A few weeks back, a relative who shall remain nameless was complaining about
After taking a second to process that statement, I informed the relative that, not only was Beyoncé married, but she'd been married for a while now and had actually dated her husband (you know, Jay-Z — whom, it should be noted, my relative hadn't heard of) for an even longer while before that. If anything, I pointed out, Beyoncé had set a perfect example for girls out there.
"OK," my relative said. "Well, then, I like her again."
And that's basically all you need to know about Beyoncé at this stage of her career: She is so famous that her every action is judged by my Southern relatives, most of whom are unaware of Jay-Z's existence. And he has 12 #1 albums and owns a part of an NBA franchise. Beyoncé has become not only an icon, but — as all evidence suggests — a role model, whether she wants to be or not. And, perhaps most tellingly, as my relative's rapidly changing opinion of her indicates, people really want to like her.
So, given that I had the perfect case study on the phone, I asked my relative just what, exactly, did she like about Bey? She said she had heard some of her music (the big, ballad-y stuff, like "If I Were a Boy" and "Halo") and liked her voice, but what really struck her is that she "seemed nice" and that she reminded her of the kind of artists she had listened to growing up: Tina Turner, Diana Ross and Gladys Knight. And while I could do an entire column on the sentiments contained in the "nice" comment, I'd prefer to focus instead on Beyoncé's throwback factor — because that's where the real connection lies.
After nearly 13 years as both a solo artist and a member of Destiny's Child, Beyoncé may very well be the bridge between the past and the future. I suspect that my relative has never heard her 4 album, which is a shame, because she'd probably like it. The disc hasn't quite matched the lofty commercial successes of its predecessors, but it's a better album in just about every conceivable way. Full of live instruments and gushing emotions, it recalls the work of everyone from Prince and Lionel Ritchie to the Jackson 5 and Fela Kuti and contains no less than a half-dozen big-boned ballads (the best among them being "1+1," "Best Thing I Never Had" and "I Was Here"). Sure, there are weirder moments too — like first single "Run the World (Girls)" — but at its core, 4 is a very classy, classically influenced effort — the kind of thing your relatives can really relate to. And yet, I would wager that most of them are unaware of its existence.
Which is why it will be interesting to gauge the reaction to "Countdown," the latest single from the disc. The video for the song premieres Thursday at 7:56 p.m. ET on MTV, and judging from the sneak peek we've seen, Beyoncé is very much channeling the spirit of Audrey Hebpurn in it, sporting short bangs and cropped black pants. And with the song's hard-charging horns and steel-drum flourishes, it certainly recalls soul and reggae tunes of yesteryear. Of course, it also marks the triumphant return of so-called "Crazy Beyoncé," the fantastic, fascinating sliver of her personality she's revealed in gloriously over-the-top tunes like "Ring the Alarm," "Get Me Bodied," "Diva" and, of course, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" (and, to a lesser effect, on "Run The World" too).
In a lot of ways, "Countdown" is the point where 4's two halves meet, both sonically and spiritually. There is a joyful abandon to it that brings to mind stuff like "Proud Mary" or "Midnight Train to Georgia." There is also the part where Beyoncé keeps saying (I think) "boof." And as such, it could be summed up as the ultimate litmus test of Bey's cross-generational appeal. Can she carry the coveted "relatives" demographic? Does it even matter?
Then again, I suppose there was a time when aunts and uncles were complaining that Tina Turner didn't set a good example for young girls either. It is, and seemingly always will be, a generational thing. And while she's certainly got a long way to go, Beyoncé may very well end up being our generation's true icon, the logical successor to those who came before her. "Countdown" is just the next rung on the ladder, and there will certainly be many more to come; still, it's a heck of a step, the perfect synthesis of what I love about Beyoncé and what my relatives do too. I just hope they'll listen. It'd make for a really interesting phone call next week.
What are you expecting from Beyoncé's "Countdown" video? Let us know in the comments!