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28 June 2011

Sex & death & gale force winds: Beyonce in pre-game mode

Yes, her voice sounds like a gale force wind of soulful birdsong. (Sorry for the scrambly mixed metaphor kids — that’s just how this music makes me feel — illogical and scrambly.) Yes, this video’s been floating around the internet for a month so it’s not new/news.

But I want to take a moment from my busy day to tell you what is amazing about it. It’s not just the force of her voice. Sure it’s power is well beyond a party trick. To see it in such an intimate setting is to realize the enforced intimacy of phenomenon such as Take Away Shows is actually a weakness not a strength. It’s a document of artists whose work seems to *improve* as they scale it back. By contrast, if Beyonce were put in a cabin on a frozen lake, the cabin would explode, the ice would shatter and, perhaps, lead to instant hydraulic fracking on the surrounding hills. YET IT WOULD STILL FEEL INTIMATE.

No dis to Bon Iver intended. (I am not trying to be his own personal Simon Cowell. I’ve been bumping his new eponymous album 2-3 times daily for the last week.) But the point here is you do not have to whisper to make a person get closer to you. (Though, well, sometimes in helps. A parenthetical question, did Jonny Mathis ruin everything?)

Before I get ahead of myself, though, let’s set the power of the gale force winds aside for a second. Let’s talk lyrics instead. In the video above, Beyonce is clearly and unashamedly singing about sex and death. Just like everybody should. Or like everybody should attempt to once in their life — if not to make it their topic of choice, to see how it feels and to realize any other lyrical strategy is probably a form of evasion, not a form of deeper truth.

It’s so simple really.

To put things really starkly, here’s the question a performance like this raises: Why are there is a limitless supply of art-rock bands who don’t want to / don’t attempt to / cannot sing about this kind of stuff? The reason there aren’t many artists singing with the physical power of Beyonce is far more clear. They just can’t. But how hard is it to sing about death and love — two things which all of us (G*d willing) experience on the (semi-)regular.

Post-modernity makes me sad sometimes. So let’s end this in the middle. Here is some Johnny Mathis:

PS – The Beyonce video originally ran on Jay-Z’s (erm) blog. Evidently he shot it himself. The love between a man & a woman. I could give a damn about the royal wedding, but this video makes me weak in the knees.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis

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