting single ever. Critics immediately called it an unlikely hit, and, it’s true — Minaj does seem like a holdover from inaccessible, turn-of-the-teens excess. But is she really so out of place? “Anaconda” is built around a sample from Sir-Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 classic “Baby Got Back,” which makes it precisely the sort of nod-to-a-bygone-era that has prompted so many downloads and spins for Robin Thicke and others. Insofar as Minaj candidly and playfully boasts of her impressive derriere, “Anaconda” is precisely the sort of quirky, brazen self-empowerment anthem that vaulted Swift and Trainor to the charts’ upper ranks.

    “Anaconda” speaks to the playful throwback jams that currently permeate the charts. But it remains to be seen whether the marketing of Minaj’s upcoming album will also follow larger industry trends: Justin Bieber tried to pitch his last collection as an intimate exchange with fans by naming it “Journals;” Taylor Swift’s new album includes Polaroids taken by Swift and a title scrawled in Sharpie; last year, Beyonce released her eponymous album without any promotion and gave a statement which read, in part, “I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There’s so much that gets between music, the artist and the fans.” If you’re wondering whether these marketing techniques relate to pop music’s rootsier sound, consider this: Katy Perry’s “Prism” came with literal seed packets. Albums are now framed as your chance for authentic connection with a celebrity.

    We’ll soon see whether Minaj packages her album as a revealing glimpse into the woman behind the constructed persona. Whether she follows the trend or, as she so often has, sets her own.



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    At first, this intro text was just gonna be a transcription of the first two seconds of “Countdown,” but angelic onomatopoeia can only belong to one lady: BEYONCÉ. SASHA FIERCE. QUEEN BEY. THE CHILD OF DEST INY. THE ONE WHO WASN’T JENNIFER HUDSON IN “DREAMGIRLS.” Listen, WEEKEND was alone at a crossroads: This spread has been a long time a-comin’. The inauguration. The Super Bowl. Dancing in your room by yourself. In one way or another, this woman has affected our lives, and five ladies (who run this motha? Girls!) are here to count the ways how. Everyone — kneel to Your Goddess.

    Ready for My Own Jelly


    I started working out every morning at 7:30. Why? Because Beyoncé. The only thing I had to text a friend to pry her out of bed was, “You have to! Beyoncé!!!” because Beyoncé is what we strive to be. I don’t actually want to deal with Kanye or celebrities, but I want to be as gracious as Beyoncé was to Taylor Swift during the VMA incident. I want to be as self-affirming as she was when she wrote “Bootylicious.” I want to be as driven as her. I want to be as kind, as poised, as sassy and as humble.

    We both have thighs! We are both some kinda mixed something! That means that I can handle my business on my own terms too, right? (Preferably in stilettos, lace and leather.) Queen Bey is my hero. HATERS GON’ HATE.

    Put Ur Do-rag On


    My introduction to Beyoncé Knowles coincided with the great cultural awakening of my youth. It is 2004 — it is the year of Bush and Kerry, the year of Athens and Michael Moore. It is the year I am 11. And it is the year Destiny’s Child has released their third studio album, “Destiny Fulfilled.” It is bad. No one will remember “Bad Habit” or “T-Shirt” or “Girl.” These songs will be lost in a deluge of Top-40 amnesia, a lapse in our historical-cultural memory.

    But I remember. I am 11 and George Bush is president and the Olympics are on TV, and there, too, is “Total Request Live.” Beyoncé, Kelly and Michelle are there, singing “Cater 2 U,” that awful song from that awful album — a song about romantic submission assumed with a sleek and seductive air. Queen Bey will cater to (2?) him; she will, and I quote, “put his do-rag on.” In that moment, everyone in America — Bush and Kerry, Michael Moore and the lot of them — is confused, because what is a do-rag, anyway, and why is it called a do-rag and does this proverbial “U” to which Beyoncé is catering really need help with his do-rag?

    When America caught its collective breath, we wondered why Beyoncé would be into a guy so scrubby he can’t even put on his own do-rag. The year is 2004; we are 11 years old, and Bey has made America her do-rag.

    One Nation Under Bey


    Culturally speaking, the United States is simultaneously overwhelming in its great variety of offerings (Five Guys or In-N-Out — choose your allegiance) and disappointing in its almost complete lack of unity. This can leave a person feeling a little lonely, adrift in a sea of enticing niches that one can sample, but to which one can never fully assimilate.

    This is especially true if, like me, you’re the type of ultra WASP-y person whose ancestors arrived here well before we politely declined to renew our status as Britain’s bottom bitch. Any cultural ties my forefathers may have had to the motherland have since been forgotten. Sure, I’ll wolf down latkes with my Persian Jewish suitemate at Shabbat dinner and stumble along spiritedly when my Mexican-Colombian friend attempts to teach me the merengue. But when I want to experience something broadly and authentically American, to whom do I turn?

