Our Artists in Focus series continues with appreciating both the musical and social contributions made by a number of artists on our repertoire.
This week’s blog focuses on the remarkable career and achievements of Beyoncé Knowles.
I’m going to let you finish reading this blog but Beyoncé is one of the most iconic musicians of all time. It’s easy to take her incredible success for granted, but many of her contemporaries have faded away in the highly-competitive music industry. As the landscape of music has shifted, Beyoncé’s star has continued to shine bright. Her musical style has evolved to not only encompass new musical trends, but to lead the way when it comes to changing the musical paradigm.
Over the course of her career she has sold over 100 million records worldwide. To put that incomprehensible number into context, that’s more than the combined populations of the UK, Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark. In fact, you’d even have to throw in the population of Los Angeles on top of that to just about reach 100 million.
But before this blog starts sounding too much like a GCSE maths question, let’s delve into Queen Bey’s early career to find out how she became such an enduring cultural phenomenon.
Crazy In Love
Beyoncé was catapaulted to fame in 1997 as part of Destiny’s Child, but it was as a solo artist that she began to claim her seat at the top table of R & B and pop. Her first smash hit came in the form of ‘Crazy In Love’, a swaggering number with an infectious horns line that featured her future husband Jay-Z. Beyoncé won the Grammy for Best R & B Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2003 for ‘Crazy In Love’, and it appeared on multiple lists of the best songs of the decade. Rolling Stone even placed it 118 on their list of Top 500 Songs of All Time.
I Am…Sasha Fierce and Rockschool
Smash hits like ‘Irreplaceable’ propelled Beyoncé further to pop superstardom, and in 2008 she released her seminal album ‘I Am…Sasha Fierce’, simultaneously unleashing her alter-ego, Sasha Fierce, on the world. The album was met with varied critical response but spawned a number of monster hits, including the album’s lead single, ‘If I Were A Boy’; an upbeat US Number One, ‘Single Ladies’; and ‘Halo’, which became her most streamed song of all time on Spotify and features on our grade 6 female vocals syllabus.
Her creative output has been constant, with her albums ‘B’Day’, ‘4’, and the eponymous ‘Beyoncé’ receiving major critical acclaim while satisfying fans across the globe. One of her most adored songs from this era of her recording career, ‘Love On Top’, features on our grade 5 Electric Guitar syllabus. With acrobatic vocals and an abundance of key changes to keep instrumentalists scrambling for the next chords, this catchy pop tune about love is far from your average, straightforward 4 chord ditty!
Queen Bey continued to reinvent what it meant to be a popstar with her album ‘Lemonade’. Released in 2016, her sixth studio album was accompanied by a 65 minute long film on HBO and featured guest appearances from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, James Blake, and The Weeknd. Nominated for nine Grammys and generally considered to be one of the best albums of the twenty-first century, the album covers a wide number of themes and flits effortlessly between musical influences, all while retaining the Beyoncé hallmark of rich vocals, infectious melodies, and razor sharp lyrics.
Part of what distinguishes Beyoncé as a once in a generation artist is her versatility and strengths in a number of fields. She is a fabulous singer, of course, but she is an impressive performer and dancer, while she has also captured the imagination of many through her acting roles in ‘Dream Girls’ and the ‘Lion King’ to name a few.
Perhaps the pinnacle of her performing career was her 2018 headline set at Coachella. She was alleged to rehearse for a whopping 11 hours a day in the lead up to the event, and it was this preparation that was the subject of the Grammy award winning documentary, ‘Homecoming’ which is available to stream on Netflix.
Beyoncé has just accepted an award for her humanitarian services at the recent BET Awards, joining an illustrious line of recipients: Muhammad Ali, Rev. Al Sharpton and Quincy Jones, who you can read more about in our music production blog series, have all won the award previously.
Not one to shout about her own significant philanthropy, she has more recently used her sizeable platform and audience to call out systemic racism in the US and encourage people to vote in the upcoming presidential elections, as demonstrated by her acceptance speech at the BET Awards.
"You're proving to our ancestors that their struggles were not in vain."
"I'm encouraging you to continue to take action, continue to change and dismantle a racist and unequal system."
"We have to vote like our life depends on it, because it does."
The night saw performances from Alicia Keys, Roddy Ricch, and a stirring rendition of Nina Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ by Jennifer Hudson.
If you’ve been inspired to listen to more of Beyoncé’s music, you can listen to a Spotify playlist of some of her best songs below.