Beyonce Is Not Your Enemy

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Beyonce on stage

By Niall O’Conghaile

Beyonce killed it last night at Glastonbury, and this morning the world woke up to a swarm of positive reviews all over the interwebs. However, some people are not happy with this situation, and have taken to leaving comments on sites like The Guardian (where the gig received a 5 star rating) and YouTube (where a clip of Lauren Laverne and Zane Lowe talking about the gig for the BBC has received critical attention), slamming Beyonce for being talentless, boring, pop shite, etc. Don’t worry though, they’re wrong and I will show you why. Beyonce’s been my girl since Destiny’s Child first broke through in the late 90s. That of course makes me biased, but I’m still going to approach this article in as subjective a manner as possible. If I fail … well, you can fucking sue me.

The first thing that struck me about the gig was listening to the crowd singing back Beyonce’s own music, and realising how many women were there. Glastonbury is a massive (and truly diverse) festival, but it’s easy to forget just how much of the musical coverage we see on the TV is male-orientated and how this skews our view of who exactly goes there. Who would have thought that the headliner on the final night could attract a capacity crowd that was majority female? And who would have thought that those women went there not because of sexual attraction or seeing naked flesh (though undoubtedly there were a few) but because they actually wanted to see a good show by an artist they like and respect?

You wouldn’t know this by reading the comments on The Guardian website, which seems to be the new place where Mr £50 Rock Bore hangs out online, spouting off opinions about how rubbish Beyonce and pop music in general is. There are three main assumptions being touted by Mr Bore there, and in a nutshell they are: 1) Beyonce makes pop music, thus has no talent 2) Beyonce’s stage show had dancers thus it was The X-Factor, and 3) having pop performers at Glastonbury is going to kill the festival. Although comments like these come from a place of ignorance, they are to an extent understandable, as we are living in the X Factor age where mediocre talents receive huge media hype they do not deserve. What is less understandable is how Mr Bore is willing to overlook the vast discrepencies in talent between, say, Cheryl Cole and Beyonce, in order to make his own world view work. So, let’s analyse them, shall we?

1) Commentators assume that because Beyonce makes pop music she has very little input into her own product, into the choreography, the styling, the performance and least of all the music. Have they listened to much of her work? Just like any other artist who has produced a substantial body, you can listen to it and analyse it. It seems obvious to me that, since the days of ‘Bills Bills Bills’ and ‘Bugaboo’ that Beyonce has had a large hand in the process of writing her songs. Not because I have been told that, but because they sound similar. They have recognisable tropes that link them. Mr Bore could argue that it’s the producers adapting their individual styles to fit for the artist, but the simpler, more believable explanation is that Beyonce can actually write music too. Working in a studio day in day out for 15 years has probably helped with that.

But let’s just assume for a minute that she has never written a note of music in her life. How does that reflect on her singing talent? Sorry but that IS a talent – you may not like it but it’s undeniable. The same goes for her dancing. Look at the way Beyonce moves her body. That’s natural – yes she may have trained for years to move like that, but if she did not have that natural talent in the first place she would not be as good as she is now. In particular, focus on the splits/dip in the middle of ‘Single Ladies’ and then remember that she’s wearing heels that are at least four inches high. She’s a brilliant performer, and has more command of the stage and connection with her fans than either Bono or Chris Martin.

2) Somehow think Beyonce’s performance (featuring *shock* dancers!) has turned Glastonbury into the very pit of evil, the X Factor itself. For fuck’s sake – if any of these people had bothered to watch X Factor for any protracted length of time they’d soon realise that that show has never in its history seen a performance as good as Beyonce’s Glastonbury set. In all honesty, Cowell, Walsh et al wouldn’t know what to do with a talent like her’s.

Do people who listen exclusively to rock music and for whatever reason think that pop is the spawn of Satan, really believe that consumers of pop music have no way of discerning what is good and what is bad? That Beyonce is in fact equal in talent to Cheryl Cole? Because this to me is the only way one could equate Beyonce with X Factor. Sorry, but pop consumers speak with their wallets, and the bombing of Cole’s album is testament to her lack of genuine talent. On the other hand, the reason Beyonce was offered the headline slot on the Sunday night is because she is very fucking good, and anyone who has watched one of her gigs before can see that. The big mystery to me is how utterly boring shite like Kaiser Chiefs and Coldfuckingplay get gigs at the festival year after year. On that evidence, it seems to me like it’s the average rock fan who swallows whatever guitar-based drivel that is shoved down their earholes.

3) Putting pop acts on will kill Glastonbury? This argument is getting old now. It was trotted out in the early Nineties when rave and dance sound systems started to become more popular at the festival, and for whatever reason rock fans felt threatened. It was trotted out when a hip-hop act headlined the main stage – all of three fucking years ago, thirty years after the birth of the genre. Yes, very forward thinking of you, Mr Rock Bore. As if rock music is the only music that works in a live arena. As if rock music is and was the sole form of music that should be performed at Glastonbury (which actually started out as a folk and rock festival). For a form of music that loudly proclaims to be revolutionary, rock fans seem awfully reactionary to me.

I am not saying that the festival hasn’t changed – undoubtedly it has. But these changes have got little to do with gigs by Jay Z or Beyonce, as much as they have to do with the tightened security, the limiting of access, the pricing of the tickets, the doubling of the security perimeter, the new generations of music consumer who attend with different expectations, etc. Glastonbury has to be flexible and open to new musics if it wants to remain relevant. It’s NOT the Leeds or Reading festivals, where you know exactly what kind of music you are getting served. If rock is all you want to hear, stick to those snoozefests and let the more discerning listener enjoy the wealth of music available at Glastonbury.

It seems to me that Mr Rock Bore commentator (and, yes, more often than not it’s a man) is happy to judge an act on the trinkets and baubles that surround it, rather than on the obvious talent that underlies it. He allows himself to be blinded by the glamour and gloss, or perhaps more truthfully he allows the glamour and gloss to reinforce his outmoded opinion. Thus: “Cheryl Cole had dancers on that rubbish clip I once saw – and now so has Beyonce, so she must be just as bad!” Yawn. It’s to be expected I guess, as these commentors still cling to the out-of-date, misguided belief that holding and strumming a guitar is a signifier of ‘true’ talent, somehow it’s ‘real’ and you’re “sticking it to the man, man”, another example of focussing on the baubles and trinkets rather than on substance. Rock music got co-opted into consumer culture in the early Nineties, and has had little to offer since – people who cling on to these ideals are living in the past and as such are prone to making statements that contain zero common sense. It would be the same as me saying that some shitty band called The Vaccines used guitars and made me fall asleep during their set, so other bands with guitars like, say, Talking Heads or My Bloody Valentine would probably make me fall asleep during their sets too.

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