    The opening weeks of 2013 have made the answer exceedingly clear: Beyoncé. Nothing brings America together like an electrifying, seductive performance by Sasha Fierce. Whether or not they actually watched the game, Super Bowl Sunday marked a time when the majority of Americans — from the die-hards who know every step to the “Single Ladies” dance to those who can only hum a few bars of “Crazy in Love” — felt a powerful sense of cultural collectivism that underscored a fundamental truth about the “united” part of the United States of America: Beyoncé is the common denominator of the American people.

    Countdown to Perfection


    Beyoncé’s “Countdown” music video is perhaps the closest that three minutes and 33 seconds have ever come to perfection. The opening trill is earth-shattering — especially when I pressed play inside Starbucks-on-Chapel, causing everyone to look up from their drinks/frozen yogurt/laptops in awe. The song overwhelmed the normal cacophony that characterized Starbs so that everyone basically got on their knees in awe of Beyoncé’s sonorous magnificence (in fact, they were all just staring at me accusingly). The music video starts with a close-up of Beyoncé’s face singing the first notes, indicating that the video’s goal is to highlight the music itself, as well as Beyoncé’s beauty. The video does not need a plot; the song itself paints a clear picture of why no one should ever, ever leave Beyoncé. That is enough plot for a modern-day epic.

    I am not the only one who thinks so. YouTube sensation kkpalmer1000 did a fine rendition of the “Countdown” video dressed up in a Snuggie. Though I would at first scoff at the peasant who would attempt to match Queen Bey’s talent by making a bad rendition, his Snuggie version is spot-on, and I would characterize a lot of my last summer in terms of these two videos, watching and marveling at them side by side. I am not alone in saying I would love to be Beyoncé, which is why I sadly check amibeyonceyet.tumblr.com every day. As of yet, I’m still not her.



    In a Tuesday group meeting I was asked what had brightened my day. I would say that the Queen Bey herself “came” to mind, but she was already at the front of my mind so I guess she didn’t really move anywhere. Regardless, I was half-expecting to fumble and say something lame (like the tomato panino I had eaten for a non-meal at 4:30 p.m.) because someone would go on a Bey Super Bowl rant before I had the chance. I guess this group must have missed out on what has already been dubbed the Performance Of Our Generation, because no one mentioned her. I tried to sound casual — how successful that was, no guarantees.

    But the irony is that “Love on Top” (my current obsession) has yet to download on my phone, so I’ve resorted to YouTube. As in, Beyoncé footage is literally streaming in my pocket all day. If you happen to peek over my shoulder as I pluck my phone from my pocket, you too will be lucky enough to catch a glance at the legend herself.

    Other fine Beyoncé moments:

    -When my then-10-year-old brother memorized all the lyrics to “Halo.”

    -Three years later, when he and his two best friends memorized Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name.”

    -When my 10th-grade Spanish teacher played “Irreplaceable” in Spanish (“Irremplazable”) to teach a grammar lesson. Good shit, Señora Holme-Elledge.


  3. Read My Lip-Sync: On Beyoncé, Ashlee Simpson and the Authenticity Ideal

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    Last week, Beyoncé Knowles’ did-she-or-didn’t-she-lip-sync-the-National-Anthem debacle overtook the Internet. Every couple of hours, another conflicting story would be published, and it was up to you to decide which version of the truth you preferred. The endless coverage seemed to be little more than another step in the media’s dedication to Really Important News – did you know that Michelle Obama has bangs now? Well, she does! – but the huge emotional investment each side took was strange.

    Why was it so important whether or not Beyoncé actually sang the National Anthem at Obama’s inauguration? Perhaps lip-syncing for such an important occasion is inappropriate. Perhaps lip-syncing such an important hymn is disrespectful (though supporters of Beyoncé pointed out that Whitney Houston’s iconic performance at the 1991 Super Bowl was pre-recorded). Most of the discussion, however, centered on how this scandal would reflect on Beyoncé’s artistry. A transgression as severe as lip-syncing could undermine everything she has achieved so far. That may be an extreme prediction — at the end of the day, she is still Beyoncé — but her authenticity was called into question.

    This isn’t the first time lip-syncing has been a national controversy. Recall the Ashlee Simpson fiasco of 2004, when the fledgling artist stepped onto the “Saturday Night Live” stage to perform as musical guest, only to have a pre-recorded vocal begin playing while the mic was at her waist. Simpson became a pariah, lampooned tirelessly for her acid reflux excuses and wacky hoedown. She performed two months later at the Orange Bowl and received a chorus of damning boos. Ever persistent, Simpson continued to produce music, but the incident remains a scourge on her career.

