Before beginning, let’s set the record straight: this is not a hate-Beyoncé piece.
This comprehensive editorial was written to reveal one simple fact: Beyoncé is not a diva.
To be frank, over the years, the media has “anointed” the star of Destiny’s Child with a title she doesn't deserve: diva. This article is not meant to discount or ignore the talents Beyoncé possesses but, rather, to make the following clarification: Although Beyoncé is the lone survivor of the Destiny Child breakup (and she became a “household name” in the process), that does not make her a diva.
Here are the facts:
Fact #1: Although Beyoncé has won nine Grammys, only one is attributed solely to her: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (2003) for "Dangerously In Love 2".
Yes, Beyoncé has won nine Grammys. And, yes, Beyoncé has tied with Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys and Norah Jones for the most number of Grammy awards presented to a female artist in a single night: five. The smoke and mirrors of numbers, however, blinds the truth: Unlike her peers, Beyoncé has never won (or been nominated for) any of the Grammy’s “Big Four” – Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, or Best New Artist.
Besides her lone achievement, three Grammys are associated with her stint with Destiny’s Child, while the remaining six stemmed from collaborations. And, although Beyoncé has sequestered 9 Grammys, all are limited to following categories: Rap and R&B. So much for her mainstream appeal.
The “fuzzy math” of Beyoncé’s Grammy count distorts and magnifies her musical achievements. Of Lauryn Hill’s eight, she can lay personal claim to three. Of Alicia Keys’ nine, five are hers alone. Of Norah Jones’ eight, she does not have to share three. Of Beyoncé’s nine, she can attribute only one solely to her own work. Thus, even among her contemporaries, without referencing established divas, Beyoncé does not compare. Moreover, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys and Norah Jones have all be nominated for (and won) the Grammy’s Best New Artist award.
It is interesting to point out that adulation of Beyoncé, among her industry’s peers, was particularly spotty, even as they doled out five Grammy’s for Dangerously in Love. In 2004, Beyoncé lost out on a Best New Artist nod to Evanescence, 50 Cent, Fountains Of Wayne, Heather Headley and Sean Paul.
Beyoncé’s absence from the list, while receiving nominations in other categories, was an industrial-sized slap-in-the-face. Of her contemporaries, the Best New Artist Grammy has gone to Mariah Carey (1991), Toni Braxton (1994), Sheryl Crow (1995), LeAnn Rimes (1997), Paula Cole (1998), Lauryn Hill (1999), Christina Aguilera (2000), Shelby Lynne (2001), Alicia Keys (2002) and Norah Jones (2003). Needless to say, despite the “rise” of Beyoncé, it’s not far-fetched to assume that there was no oversight of her capabilities, let alone her industrial significance.
[In 2001, Shelby Lynne won the Best New Artist Grammy -- highlighting the precedence of the Recording Academy’s willingness to give a Grammy to older, “new” artists. (Shelby Lynne’s first album, Sunrise, was release 1990 -- a decade earlier.) To boot, at the 2004 Grammys, the lone female nod went to Heather Headley, a Tony Award winner.]
FACT #2: Although Beyoncé scored a #1 Billboard Hot 200 album with Dangerously in Love, it has only sold 4 million inside the United States.
Although Dangerously in Love sold a respectable amount, the album should, for significance’s sake, be scrutinized in context to (and in comparison against) Beyoncé’s past offerings with Destiny’s Child, as well as those of her fellow contemporaries. In regards to her past offerings, I will use Destiny’s Child’s The Writing’s on the Wall and Survivor as benchmarks, by which she will be compared, since these albums were released before Beyoncé’s solo effort. In regards to her solo effort, I will compare her against Lauryn Hill, a fellow contemporary, who also jettisoned from a popular, best-selling group, in pursuit of a solo career.
Stateside, Destiny’s Child’s The Writing’s on the Wall sold 8 million and Survivor, its follow-up, sold 4 million copies, of which 663,000 were sold in its first week of release. While Dangerously in Love matched the sales of Survivor, in regards to domestic sales, the album’s first week sales, which gauge the market’s anticipations for purchase, paled in comparison — totaling only 317,000 copies.
For an established star, breaking away from her less-talented group members, it’s alarming that her breakthrough album, in regards to overall and first-week sales, only compares to the group’s second-best effort. And, when compared against the group’s magnum opus, The Writing’s on the Wall, sales of Dangerously in Love only reached the halfway mark. Thus, in this context, the group is still bigger than the star.
