Beyoncé in 2008
Music

How much is Beyoncé overrated?

I have always been unfazed by the Beyoncé phenomenon. A great deal of people not only like her, but worships her. Literally. I’m not into worshiping at all, go figure a singer. Nor I do listen to many pop singers these days, as they are all predictable and boring over the medium run.

Whenever pointing out I don’t like much Beyoncé’s music I’m faced by a chorus of contrarian voices that goes from the “oh really?”, to the “how can you not like her?” till the more extreme “she is the best ever and you’re an idiot”. Some want her for run for president, with a laughable list of reasons. Others call her “queen”, which is not to be taken seriously. I hope.

Queen Beyoncé on a gate
Photo by Brianna Santellan on Unsplash

Beyoncé has always been present in my life, popping here and there more often than other singers of comparable fame; either by constantly hearing her songs on tv/radio, or by girlfriends who were into her, and one at least extremely into her, or by debating her prowess as an artist on the internet (due to which I was scoffed at multiple times…) or by being suggested from Spotify (I guess their algorithm can’t fathom why there are people who don’t like her). I can’t live a Beyoncé-free life, apparently.

So one day I decided to sit down and try to understand what’s all about her. I watched all the live performances of her on the first page of results in YouTube, listened to all her albums and read about her ideas and stances.

Is Beyoncé overrated or not? How is she different from, let’s say, Rihanna or Taylor Swift? These are my findings.

Short preamble

I’m a rock/metal listener. Beyoncé and her likes are not my cup of tea but I do occasionally listen to modern pop. Very occasionally. If I have to name pop singers that I can listen for more than 10 minutes without getting bored, I would say Robin Williams and Lady Gaga. Dua Lipa seems nice but she has still to develop. But that’s about it. I’d happily discard the rest (and don’t get me started with Coldplay…). Therefore, I’m talking in this article about artists that I barely consider such. End of the preamble.

Beyoncé is unoriginal

Whatever you may feel about her, Beyoncé will go down in music as yet another r&b/pop singer, albeit the most successful one yet. Facts are, musically she didn’t introduce anything new, anything worth following up. I know it’s very hard these days to be wholly original, most artists fail at that, nothing to blame on Beyoncé for this. Yet she did absolutely zero for music as a form of art, to improve it, to pass something new to the following generations, no “wow factor” in playing a song with totally new style or bringing on a different direction within her music genre. Lady Gaga took the example of Madonna and modernized her sound. Beyoncé wasn’t able to innovate on the material of Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill. The rap elements of some of her songs aren’t that innovative, either because not new at all (Lauryn Hill, again) and because most of them come from actual rappers featuring in her songs, not her rapping.

Beyoncé in tour
Photo by Wikimedia

Beyoncé takes pieces here and there, from funk, disco, electronic music and hip-hop (mostly due to Jay-Z) to blend into the r&b and pop mold but exactly where would the novelty lay? We had funk and disco since Donna Summer times, Tina Turner had a fabulous scenic presence and proved black women could also sing rock, which Beyoncé didn’t attempt, Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliot were singing hip-hop since Destiny’s Child times and earlier and Whitney Houston was already a pop icon around the time Beyoncé was attending elementary school. There is not much to be accomplished nowadays for a singer, granted, but Beyoncé managed to become successful without being the first to innovate on anything. That’s sort of an accomplishment in itself.

Even if we move from the music side of her albums to the author/lyrics, it is well known that Beyoncé barely ever wrote a song all of herself. This is often defended by her fans claiming that pop music is so complicated that it is hard for an artist or two to write a whole song without help. Sorry but I call bullshit on this. There are plenty of examples of contemporary artists who write their own songs, with minimal help or even totally alone. Check the credits of the biggest hits of Taylor Swift, Adele, Pharrell Williams, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran. I could go on and on. All these singers are very successful, and are contemporary to Beyoncé. Then take a look at the same page on Allmusic for Beyoncé. Did you see the difference? She is only once credited alone and in most of the other songs there are 2 or more, even plenty more, of authors credited.

It is plain that if you claim yourself an “artist” but can’t even create your own “art” without great and frequent help from others, you truly are not. Not in music. Beyoncé is not an exception here, unfortunately. As an artist, she looks clearly overrated to me.

