It's a topic that I have wanted to speak on for a while. It's very controversial. Every time when I get into a discussion of her music, it's always, "She doesn't have a lot of depth to her music. We don't know her. She don't show her human side.". Now, it is true that she is a pop artist. No one will ever say anything else different. She's unapologetically commercial. But I think that people love to use her family background(like the fact that she hasn't lived the ghetto) and the fact that her sound, at least the perception of her sound, is all about club and party songs and nothing else.
It's the kind of statement that Sasha Frere Jones made about her(She is also a strange and brilliant musician. Young black female singers rarely get past the red rope and into the Genius Lounge—the moody, the male, and the dead crowd that room. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/musical/2009/02/09/090209crmu_music_frerejones) that fuels the perception of her. And then finally, if a pop singer is black, then there is this venom against them from much of the black community. And seeing articles like these: http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Beyonc_Embodies_Soulless_Starbucking_of_Music_Industry_7778.html
from bloggers who have nothing on their agenda but show how "deep" they are, I feel that it is time to post my mind on this.
First of all, Bey is influenced by many genres of music. She is as likely to have Shuggie Otis in her Ipod as she is to have Coldplay. She is as influenced by Aretha and Mary as she is by Barbra and Karen Carpenter. She is as likely to sing a club-banger as she is to sing a big band influenced musical. That's what she is and that is what makes her sincere and soulful. I say this because I hear too many times how certain artists are "real" because they put "hearts on their sleeves", and they allow us to enter in their "real lives". Reality shows are a way to get people to think like that. Look at how many celebs especially artists who have them. It makes their fans feel that they are apart of them and it makes feel their music. Or so they say.
It's all contrived. And if it isn't, do we need to know all of their personal lives and their problems? I say no. I personally feel that a musician makes music for the audience that they are trying to reach, not to "exercise their demons" on wax. Because at the end of the day, when an artist makes songs for that reason, those demons are still there. It will take more than music to do so. But not to mention, labels encourage artists to do this so that it will sell records. They know that an artist's fanbase need to find a connection to the artist in order to keep them interested.
Now what does I am saying have to do with Beyoncé being a soul-singer you ask: Everything. I am convinced people don't listen to her music catalogue. I saw a thread on Single Ladies on the net, complaining that it didn't have a melody and harmonies. And I just SMH. She's doing "Call and Respond"(that a technique that is Gospel influenced) harmonies with her voice in the beginning of the song. I ask myself when I hear some of these viewpoints are we listening to the same woman singing? It's like they listen to the beats and not to the voice or what the lyrics say.
What she does do, is what Michael Jackson did when he was at his best: Bring black culture to the mainstream. The woman is as likely to do a "Soul-Clap" as she is to do the Uh-oh dance(African Influenced btw). And though her vocal stylings has many influences, which is pop in nature, her timbre especially fits funk inspired songs. Look at what a blog said about Bey's greatness, concerning funk: There is a world of difference between being a good soul singer and a good funk singer. Mariah Carey, for example, is a good sweet soul singer, but if she were to suddenly start grunting into the mic and demanding snare kicks from the drummer, her people would rush the stage within seconds to drag her off to the mad house. Presumed breakdown. She hasn’t got the funk. Sadly, neither have many of today’s fine young singers, with the possible exceptions of Beth Ditto, Mary J, Beyonce and that’s about it. Even the greatest soul singer of them all, Aretha Franklin, doesn’t quite have the funk chops to be a BOLD SOUL SISTER. http://www.interestment.co.uk/2009/07/13/interestments-top-four-bold-soul-sisters/
Do you see this? And Bey is influenced by Aretha. Crazy in Love is one of her signature songs and that's funk inspired. Most of B'day brings the funk also. And Funk is a big part of Soul Music. James Brown would approve of what Bey does especially concerning that genre. You don't have to "sing the blues" to have soul. There are different interpretations and flavors of soul music. I don't need her to be "Tracy Chapman and/or Cris Williamson" to feel her passion in songs. She interprets very well with her voice and is a voice that has encouraged a LOT OF YOUNG WOMEN, especially with her music. Tell all of them she has no soul whatsoever. That's her audience and demographic. No offense to white men, but you're not her audience, and you're not going to fully grasp why people feel Bey's music.
Bey's vocal phrasing is VERY much influenced by Gospel. I told you about the "Call and Respond", she also does growls, squalls, wails, and especially her melismas. Some of it is opera influenced, but much(most of it really) of it is Gospel influence also. Because she has been exposed to different art forms of music, she phrasing vocally around the music that she does. Like for Baby Boy, because when she performs, she uses an Arabic sound, she will use melismatic phrasing that is Arabic Inspired.
So she understands "soul music" and like MJ did, brings it to them mainstream because soul music is a big part of what pop culture is all about. It is no coincidence that she recorded a song called Black Culture, sampling a Michael Jackson song. Hip Hop(black music) is as much a part of Bey's song as anything else in her music catalogue. If she has no soul, then Alicia Keys, who is just as commercial as Bey could ever be, has none either. Let's call a spade, a spade. So those who want Beyonce to be their definition of what a soul singer is, need to stop it. If you don't or won't like her music because she don't fit in your "soul-singers" box, then fine. But whether you like it or not, she's a big part of land-scape of soul music. Especially with regards to Urban Rhythmic music. In fact, I will leave you with this quote from Ann Powers who review Single Ladies when it first came out: Her new club banger, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," elaborates on "Irreplaceable's" theme of love as sport, if not war; sounding a lot like a Destiny's Child song, it has Beyoncé doing call-and-response with her backup singers over a rump-shaking beat provided by TheDream and Tricky Stewart. More than most female singers, Beyoncé understands the funky art of singing rhythmically, and this is a prime example.
All hail the Queen of Pop and Soul.