Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Beyoncé – Bow Down / I Been On

The Roc she’s rockin…


Scott Mildenhall: Who run the world? Well, Beyoncé. That was kind of always the point, ultimately. “Bow Down”, with it’s dash o’ fierceness (that was a pun) sounds like a Nadia Oh castoff (that is a compliment, probably), albeit one with nifty embellishments specific to its performer; “I Been On” is more interesting, but better enjoyed in its guise as a Sean Bean collaboration. Not exactly putting the “buzz” in “buzz track” then, but nor the “zzz” (not least because that would be one “z” too many).

Anthony Easton: Two songs split down the middle, one featuring Beyoncé, the other featuring Hit-Boy, with some Ave Maria-esque “is it the club or is it the church” soul breakdown. It is conceptually interesting in its discussion of exactly what female empowerment looks like (a question that has been heavily on the mind of hip-hop women of late), but has no real solutions. 

Alfred Soto: An experiment with tones, technology, and blog baiting better suited for an opening track, “Bow Down” evokes Prince’s “Bob George,” in which a formal experiment with androgyny doubles as a stealth manifesto on stardom. But let’s face it: I’d rather B counsel me on stock options.

Katherine St Asaph: I’m torn. It bothers but doesn’t surprise me that the news cycle has made a “single” out of what’s pretty clearly a set of preview snippets (hence the score cap), and it really bothers me when artists prioritize their brand over their craft. If the thought of Beyoncé singing “bow down, bitches” doesn’t make your nerves GIF out, there’s not much song for you here. But then, I prefer artists bizarre to safe, and this is some seriously bizarre shit. Not the trap — that’s mostly rote and not what I’d prefer to hear from her, though she’s got more claim to it than 95 per cent of 2013 trap — but the rest is a glorious clusterfuck. The track sounds like a N64 water level that keeps lurching — great. Beyonce keeps her voice pitch-shifted for about half a song longer than she can get away with — cool. Then there’s that pop aria; we haven’t gotten one of those since “Government Hooker” (not a shot, god) or “H.A.M,” which this basically is. Who knew Beyonce atop the Throne’s most precarious track would work?

Rebecca A. Gowns: The infinitude of Bey: once a little girl, now omniprescent and omnipotent. Every song is a new way to say she’s the best thing you’ve never had, and I’m pleased with this iteration. Shamelessly riding the wave of trap; what need does an immortal have for shame?

Brad Shoup: Starts pitched-up, ends pitched-down. Is the progression from young girl to hard-ass dude? Or will Beyoncé claim every voice before she’s done? She’s conquered the world with a career of showing, so it’s a bit late for the tell. Frankly, it’s just a bad look, despite surging-sea synths and snapping jaws. But when she takes it back to the mid-’90s? Game over. The modulated melodic line sounds like a martial bugle; it turns out it’s presaging an ominous aria. Knowles waxes wistful about Willie D and UGK, reciting raps, cackling, reveling in a weirdness she’s never allowed herself. I love it. I love it, and I want to receive it as a sign she’s tired of having her portfolio together. Could the new album be as shaggy and insular as “I Been On”? Could this be her Twisted Fantasy, her My December? Almost definitely “no,” but what a thought.

Jonathan Bradley: “Bow down, bitches” is a command that only becomes properly credible when Beyoncé warps her voice down into the thick drawl that characterizes her Houston roots. Part one has Bey assert her dominance through femininity — “Don’t think I’m just his little wife,” as if we did! — but the disorienting, surreal second section, when she turns her tones masculine and shouts out Willie D and UGK is the really interesting bit. Adopting maleness paradoxically gives us a glimpse of Beyoncé the girl, before she attained the poise she’s perfected in her adult years, a time of braids and rap tapes and when the world wasn’t yet bigger than her home city. This is how she knows, I suppose, that “when you were little girls, you dreamt of being in my world.”

Jer Fairall: Coming from an artist whose history of promoting female empowerment has been both widely inclusive and wisely prioritized (I’m thinking back to her tip of the hat to the college grads of “Run The World”), this is troublingly fascistic, its “bow down, bitches” chorus hook registering as snarky and ugly as her “don’t think I’m just his little wife” is laughably unnecessary. She sounds defensive enough, though, that it becomes reasonable to assume that all of the work went into crafting the song as a statement; as music, it resembles something generally found towards the end of a hip hop mixtape, complete with meandering shout outs thrown in the direction of those still left listening that far in. It all registers as perversely lazy, in other words, both as an event single and as a further statement of world dominating intent, a rallying cry that can afford its exhaustion on the grounds of the millions that are all set to follow it wherever it goes anyway.

Patrick St. Michel: This isn’t Beyoncé addressing “haters,” as I’ve seen people online speculate, but rather pure dream-realization for those who love her. She’s figured out her fans perfectly — maybe she spent the Monday after the Super Bowl studying every social network and realized after the 100th image macro she’s reached a point where she can do anything and folks will hyperventilate over it. So here’s a song exploiting the monarch-status she’s achieved complete with lyrics designed to be placed over .gifs. And one that’s a mess sonically. The “Bow Down” half sounds great, Hit-Boy’s beat both regal and intimidating. I wish they would have explored this more, but instead this splutters into Beyoncé trying out the chopped-and-screwed music of her hometown. Which sounds cool on paper, but turns out I don’t want to hear her voice slowed down to a crawl, as she raps nothing much of interest. Then it ends with a spoken-word outro which… it’s neat Beyoncé is celebrating her city, but this bit should have been in her documentary, not a song already reeling from too much kid’s cough syrup. “Countdown” worked because all the disparate parts clicked together into something catchy. This sounds like two very different songs that have good moments, but never gel into anything more than a sonic curiosity in her song catalog. 

