Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beyoncé, "If I Were A Boy"

Song: "If I Were A Boy"
Artist: Beyoncé
Album: I Am... Sasha Fierce
Written by: Toby Gad/B.C. Jean
Year: 2008
Key: Em
Classification: SF1
Lyrical content: anything you can do, I could do better; Beyoncé solves the battle of the sexes but sends 50% of the planet's population into fits of frustrated agony
Where used: verse

For as much as she fits an almost Platonic conception of sensual feminine beauty, Beyoncé has never seemed especially touchable. There's something too guarded, too plastic about her, to the extent that there are times when she barely registers as an actual human being. She may have put the half-robotic Sasha Fierce character out there as a conscious statement about strength through artificiality and the roles we play, but it's actually one of the most honest assessments of her public persona that she could have possibly made. It's telling that amidst the rote meticulousness of the "Single Ladies" video, the only note that rings false is when she softens into a smile at the very end. Instead of breaking character, that's the precise moment she slips into one.

That's not to say that the Yonce is incapable of wringing emotion out of her performances in an effective manner. On the contrary, she can be almost maddeningly efficient at it. Her voice doesn't have the forceful purity of tone you find with, say, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera. In a way, she has more in common vocally with Rosanne Cash, with flaws (including a nasality that's sometimes held just barely in check) that she's smart enough to turn into strengths by using them to convey vulnerability. That's what's happening on "If I Were A Boy," where Beyoncé constructs a fantasy in which she gets to undo all of the bad she sees being done in the battle of the sexes – the fact that she implicitly absolves herself of the equally real mistakes women make is irrelevant, a testament to how much she gets us to invest in her – and reveals a deep well of unabashed disappointment and hurt.

None of that would have remotely the same impact without the SFCP. It's crucial here, acting as a sort of bonding agent for the ideas of the song. The music, the lyric and Beyoncé's vocal are all speaking the exact same language, making sure that the message gets delivered without getting lost somewhere along the way. She eventually breaks the pattern in the bridge, as she becomes less and less measured in her frustration and shifts to the reality of the situation that sent her into her hypothetical daydreaming in the first place, only to slip back into the SFCP when she hits a wall and realizes that all of her protests aren't going to change a thing. Boys will be boys, girls will be girls and the cycle will continue ad infinitum, as the SFCP rolls on.

(As a special grammar-nerd postscript, allow me to tip my hat to writers Gad and Jean for correctly using the subjunctive "were" in their title, rather than "was," and to Beyoncé for leaving it alone.)

Full song: Beyoncé, "If I Were A Boy"
Listen to the SFCP clip for this song

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