"Bruce Springsteen is the de-facto governor of New Jersey," writes the insightful Sasha Frere-Jones for The New Yorker, "and if America were Europe Aretha Franklin would have a duchy." But what about Beyoncé?
Like Springsteen and Franklin, Beyoncé was asked to sing for Barack Obama at inaugural events. But Frere-Jones wonders what the 27-year-old really brings to the table. Take, for instance, "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)." Frere-Jones writes:
The whole thing is a bit off. The singer is out on the town, engaging her single lady friends and enjoying the attention of a new man. Why is she out on the town? Because her man didn’t "put a ring on it." But this is Sasha Fierce we’re talking about here. And what does Sasha want? Matrimony! When does she want it? Before "three good years" are up. "Single Ladies" is an infectious, crackling song and would be without fault if it weren’t the bearer of such dull advice. The wild R. & B. vampire Sasha is advocating marriage? What’s next, a sultry, R-rated defense of low-sodium soy sauce?
In addition, the Beyoncé ballad, "If I Were A Boy," tries to be all down-with-the-patriarchy, but, as Frere-Jones notes, "Destiny’s Child handled all this on 'Independent Women, Pt. 1,' and with a lot more verve."
While Beyoncé's alter-ego, Sasha Fierce, is actually quite tame, the singer did venture into bad-girl territory by playing Etta James in Cadillac Records. Frere-Jones sighs, "Why Knowles could not make her own record as spontaneous and magnetic [as her version of James] probably has something to do with the Knowles vision of Beyoncé’s fans and how much actual fierceness they can take." Of course, all eyes were on Beyoncé inauguration night, when she sang Etta James's "At Last" for the Obamas. And while other artists are "amazing," "awesome," or, yes, "fierce," Frere-Jones describes Beyoncé as "really good at being good." The question is: For a woman with so many number one songs under her belt, is "good" good enough?
The Queen: Beyoncé, At Last [The New Yorker]