Beyoncé’s fourth album, 4, is to be released in June, and she has thus far begun promoting two singles, fast and slow. This was the same strategy she pursued in fall 2008, promoting her album I am… Sasha Fierce, a double album devoted to the concept that she really loved ballads but excelled at dance tracks. In that instance, Beyoncé’s ballad (“If I Were a Boy”) and her dance track (“Single Ladies [Put a Ring on It]“) were both major hits. In 2011, the most born-to-excel star of her ilk may be losing her touch, just a bit.
The fast song, “Run the World (Girls),” released over a month ago, is mired in the lower reaches of the Billboard charts–it’s aggressive and pounding, uncomfortable to listen to, pushing the clattering dissonances of “Single Ladies” way too far into mania. The slow song, which Beyoncé performed on last night’s American Idol finale, is “1+1,” a torpid strummy-guitar-intro’d kind of song punctuated by periodic Arethan yowls (and the charming mispronounciation “algerba,” one of the song’s few gestures at idiosyncracy).
Being a pop star in 2011–a period whose music has been dominated by young female singers–seems to be predicated on determining the exactly proper level of bizarreness to embrace in one’s music and persona. Ke$ha, Rihanna, and Katy Perry are outré in their personal style, but their music is more or less interchangeable; Lady Gaga’s fashion is even weirder, but her music is the most solidly rooted in solid pop tradition from Springsteen to Madonna. Beyoncé has chosen both routes, again–a wacky jaunt through dancehall beats and apocalyptic imagery and a bland-as-white-bread ballad. With these two extremes fighting against one another–the ballad to remedy the failure of the dance song, and surely more aggressive dance songs to follow–can the singer’s center hold?
Below, a video of Beyoncé pushing the limits of pop:
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