Look at her live performances to see why she generates a near-religious fervor among her followers.
The drag queen is hot and bothered. She’s working inside the pub, not because it’s 91 degrees and humid on the busy Bangkok street outside. Sure, she’s lip-syncing, but she’s also popping, snapping, crouching, and whipping her filthy blonde wig with thrilling choreographic perfection throughout the opening 12 minutes of Beyoncé’s live album Homecoming. The crowd—Thais, Americans, Singaporeans, Australians, and Germans—rushes forward after she’s finished. They congratulated her on her achievement. They want to give her cranberry vodka, whiskey shots, or anything she wants, but she needs a moment. The queen, dressed in a white tasseled leotard and thigh-high lace-ups, leans against the bar and raises her hand. She was gasping for air.
A mass liturgy at MetLife Stadium, three years earlier and 8,000 miles away, is in full swing. Fifty thousand people form a studious frenzy, with more black and brown people than white people,
and more homosexual people than heterosexual people. Sure, some in the audience are chatting amongst themselves while Beyoncé performs “Mine,” “Baby Boy,” “Hold Up,” and “Countdown” in one of the most thrilling mid-concert medleys in contemporary music history, but this is not a performance for or about casual spectatorship.
In the stadium’s tight aisles, it’s all about remembering and imitating her movements.
It’s all about following her instructions to “sing!” six times each song, with these pauses being the only indication her flawless vocals aren’t lip-synced. It’s about pleasure, tears, and being out of breath. Beyoncé seemed to be the least out of breath person in the stadium.
Hilton Als laments Prince’s decision to “be a boy and participate in the realm of corporate politics” in his ferocious, subversive article, claiming that it was then that Prince lost the “black-queen vote.” Beyoncé was raised in a business environment. She’s always been heteronormative, mainstream, and commercial. It doesn’t matter, however. Her politics and hypocrisy, her inner life and oligomerizing, her lyrics and riches, her movies and sportswear brand have no bearing on her position as the world’s greatest music artist.
Beyoncé’s legacy may already be set as she approaches 40 years old, even as it continues to evolve. So, as Jody Rosen put it in 2013, she is “the result, the logical endpoint, of a century-plus of pop,” making her “the result, the logical end point, of a century-plus of pop” (Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Pink, and yes, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and Madonna too).
Her live performances hold the key.
The closest we have to an artistic mass ritual are stadium-sized live performances. However, the strain of a hundred thousand eyes and ears is so great that celebrities who endure it often break, fizzle, or are simply given lesser expectations. Beyoncé is our most physically competent living celebrity because she approaches her performances with the kind of fierce dedication more usually associated with professional sports than with pop stars—she practices until her feet bleed.
With the power and glitter of a cultural god, she brings her songs and dreams to life. No one in our galaxy of arena-filling artists, including the aforementioned pop princesses, can sing and dance in six-inch heels for two and a half hours with the same unrelenting vocal wattage and choreographic skill. Her musical prowess unmatched. What is a divinity, a goddess, if not a buxom diva adopting a silhouetted stance of supreme femininity — and then embodying it — in front of millions of congregations across the globe, for atheists, agnostics, queers, and aesthetes?
Only five virtuosos in the history of pop music can compare to Beyoncé’s arduous showmanship, according to critics, academics, and professors of vocal performance. Four of the five deceased, and the only one left living, the great Tina Turner, is almost 80 years old. Experts generally decide on one name after Tina and Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, and Prince.
Jason King, Chair of NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, says,
“I believe she is, in some ways, the inheritor of Michael Jackson’s legacy—the truest inheritor that we have today.” Jackson’s magical atmosphere on stage, a dazzling mix of dancing, singing, and visual effects, earned him the title of “King of Pop.” However, the similarities between the two artists are limited—reputation Jackson’s has been tainted by abuse accusations in a manner that Beyoncé’s has not.
However, according to Linda Balliro, Associate Professor of Voice at Berklee College of Music and author of Being a Singer, “Michael Jackson definitely wouldn’t be the performer he was if he wasn’t in an abusive relationship with his father, which is a really odd position to be in.” “I don’t believe Beyoncé’s position was as dire as that, but it undoubtedly contributed to her tenacity, fortitude, ambition, and work ethic.”
It’s perhaps unsurprising that Beyoncé’s father, Matthew Knowles, often likened to Michael Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson. Whereas Joe Jackson was a violent martinet, stories about Knowles depict him like a drill sergeant who would wake up a young Beyoncé and the other founding members of Destiny’s Child early in the morning and force them to jog for miles around Houston’s Hermann Park while singing.
Beyoncé subsequently verified the tales to the Times of India, and celebrity trainer Mark Jenkins told Insider Magazine years later that he’d have Beyoncé perform a whole album while jogging in the Georgia heat—and “make it sound amazing.” What’s the end result? On the Billboard Hot 100, some of the greatest breath control—and “bionic” onstage performance.
