One of the most recognizable and influential pop stars in the world right now is Beyonce. She started out as the front woman of Destiny’s Child, broke free as a solo act in 2003 with her debut album Dangerously in Love, and hasn’t looked back since. She has released six solo studio albums and very recently dropped her first collab album with husband Jay-Z, titled Everything is Love. A fashion clothing line, a perfume line, movie roles, an athletic wear line, and a handful of endorsements later, Beyonce is now worth a cool $350 million. The most valuable asset Beyonce has been able to cultivate is the “Beyhive.” Her loyal (though not as loyal as one might think for reasons later discussed) fanbase praises everything she does, sometimes going so far as to actually worship her and/or send death threats to people who dare critique her.
Notice how I said that Beyonce is the most recognizable, not the most successful or most popular. I say this because by many standards she is not the most popular. She isn’t even the most popular female artist right now…hell, she isn’t even the most popular black female artist right now. Taylor Swift, Adele (with only three albums compared to Beyonce’s six), and Rihanna have all sold tens of millions more albums than Beyonce. The Beyhive is loyal, but not loyal enough to go out and buy the record I guess. In fact, Beyonce’s best selling album is…her first one, Dangerously in Love, her second best selling album is her second album, B’day, with I Am…Sasha Fierce close behind. Her fourth album, 4 performed abysmally and is easily her worst selling album to date. Her self-titled album trails her first three in sales and Lemonade has sold half the amount of that one. You wouldn’t know it based on the hype, but Beyonce’s music is actually getting less popular as far as album sales go.
Even at her peak, Beyonce has never had a best selling album of the year. And she’s only been the best selling female once in 2014 when she came in second behind the Frozen soundtrack…so in a way she still wasn’t the best selling female artist. She’s rarely ever the best selling artist in her genre of female R&B/Pop having been beaten out by Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Fergie, Mary J Blige, and more throughout the years. Her fame is actually very strange when you look at the sales of her main product – music. After her Coachella performance some people had the audacity to call her the greatest pop star of all time – yes, even ahead of Michael Jackson. Beyonce doesn’t even have an album in the fifty highest selling of all time! And it might surprise you to learn who does grace that list…Kenny G, Jewel, Boyz II Men, and Hootie and the Blowfish. Maybe not so surprisingly the list also includes Prince, Whitney Houston (twice), Bob Marley, Adele, Fleetwood Mac, and of course Michael Jackson at number one. Plenty of female representation, plenty of black representation, plenty of R&B/Pop representation…and no Beyonce.
As far as touring stats go, Beyonce is no slouch and pulls in big numbers. Alas, she still does not make the list of Top 20 grossing tours of all time (Celine Dion and Madonna x2 make the list). Her most successful “Formation” World Tour ranks 15th in top grossing tours of the 2010s.
I’ve established that the talk doesn’t match the walk when it comes to Beyonce fandom but granted album sales aren’t everything. Queen doesn’t have any of the Top 50 selling albums of all time and I argue Freddie Mercury is one of the most talented people to walk this earth on a regular basis. So what about Beyonce’s talent? Well she is stunningly beautiful, but that’s not really talent, more so good genes. She doesn’t play an instrument but she has a nice voice. She has a really good voice…but is she Whitney? Hell no. Is she ‘90s era Mariah? Absolutely not. And even right now we all know who the best pop singer is…I hate to bring her up again…but that’s Adele. Honestly, I’ve never heard someone make the “Beyonce has the greatest voice ever” argument so I won’t spend much time refuting it.
Then there’s real talent, learned and honed-in talent: music composing, lyric writing, choreography…things you can have a knack for but take lots of work to hone in. Beyonce’s not known for her producing and “beat making” ability like Kanye or Pharrell. She doesn’t play an instrument like Alicia Keys. She is frequently listed as a co-writer on her songs but when one of the songs she “co-wrote” was nominated for an Oscar but only three people could be listed as co-writers, her name was removed…But really, does she want to take credit for stuff like the garbage listed below. Lyrics for “ApeShit,” her single with Jay-Z that she co-wrote and co-produced:
[Chorus: Beyoncé & Quavo]
Stack my money fast and go (fast, fast, go)
Fast like a Lambo (skrrt, skrrt, skrrt)
I be jumpin’ off the stage, ho (jumpin’, jumpin’, hey, hey)
Crowd better save her (crowd goin’ ape, hey)
I can’t believe we made it (this is what we made, made)
This is what we’re thankful (this is what we thank, thank)
I can’t believe we made it (this a different angle)
Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit? Rah!
