Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Beyoncé – Grown Woman

Attack of the fifty-foot…?


Alfred Soto: Are those exhalations beat boxing? They match Beyonce’s superhuman athleticism, her aerobicized commitment to delineating how stars emote. Percussive tricks from around the world are laid at her feet, including one in the last third that sounds lifted from a 2006-era Hot Chip track (I wouldn’t put it past her). She should leave the self-empowerment twaddle to Mary J, though – at this stage she simply isn’t believable. 

Rebecca A. Gowns: My favorite parts of this song: the Fela Kuti flavor (including some pretty brilliant polyrhythms and a brass section in the outro), the MANY layers of call and response, the pure joy, the harmony on “got a cute face and booty so fat!”…so many things. Most of all, I love the small “But of course!” line thrown in there, delivered by a bitchy passive-aggressive white girl. “I’m a grown woman! I can do whatever I want!” Beyonce belts, and in the background, there’s that tiny valley girl voice: “But of course!” That’s gotta be intentional; this song is just as much a response to her (white feminist) critics as “Bow Down” was. What makes it extra delicious is that this is the only spiteful part of the song — “But of course!” — and it’s coming from some weird non-Beyonce character (a single character, with not a single echo, chorus effect, or call and response acknowledging her). Beyonce made the hater a part of her song. This is a trophy song, a song to celebrate her and all her achievements, and it’s topped with the head of her enemy. I’m so happy.

Patrick St. Michel: Far from a great Beyoncé single, but the more I listen to this the more I’m getting into it. At first brush, it seemed a little too easy-breezy and the lyrical theme a little too blunt, even for a Beyoncé song. Yet the easy-going summer vibe gets better with time, and it makes her confidence seem more natural (unlike the bullhorned sentiments of her last song). Plus, those horn stabs!

Jer Fairall: Something of a relief following the worryingly autocratic “Bow Down,” this finds our Beyoncé back in the realm of broadly inspirational, non-threateningly confrontational feminist sloganeering with a chorus hook designed to be shouted in the face of many an asshole boyfriend or (more prematurely) exasperated parental figure. As a statement from Beyoncé herself, it all feels more than a little familiar and even regressive; does one of the most famous women in the world really need to reminded us of her rarified level of independence and authority once again? Yet, if she is going to tread water, at least she continues to do with with her singularly infectious, almost supernatural level of exuberance.

Brad Shoup: Three years ago, Kelly Rowland dropped “Grown Woman” — YouTube insists it’s “Grown Ass Woman” — a fine collaboration with Ne-Yo and StarGate. It didn’t get too far out the gate. Kelly’s “Grown Woman” was a smackdown to her man’s previous partner; at this point, can you imagine Bey aiming that low? Other female pop & rock singers get lumped ‘n’ limned for thinkpieces on the State of Women; Knowles is one of the few artists who’s subject to the single-song referendum. (She won’t get away with showcasing her eroticism as a power source; most everyone else could.) As a declaration of Bey-hood, it reads like a radio cut, but the extended vamp at the end pegs this as an album track. The approach is Afrobeat, but the method is modest: clattering drums, honking guitar and staccato horns are all down in the mix. The vocal bassline shudders like a bad brake job; it’s super fun. Splices from other singers give this one a vertical dimension it would otherwise lack. But like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Sacrilege” from a few months back, the groove feeds on itself, giving the song crazy replay value.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The Pepsi advert where “Grown Woman” debuted has Knowles looking into a series of mirrors and facing her past images. There’s jean-shorts Beyoncé from “Crazy in Love”, Sasha Fierce from the “Single Ladies” video, the return of the gaudy pink “Bootylicious” outfit, all present and accounted for. A dance sequence and a cute, mostly useless seize-the-day motto follows (“embrace the past but live for now!” aye, B, alright). Investigating the semantics of this advert seems pointless — Beyoncé is one of the biggest ones imaginable in 2013 so, yeah, she is there to sell a lot of fizzy pop. Yet at the same time, watching her perform alongside her previous visual incarnations reminds us of her ability to make herself a force to be reckoned with. There’s more power in this individual, she hints, than in an entire group. “Grown Woman” was an appropriate choice for the ad, as her voice fills damn near every pocket of the Timbaland-produced beat: there’s a bandleader, a swathe of backing singers, an enthusiastic supporting cast. We always knew that Knowles was a great singer, but here she truly understands the power of her vocal approach. Singing that she can do whatever she wants is one thing, but supported by a small village of multi-tracked Beyoncés on the outro, she hammers the point home. The personal sounds powerful, even political. If we needed goofy fizzy pop adverts for this song to happen, well, thank heavens for goofy fizzy pop and their goofy adverts.