Beyoncé is an average performer

I could have titled this chapter “let the haters come”. I’ll say it straight after having watched a dozen of her top videos, not forgetting any of her top 10 live performances: I didn’t see anything mindblowing nor superior to any of the other performers named so far. She is good, sure. Not bad, at all, but neither very good or extremely good.

Fans crave how she manages to dance and sing at the same time, doing both perfectly, yet that applies only if your idea of dancing is shaking the ass and fiercely walking. Which is what Beyoncé does 90% the time when “dancing”. Madonna did it all already in last century and had better choreographies. Rihanna does the same but, granted, not better. Lady Gaga moves way more

Michael Jackson did proper dancing, and James Brown compared to Beyoncé is like Nureyev and an amateur dancer.

Fans should have the knowledge of the past when actually claiming “Beyoncé is the greatest performer alive” and bold declarations like it. Otherwise they only look like a fool and ignorant.

I don’t even want to start naming the artists that have better vocal live performances because it would be embarrassing comparing Beyoncé to them. Not fair to their greatness.

Beyoncé as an inspirational figure

While I agree everybody can feel inspired by anybody so if Beyoncé inspires you to improve and make great things, do go on, I’m never gonna try to discourage you.

Beyoncé at Sonic Summer Music Festival
Photo By: Lance Cpl. Chris Kutlesa

Why that said, I don’t see why Beyoncé should be more inspirational than other modern pop artists. We have seen she is not much better musically than her “rivals”, nor she is the first in performing whatever form of music she is doing. She is not the first nor the fiercest black woman in music (hello Tina Turner), nor the best (ever heard of Aretha Franklin?), nor revolutionary in any way, nor the prettiest (totally debatable, ok), nor the first artist to make political statements (we have plenty of them actually). Therefore she may inspire you, fine, but there’s no reason to consider her more inspirational than Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Adele, insert-here-your-favourite-contemporary-artist. It’s all subjective. Speaking objectively, Beyoncé isn’t more of an influence on today’s society than Kim Kardashian (go figure…) or the Spice Girls. Die-hard fans of her should learn to deal with this.

Many people follow her. Good for them. She remains one of the bunch of modern pop singers though, neither the worst nor the best. Her whole image is full of clichés and tacky moments (like the Louvre video).

Even by political statement’s standards, singing about girls running the world and writing “Feminist” with leds is as deep as Mickey Mouse. Anybody could do it. Beyoncé looks hardly more qualified for presidency than Trump. Yet I’m sure she could beat him, such a sorry state is the american electorate in.

Beyoncé as an icon of beauty

I find Rihanna more beautiful. Even Whitney Houston in her prime time was above Beyoncé. That’s perfectly subjective but also those who put Beyoncé at the top of the beauty ladder nowadays are expressing their subjective opinion, aren’t they?

It suffices to say that there are plenty of black or non-white celebrities that can be considered more or as beautiful as Beyoncé. Again, nothing in her that would make the worship justifiable (IF it could ever be for a singer…). The fact that she can’t make up her mind on whether she wants to be depicted as black or white is indicative of a lack confidence in her beauty.

Beyoncé is definitely overrated

Quantifying the level of “overrateness” is hard. Somebody should invent a scale for it. Beyoncé would be very high in that scale. 8/10 perhaps. Not exclusively for the stated reasons in this article but more for the exaggerated levels of worship, praise, adoration and stubborn defense her fans show towards her. Of which she shows no sign of moderating it. She is overall average/good, there’s no need to talk of her as she is a black Virgin Mary (if anything, the first was not black and Beyoncé is hardly virgin anymore) and the greatest entertainer since the entertainment industry was born. Calm down. She is human, she is imperfect, she makes average songs as any other artist before and after her, she will die and the world won’t end, trust me on this. We’ve all been living without the likes of Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury and Frank Zappa for decades now and we will continue living without Beyoncé too.

Be realistic and put artists in perspective. You’ll be amazed how many are overrated and how many are underrated instead, according to how much the music industry pushed them to the masses or not. Most people simply don’t know enough about music to make the proper comparisons and see things from all sides. They jump on the bandwagon of the current artist that inspired them, whatever it may mean for them. That’s what happened with Beyoncé. Many just went a bit too far with her compared to others before. She was smart in selling her image in such a way to appeal black women, feminists, millennials and such with her modern r&b infused of political, feminist and personal themes. That was the smartest move she did.

And in truth the only thing in which she isn’t overrated.

Neapolitan programmer, traveller and metalhead, co-author of PaperSounds blog.

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