    The difference between these two singers’ artistic worth is irrelevant — in both cases, the issue of authenticity is at stake. Time and again, the concept of authenticity enters into pop criticism — at its core, those artists who are “authentic,” i.e. show investment in their craft, write their own songs and have at least one noticeable talent, are more valuable than those who don’t. While these qualities are certainly admirable in artists of any medium, a tension arises when this standard is grafted onto pop music. Beyoncé’s voice is arguably her most important feature — she is gifted with a warm timbre and a wide range that trill up high and growl down low — so she seemingly passes the test. But pop is built on image almost as much as it is music. Consider the iconic music video for “Single Ladies,” or even the premise of Beyoncé’s alter ego Sasha Fierce. No matter how invested Beyoncé is in these projects, it is still a mask, it is still a performance and there is some amount of artifice at play.

    When we are confronted with these lip-sync scandals, this tension is most obvious. On one hand, we vilify artists like Simpson — and before her, Britney Spears and Milli Vanilli — for lip-syncing and label artists like Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj as “fake.” On the other, these same artists enjoy massive commercial success. Even Simpson is included here; her smart distillation of Avril-inspired pop rock propelled her debut album “Autobiography” to triple platinum status. While album sales and chart performance are not necessarily linked to quality, these examples show that big hooks, carefully crafted music and a well-defined image will almost always trump authenticity in the pop arena. Authenticity and artifice aren’t mutually exclusive, but our culture’s emphasis on the former in the wake of these lip-sync non-events reinforces a false ideal.

    At this point, any discussion of Beyoncé has turned to backstage photos of her rehearsing for the hotly anticipated Super Bowl Halftime Show. Whether she will sing live is an important question, but will it be any more important than whether she does the “Single Ladies” dance, or how many costume changes there will be, or if it’ll be awkward when Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams join her onstage? Given our image-driven, GIF-happy Internet culture, my guess is no.

  4. 'Moments' that are real, 'Moments' that are honest

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    They emerge from the audience to take the stage behind the standing figure in front. Each knows exactly where to go: behind a microphone or drum set, or in front of the piano. Though the musicians themselves are as diverse as Yale’s student body, they are coming together onstage to accompany Michael Blume ’13 and make superb music. This is “Moments: A Senior Recital” for Blume.

    Though the live performance of “Moments” will take place during reading week, the project is an ongoing series of video recordings that Blume — along with a team of over 40 individuals — has been working on throughout the semester. The revue showcases 15 performances; the team has already recorded about 25 pieces to be released to YouTube in the future. The videos are straightforward productions that highlight Blume’s talent without the distraction of any high-concept videography, according to projections designer Jeffrey Star ’13.

    The show features mostly original songs — “Shoes,” for instance, deals with material inequality, and “Perfect Lip Politics” centers around dance-floor makeouts — and covers, including Beyoncé and Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Moments” is not meant to have a plot; instead, it’s an opportunity to display the musicianship of Blume and his colleagues.

    Though Blume is unequivocally the star of “Moments,” students have gladly helped out with everything from instrumental or vocal accompaniment to video and sound production.

    Producer Alexander Oki ’13 said Blume “is magnetic as a performer and a human being,” pointing to his ability to bring many people together for this project.

    But “Moments” goes beyond just eliciting favors from Blume’s peers — he has been able to provide a platform to showcase the talents of many performers of different stripes.

    “He makes you feel like the show is not about him,” said Keren Abreu ’15, one of the show’s performers. “The concert is for everybody else involved. He is so willing to give and include you. I felt really privileged to have been asked to be involved.”

    Blume has been a part of the music community throughout his time at Yale, as a member of The Duke’s Men, a Whiffenpoof last year and a member of the band A Streetcar Named Funk. The previous shows he has directed — “Souled Out” and “Souled Out 2” — were hits on campus. Like “Moments,” these productions mainly highlighted the talents of others, but Blume is now ready to embrace his role as lead singer.

    “Moments” represents a second coming out for Blume, who expressed how he is constantly overcoming doubts of his worthiness to command attention from the audience and his team.

    “I want to be a singer. I want to make music for the masses … that people from all different backgrounds and walks of life can feel in their hearts,” he said. “Music that’s real, music that’s honest.”

    Blume’s process of writing music and lyrics has been an ongoing and collaborative experience, said Hans Bilger ’16, a “Streetcar” bassist featured in the show. This artistic back-and-forth has allowed the cast to be in constant communication, to the benefit of the songs and the show itself.

    “Michael comes in with a song which is often only half-written,” Bilger explained. “He shows us the chords and tells about the feel and the original message of the song, and we go from there.”

    In “Moments,” Blume shows the audience the beauty of musical collaboration, as friends go onstage to create a new and pure form of art.

    The show will play this Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. in the Saybrook Underbrook.