Katherine St Asaph: A while back, it was the fad to share a quote by Kathleen Hanna on Beyoncé: “Beyoncé isn’t Beyoncé because she reads comments on the Internet. Beyoncé is in Ibiza, wearing a stomach necklace, walking hand in hand with her hot boyfriend. She’s going on the yacht and having a mimosa. She’s not reading shitty comments about herself on the Internet, and we shouldn’t either.” It’s empowering in that Tumblr-ready fashion, but it’s also the kind of unmitigated bullshit you get when your view of an artist is only as deep as the meme. Beyoncé is Beyoncé because she reads comments on the Internet. Like pop itself, Beyoncé’s an image business, woman: archiving her life’s footage, attempting to memory-hole all photos she deems insufficiently fetching, dictating to fans the words they may use, and turning all criticism into musical weaponry. “Survivor” exists because some chucklefucks made jokes about the yearly Destiny’s Child eliminations. “Bootylicious” exists because some more made fun of Beyoncé’s weight. “Bow Down” exists because Beyoncé heard rumblings about the throne, and “Grown Woman” because she heard more. Sonically, it’s as overstuffed as the last: “Lose My Breath” aerobicisms and galloping cadences mortals can’t keep up, a sprawling Fela outro for Beyoncé to luxuriate in (or, if you’re cynical, show off: progginess and runlength as conspicuous consumption, Beyoncé keeping up with the Jones’ runlengths), a title repeated as a hook and a mantra. It’s the same mantra Beyoncé’s repeated her entire career: power comes through earning ability and sexual prowess, and both grow with age. (Cue millions of quibbling words about whether this is feminist, none of which acknowledge that this is the exact masculine model; Beyoncé’s simply doing it like a dude.) She’s at the point in her career where she needs only preach to the choir — literally, on asides like “I do whatever I want! — and while that’s often spellbinding, it creates the same problem “Single Ladies” did: the slogans are better than the songcraft. You can’t run a race entirely of victory laps.

Will Adams: There’s so much to like here. First, the interjections peppered between Beyoncé: “Mhm!” and “Well, of course!” and “groooOOWN woman” – pick your favorite and sing it as loud as possible. Second, Timbaland’s fresh production, packed with sonic hooks (that descending vocal scale is heaven) and percussion that won’t release you. Third, Beyoncé’s ad-libs – need I say more? Fourth, and finally, the thrill of enjoying Beyoncé boast. Where “Bow Down/I Been On” alienated with its cartoonishness, “Grown Woman” tosses you invitations to dance from all directions, and the snarls could not be more earned.

Anthony Easton: As much as I love Beyoncé, and as much as I think that she is the diva of her era — and as much as even in Destiny’s Child, I was convinced of her role as an adult woman — there has been nothing coquettish about her ever, and as much as I think that it’s a mark of our time, somewhere between Fitzgerald and Ellis, that her relationship with Jay-Z can be interpreted as an amoral desire to acquire status through capital, I wonder if this continual effort to remind us of her status doesn’t suggest a profound kind of status anxiety. From the first commanding line, to the audience noises, to the drone towards the end, this track is not the iconic obelisk to her own power, but an obsessive need to establish what is already a known quality. What does it mean that this ‘big girl”, this “bitch who runs this”, is afraid of our not believing it? 

Crystal Leww: Both “Bow Down / I Been On” and “Grown Woman” are about the power of Beyoncé and her feminine energy. However, unlike 4’s lead single “Run the World (Girls)”, there is no call for girl power, no solidarity with other ladies in these tracks. “Grown Woman” has Beyoncé decidedly stepping back from her past and stepping away from the pop star fray, from the warning shot “bitches I run this” in the first verse to the repeated proclamation that she’s a grown woman now. This is Beyoncé at full awareness of who she is and of her greatness, of even the little details that make her great. The line “They love the way I walk ’cause I walk with a vengeance” is perfect. Watch that Super Bowl performance again. Take note of how the whole thing starts with a couple of lines acapella of “Love on Top” before three steps synchronized to prerecorded heel noises. We only see a silhouette, but there is something magnetic about the way that Beyoncé struts, the power and confidence she exudes. There’s obvious Terius Nash (who co-wrote the track) influence here; much of the man’s current persona is about knowing exactly how little the world thinks about him. But this is a Beyoncé track and Beyoncé at this point is above it all.

Jonathan Bogart: Fresh off Timberlake’s Prince/LeVert homages, Timbaland’s production aesthetic remains mired in the 80s. Fela nothing; this is zouk and chimurenga all the way. I’m looking forward to the day that “African-inspired beats” means imitating something from the current decade. 

Reader average: [7.95] (21 votes)

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6 Responses to “Beyoncé – Grown Woman”

  1. Katherine so damn on point here.

  2. and I hadn’t read the Hannah quote!

  3. <3 Rebecca, Daniel, Katherine.

  4. Rebecca!!! Daniel!! Katherine!!!!!! Crystal!!!!!

  5. If we’d all liked this a la Rebecca, we’d have broken Tumblr.

  6. new beyonce i think?: https://soundcloud.com/cheaplikemadelineashton/beyonce-standing-on-the-sun-hq