Beyoncé seems more matter-of-fact than arrogant
when she adds, “I’ve worked harder than almost anybody I know, at least in the music business.” While Michael Jackson traumatized by his father’s dictatorial exploits, Beyoncé dismissed him, took up the torch, and continued to perfect.
“One of the reasons I relate to the Super Bowl is because I approach my performances like an athlete,” she eventually admitted to GQ in 2013. “You know how they go down and study themselves by watching whomever they’re going to play? That’s how I approached it. ”
She wasn’t exaggerating. Beyoncé claimed she watches a video of the performance she just did every night before sleep while she’s on tour, and she gives her dancers, musicians, and crew pages of notes the following day. Her performances at the 2016 VMAs and the 2016 BET Awards, both while on the road with her Formation World Tour, provided shockingly unmistakable proof that her strategy was working.
“I guarantee I will always give you a hundred percent of myself,” she promised 185,000 fans at the conclusion of her Glastonbury performance in 2011 (to their screaming delight, as well as George Michael’s).
It was more of a statement of her faith than a thank you for attending.
It’s what sets her apart from other hardworking musicians who ultimately succumb to ego trips or the comforts of the easy way out. It’s also what sets her apart from rock stars and their haphazard, spontaneous energy displays. Because her performances are so well-orchestrated, they are more powerful and stunning. Her divadom is bolstered by an army of female dancers,
and, as one of her main choreographers told the New York Times, “everything,” “everything,” “is choreographed to a T.” It’s like Broadway, but larger. Cultier. Even Michael Jackson couldn’t have done what Beyoncé accomplished at Coachella between April 14 and 21, 2018,
when her career reached its pinnacle and her crown was sanctified.
“A Broadway play is all about the show,” says one critic. It’s still about the context of the program, even if there’s a celebrity in it, “King adds. “With Beyoncé, it’s really about the celebrity cult and the sort of deification of her on stage working very hard on our behalf, not just her own. There’s a sense of martyrdom in this strength and fury. You must leave everything on the stage. You must give up everything. ”
In his book The Queen’s Throat, about homosexual men (queens) who adore opera, Wayne Koestenbaum says, “The opera queen must select one diva” (opera queens). “The other divas may appreciated, enjoyed, and even adored by others.
But the opera queen’s heart belongs to just one diva. “
The loyalty described by Koestenbaum is based on the singer’s voice, delivery, vitality, aura, and other intangible elements. “I spent much of my childhood trying to distinguish identification from desire, asking myself,
‘Am I in love with Julie Andrews, or do I think I am Julie Andrews?’ And I spent much of my childhood trying to distinguish identification from desire, asking myself, ‘Am I in love with Julie Andrews, or do I think I am Julie Andrews?’ I understood that loving Julie Andrews put me in the realm of heterosexuality, however hazily; yet identifying with Julie Andrews […] put me under suspicion. ”
In an era when pop queens are more prevalent than opera queens,
a nasty remark in gay bars goes something like this: If Beyonce isn’t your diva, you’re probably not a musician.
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Her performances might be campy and entertaining if her songs sounded like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry’s, but she’d be neither a queen nor a genius. In other words, her musical prowess would be meaningless if her songs didn’t deserve this heavenly breath of life.
Thankfully, Beyoncé’s music is excellent.
Her songs are strange, unique, lovely, varied, and complex, despite their lyrical simplicity. She’s capable of maternal power pop and bizarre anthems, as well as rap and spooky ballads. No other celebrity is more concerned with the quality of his or her work. “Countdown” may be the oddest R&B song of the new century, while “Love on Top” may be one of the most difficult to perform live. (Beyoncé’s performance of “Love on Top” at the 2011 MTV Music Awards used as an example of stamina and energy by Linda Balliro,
who compares the four major transitions to running a marathon.)
Prince may have lost the “black-queen vote”—or at least Hilton Als’ faith—in the 1980s, but Beyoncé continues to win the pop-queen vote because she inspires a visceral connection that is much more exciting than real political subversion. She also receives the votes of the critics and celebrities. She is the uncommon untouchable who makes Oscar winners anxious and thrilled,
talk show presenters interrogate guests about their encounters with her, comedians silent, rappers gush, musicians gush, other singers gush, the old guard applauds, and First Ladies want to switch places.
Perhaps it isn’t only queens, misfits, and artists who connect with Beyoncé as she transforms from woman to goddess
a single magnified voice and spectacle, serenading the masses’ thirst for pure rhapsodic pleasure. After all, goddesses provide us with vitality, grandeur, beauty, and pleasure. Most of us would be happy to be gods if it didn’t need so much practice, endurance, and lung strength. Instead, we elevate and are vicariously deified.
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