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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Explained: Why is Beyonce one of the most significant pop stars of our time?

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, who won her 28th Grammy — highest by any female artiste ever — continues to engage in conversations about gender, race and politics.

Written by Suanshu Khurana , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 22, 2021 10:04:30 am
Beyonce walks up to accept an award at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Sunday, March 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

“As artistes, it’s our job to reflect the time, and it’s been such a difficult time,” said Beyonce, after accepting her 28th Grammy outside Staples Centre this week, breaking the record for most Grammys won by a female artist. She is now tied with legendary record producer Quincy Jones for most wins by any performer.

Beyonce’s award came for Black Parade, a piece from Black is King — her Lion King-inspired visual album. The extremely political song that was dropped on June 19 — the annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the US – is centred around Black Lives Matter protests and came in the wake of George Floyd’s death. ‘Rubber bullets bouncin’ off me / Made a picket sign off your picket fence,’ Beyonce sings. The day she put out the song, Beyonce also created Black Business Impact Fund to help small businesses owned by the community. The proceeds from the song went to this fund. She wrote on Instagram, “Being Black is your activism. Black excellence is a form of protest. Black joy is your right.”

Beyonce, at this point in time, is at the pinnacle of her success — in terms of popularity and net worth, rumoured to be $400 million. She is called ‘Queen Bey’ by her fans and has a three-decade career that has changed the direction of pop music. And it goes beyond hair, makeup, and some brilliant music. She is one of the most significant cultural icons of our time, a cult figure who speaks for a generation. A look at why Beyonce is “music’s most powerful woman” and the undisputed queen of pop.

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Her musical evolution

Since her days in Destiny’s Child, one of the greatest trios of all time, Beyonce seemed to be meant for bigger things. The band was refreshing, full of empowering song lyrics and presented us with a fabulous R&B all-female line-up. This was a whiff of fresh air amid the shallow bubblegum pop of the 90s. Although Beyonce has always been boxed under ‘pop’ category, her music blends genres and encompasses R&B, rock, country, hip hop and blues. Another interesting bit about Beyonce’s music is that her live shows are not just a spectacle, they are an example in precision. Since 2003, when she ventured out as a solo artiste, Beyonce has released six studio albums, five live albums, three compilation albums and one soundtrack. From embracing her womanhood in her debut, Dangerously in Love, which launched her into stardom, to her later albums like Lemonade (2016), where she looked within and highlighted infidelity, Beyonce (2013) that celebrated her marriage and sexuality and her recent Black is King (2019) with African traditions and sounds in place, her evolution is noteworthy.

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Speaking up

Beyonce, at this point, is an African-American celebrity at the top of her game, when the matters of basic civil rights of African-Americans in the US are being spoken about, and when Meghan Markle is talking about not being treated well because of race. Through her music, she is leaving no stone unturned to highlight what’s going on. For 20 years, the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, witnessed Coachella, a space where festival-goers flock from all over the world. But for 19 of those 20 years, the headliner at Coachella was never a black artiste. And that’s what made the 2018 Coachella, the 20th edition, special. It had Beyonce at the helm of affairs, who turned her concerts (two over two weekends) into a cultural revolution of sorts. She schooled those who attended, in black identity and celebrated black expression.

But the turn towards highlighting and celebrating black identity came in 2016 when she performed her song Formation at half time of Super Bowl and sang of her ‘Negro nose’. She made references to police shootings. Black pride was there earlier too, it just became more celebrated in subsequent years. In Black is King, she says, ‘Let Black be synonymous with glory’ and ‘Be bigger than the picture they framed for us to see’. It’s not often that a mainstream artist is involved in the political happenings of the country. Her philanthropic works are also well-known.

On feminism

At the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, in one of her most well-known performances, Beyonce had the word ‘Feminist’ beaming on a screen behind her. And she sampled the voice and thoughts of Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from her TED Talk to define it. Her song Flawless was an attempt to tell people that not everything is to be done to get the attention of men. She has highlighted her thought process about women empowerment in other pieces — including in the album Lemonade.

Handling criticism

A brilliant businesswoman, Beyonce has mostly maintained a no interviews policy. After she was criticised for lip-syncing the national anthem at Barack Obama’s second inaugural, she entered her next press conference, asked everyone to stand up and sang an acapella version of the national anthem as a response to the criticism. As for creating the hype, she has surprise-dropped her music online in recent times, in the middle of the night, without any promotion and sold millions of albums.

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