[Verse 1: Beyoncé & Quavo]
Gimme my check, put some respek on my check
Or pay me in equity (pay me in equity)
Watch me reverse out of debt (skrrt)
He got a bad bitch, bad bitch
We livin’ lavish, lavish
I got expensive fabrics
I got expensive habits
He wanna go with me (go with me)
He like to roll the weed (roll the weed)
He wanna be with me (be with me)
He wanna give me that vitamin D (D!)
Ice ornaments, icy style tournaments (woo)
You ain’t on to this (no)
Don’t think they on to this (no)
These are obviously horrible lyrics by an honest person’s standard. If you’re not sure, try saying them out loud. Good lyrics read like a poem even without music…these read like a teenager’s first attempt at rapping. At this point though, Beyonce doesn’t even have to try to write good music; anything she releases is praised as some sort of revelation.
Another thing Beyonce is known for is her dancing. I am not professionally trained but I do enjoy watching dance and can tell when something requires skill to execute. Beyonce’s dancing for the most part, does not. There is little footwork and it’s mostly bending over, shaking her ass, and whipping her hair around. Ciara is more athletic when it comes to dance and Janet Jackson has much, much, much, better choreography that she actually does herself unliked Beyonce who has a team of choreographers. One could argue Madonna had more revolutionary choreography than Beyonce. Are you rage typing “Single Ladies” into YouTube right now? It’s a fun dance, I’ll give you that, but not difficult, not choreographed by Beyonce, and not original!
But it’s her brand you say! Beyonce has the power to sell and influence beyond music. Well she dabbled in movies, and while Dreamgirls was a hit, let’s be honest, Jennifer Hudson is the reason why. Following Dreamgirls, Cadillac Records and Obsessed were both panned by the critics. Her women’s athletic wear brand, Ivy Park, which is literally normal-looking sweatshirts, t-shirts, leggings, and bras that say “Ivy Park”- such design genius – sold out upon its original release in 2016, but since then you haven’t heard much about the brand. Athletica and Lululemon continue to dominate the space with Adidas becoming a larger player. Kate Hudson’s Fabletics and Prana are doing very well too. On the other hand, I struggle to find any information on how Ivy Park sales are going right now.
“Well Beyonce empowers young women, especially black women so I don’t care about all that other stuff.” Does she though? Empowers means give someone the authority to do something which granted, Beyonce can’t really do, or make someone stronger and more confident which is the “Beyonce empowers” I assume people are referring to. I want to ask how exactly Beyonce empowers women? How many girls lacking self-confidence watch Beyonce sing “Formation” on stage and think, “Wow, now I have the confidence to open that restaurant I’ve been too afraid to pursue”? How many young girls look at Beyonce and Jay-Z’s relationship and go “that’s the true definition of a loving and devoted marriage; that’s what I’ll model mine after.” Or in reality, how many girls follow one of the most beautiful women on the planet, on instagram with her lavish lifestyle, constantly changing hair styles, and outrageous designer clothes and pursue shallow beauty standards because of it?
Beyonce’s lyrics aren’t empowering. The vast majority of her music is about sexing up a boyfriend. I’m sorry but repeating “Who runs the world, girls” over and over again does not make anyone a stronger woman. If Beyonce really wanted to help young black people, she’d sing about graduating from high school, acquiring and keeping a job and getting faithfully married before having babies. If Beyonce wanted to help black people build better relationships she’d sing about finding a partner who shares your values, is conservative with their money, and treats you with respect. Instead relationships in her songs are all about having sex and spending lots of money. Don’t get me wrong, the former is certainly important in a relationship but a good marriage is about more than physical attraction. Being a “bad bitch” is not the key to a fulfilling, healthy relationship.
The “I’ma strong woman and so are you” bit has proved ineffective in shifting black culture to more prosperous ways of living. Despite Beyonce’s huge audience and influential power she doesn’t talk to black people about improving the culture or really anything. She’s somewhat notorious for not giving opinions. She just collects your money and goes back to her mansion(s).
Beyonce has made some catchy tunes, especially earlier in her career. “Love on Top” and “Sweet Dreams” are great pop songs. (Love on Top is probably my favorite music video of hers too.) Are they a display of incredible talent and skill? No. But they’re what pop music should be. What Beyonce is not is a visionary talent revolutionizing art. What Beyonce is not is a positive black influencer. What Beyonce is not, is a god. She’s a pop star, and she should be treated as such.