Ian Mathers: I mean, I guess I can imagine how a Beyoncé track that’s two-thirds screwed-down sloganeering and boasting married to a front end that’s really just Queen Bey owning the world-conquering status her fans have long attributed to her in unusually direct fashion could possibly have turned out a mess, but in practice this is such a magnificent little oddity in the context of her career that it’s kind of mesmerizing.

Will Adams: Here’s what happens when pop music’s now-now-now ethic meets the Internet’s SEO-happy ethic: unfinished demos from icons that forgo a pop song’s crucial incubation period in favor of LOL-WTF clicks and reblogs. Because 4 is still in our rear-view mirrors, “Bow Down/I Been On” works extra hard to make its aggression as palatable as possible: pitch-shifting Beyoncé’s raps to distance the voice, laying “bow down, bitches” over lush seventh chords, and a long outro of shout-outs. There are nice moments — the juxtaposition of Beyoncé’s soprano with her rapping is an awesome testament to her versatility — but more than usual I’m inclined to prescribe some advice: slow down.

Josh Langhoff: This song is OK, but I’ll up it a point for allowing me to hear Rush Limbaugh explain the “chopped and screw discipline” and robotripping on his radio show.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: In his review of the Beyoncé-directed documentary Life Is But a Dream, writer Nitsuh Abebe opines that the artist’s attempts at emotional engagement find her mostly sounding “like an empress who’s just heard rumblings of a palace coup”. Well here we are, listening to Beyoncé vent on the future failure of an imagined uprising, sat at her self-annointed throne, her power and influence unstoppable, her wealth barely depleted, her kingdoms in reverence. “Bow Down/I Been On” consists of understandable boasts from the top of the totem, but it may also be the most FUCK YOU move she has made in her solo career: two jagged super-producer interludes attesting her vocal power by morphing her into something utterly unrecognizable via chopped ‘n’ screwed vocal modulation. The Houstonian hometown angle feels a little too convenient for 2013’s H-Town homaging rap market (this Slava P tweet summed it up for me) until Knowles rolls out the comfort-food references to Pimp C’s “Something Good” verse and hanging out with Willie D of Geto Boys fame “when I was about fourteen, looking crazy”. Then she laughs all goofy-like, and through the cloak that pitch-shifting allows, the empress shockingly makes a real emotional connection.

Iain Mew: That I want to compare this to Justin Timberlake isn’t due to shared music or branding, it’s because “Mirrors” is the only song we’ve covered recently whose parts split so unevenly. In fact it’s almost its mirror image, “Mirrors” being a terrible pandering song nearly saved by an indulgent coda and this being a fantastic pandering song dragged down by an indulgent coda (pandering to celebration of Beyoncé as more powerful than her mind can even digest and understand). “Bow Down” and the operatic transition are jaggedly exciting, and “I Been On” isn’t a total write-off, but it doesn’t all stand up together as a song half as well as it does as an event.

Jonathan Bogart: Welcome back.

Reader average: [6.11] (17 votes)

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14 Responses to “Beyoncé – Bow Down / I Been On”

  1. Jer, considering the response from “white feminists” to this song, it’s neither fascistic, nor ugly, and maybe only appropriately snarky. (i.e., “”; yes, “stand tall, ladies.”)

  2. i am so proud of every fucking writer here, i bow down to all ya’ll bitches

  3. Bow down bitches? Someone’s head has gotten too big.

  4. if I didn’t need it for other things I would bet $500, right here, that everyone complaining about this has either said or read the colloquial use of “bitches” before with no hand-waving freakoutery. English language, bitches.

  5. Agreed with Anthony, this is great. Well done everyone.

  6. A set of preview snippets with well-designed cover, though.

  7. I’m not weird for thinking this is considerably more “difficult” than anything The Knife have come up with this cycle, right? (Not saying good or bad, just an observation.)

  8. Rebecca beat me to it.

    Agreed on the Knife, but at the same time it’s also catchier? (both halves of it, too)

  9. I can’t really answer objectively because for the past two weeks Full of Fire is the only song that’s made sense, gut-level sense, to me,

  10. This mashup sounds pretty desperately like it’s trying to be a think piece – it’s insecure no matter how many ‘bow down bitches’ or ‘sucks to be you’s it contains. Beyonce’s voice is still great even shifted up, shifted down, and chopped into pieces, though. But then the remixes that came up after the song ended were so much better. I can kind of see Beyonce sitting, thinking to herself – why is it that I provide all the raw materials and these remix DJs get all the “genius” credit? That credit should be MINE.

  11. I think she should have recorded a straightforward pop song, then hired the remix DJs, and then put out the result as the original version of the song and kept the ‘draft’ version (a fully working pop song) locked in a vault. But maybe that work flow needs too many resources, even for Beyonce.

  12. I dunno about any remix that’s threatened to overpower this song really. Who’s taken the ball and ran with it?

  13. I think the Knife is catchier. But then I would. (I’m pretty hesitant to review Beyoncé sometimes because my taste skews toward, like, “Irreplaceable” and “If I Were A Boy” and “Halo”; I don’t connect with her upbeat triumphalist stuff. But this one just made me think I didn’t have the sonic context at all, and what I’m reading online seems to confirm that.)

  14. well then