2016, Music

Lemonade (2016) by Beyoncé

Despite her ubiquity, I have never listened to Beyoncé solo album. Years ago, I listened to two Destiny’s Child albums which were better than I thought they would be. Needless to say, we’re a long way from there. (Obligatory mention of the fact that, if Beyoncé is the age she says she is, we’re exactly the same age.)

The world of 21st century pop/R&B songwriting is so foreign to the songwriting world I was raised in. I was raised listening to songs credited either to a single-songwriter, a song-writing team (nearly always a duo) or, occasionally, the entire band. Those credits created the impression that most, if not all, popular music songs were created by individual geniuses or teams of geniuses more often than not. The reality was very different. For some reason in the US non-musicians decided that only the melody and the lyrics of the song could be protected by copyright and so bassists’ and drummers’ contributions were not enshrined into the protected part of the song, and much of the rest of the English-speaking world decided to follow suit. But even with supposed copyright protection, numerous songs were copied from others without credit. So, even though the credits might say “Leiber, Stoller,” “Lennon, McCartney, “Bob Dylan” or “Page, Plant,” some of the actual composers of the song were not credited and received no royalties. And the public assumed that the song was written by the person credited as the songwriter.

This assumption has created this meme where people who are scared by contemporary pop music – because they’re old or insecure or whatever – contrast songs written by current or past songwriters with the songwriting credits of a Beyoncé album and strongly imply that one is better than the other. And, at some level, I understand why. Because we were raised with this idea that there are these solitary geniuses are almost entirely responsible for the best songs. (This idea exists in film, too, which is so much weirder.) I get the appeal of this, I just know better. Whether it’s Led Zeppelin or Bob Dylan, who stole huge amounts of their music without credit, or whether it’s David Bowie who did not credit his sidemen enough, the credits don’t tell the whole story.

All of that being said, I still find it so weird to look at these songwriting credits and learn about the process. To take the song that interpolates “Maps,” it sure seems like this was never intended for Beyoncé but it ended up with her and she did whatever she did to finish it. It sure seems like, a lot of the time, Beyoncé is essentially shopping for the best idea out there and then finishing it off into something that becomes incredibly famous due to her. It feels so foreign to the idea of songwriting I grew up with, but it might just be a more honest way of doing what people did in the past. Even if that’s true, I can’t really wrap my head around the songwriting process. It makes no sense.

But because of this process, there is a lot of stuff here that sticks in my head. Nothing more than “Hold Up” simply because I know the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song. When you combine enough hooks with her very personal lyrics, passionate delivery and just a touch of idiosyncrasy, you get something that I think connects with a lot of people. (I think it’s very clear that, for her at least, she had to be this famous before she could do something like this. Some of the performances feel a little too weird for a girl group, for example.)

There’s a lot going on in the production. Like so many of these albums, it feels like different producers really tried to make their mark on their individual tracks. I used to find that approach pretty schizophrenic so I don’t know if I’ve changed or artists have just gotten better smoothing out that stuff. I still would like more warts. It does feel like it’s Beyoncé bringing the warts (occasionally) in her vocals and that’s about it.

It does feel like Beyoncé is gotten to the point where she just creates the songs she wants to regardless of genre or conventions, and that’s good. It still isn’t really for me, but I respect where she’s at now (well, 8 years ago) and it does feel like a lot has changed since Destiny’s Child.


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