And, when compared against Lauryn Hill, to put things in better perspective, Beyoncé really falls flat. Even though Lauryn Hill launched a solo career in the aftermath of the Fugee’s The Score, which established the group’s members as hip-hop icons, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sold 8 million copies — double that of Dangerously in Love — and besting The Score by 2 million copies. Lauryn Hill was able to prove she could stand outside of the shadow of the Fugees.
Beyoncé has not. She still stands in the shadows of Destiny’s Child. To match Lauryn Hill’s feat, Beyoncé would need to sell a diamond album — no small task, indeed. But, if Beyoncé needs help, she could ask fellow contemporary, Norah Jones, for some tips. Jones’ solo debut, Come Away With Me, has been certified for sales of 10 million — 6 million more than Dangerously in Love.
While it might sound a bit facetious to dare Beyoncé to sell a diamond album, one would think it would be possible, especially with the marketing blitzes arranged by her business associates. Nevertheless, neither Beyoncé’s solo nor Destiny’s Child’s group career has spawned a RIAA diamond-level album — necessitating sales of 10 million copies in the U.S. Even in this post-Napster/iTunes day and age, the feat is possible.
Jewel, Norah Jones and Alanis Morissette have done it. Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Madonna and Britney Spears have done it twice. And Shania Twain has done it three times!
FACT #3: Although Beyoncé has amassed 7 #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles, none are for solo performances. Her first four come from her stint with Destiny's Child: "Bills, Bills, Bills", "Say My Name", "Independent Women Part 1" and "Bootylicious". The remaining three "Crazy in Love", "Baby Boy" and "Check on It" are supported by Jay-Z, Sean Paul and Slim Thug, respectively.
Although amassing more #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles than her fellow, younger contemporaries (Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys and Norah Jones), there is one candle, in retrospect, that Beyoncé can not hold against them or other established divas: a #1 single without a supporting guest star. It is interesting to note that Beyoncé has never reached the summit by herself. A real diva must be able to stand alone, in a memorable performance, as Janet did in “Control,” Whitney did in “The Star Spangled Banner” (at Super Bowl XXV), and Mariah did in “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
In addition to these songs, Janet has reached the summit 10 times, Whitney 11 times and Mariah 13 times — all by themselves. Beyoncé’s count, once again: 0. As it stands, in the mainstream conscious, Beyoncé, for every one of “her” hits, will only be remembered as the siren of an all-star ensemble or duo.
In retrospect, what would “Crazy in Love” have been without Jay-Z’s memorable quip (“yes sir I'm cut from a different cloth/my texture is the best fur, I'm chinchilla”), “Baby Boy” without the Jamaican musings of post-Dutty Rock Sean Paul (“top top – girl / me and you together is a wrap – dat girl”) or “Check on It” without Slim Thug’s infusion of hip-hop (“good girls gotta get down with them gangstas”)?
FACT #4: Although Beyoncé has "sold" over 17 million albums, stateside, 13 million account for her Destiny's Child catalog.
When taking solo (U.S.) sales into consideration, Beyoncé lies at the bottom of the heap. Beyoncé would need to produce two additional renditions of Dangerously in Love to surpass Alicia Keys, three to eclipse Norah Jones, four to stand beside Toni Braxton, five to match Janet Jackson, thirteen to outdo Whitney Houston, and fourteen to compete with Mariah Carey. You get the idea…
Some may wonder why I would take the time to write an editorial on such a non-earth-shattering topic as whether Beyoncé is or is not a diva. The answer, if solely for therapeutic reasons, is to call into question (and shine a spotlight) on what the world considers “good” music. Throughout the new millennium, the music industry has pushed the likes of Britney Spears, Ashanti, and Hillary Duff to superstar status, while talented vocalists like Toni Braxton, Anastacia, and Deborah Cox have faded into the background, with little fanfare.
All things considered, this editorial is the by-product of various “water-cooler conversations” I’ve had over the years. Without a doubt, the ebb and flow of corporate and consumer interests have jump-started and abruptly ended countless musical careers. Consequently, in such a volatile market, it is understandable stars, like Beyoncé, use media machines to meticulously craft their persona, so that it can weather (and, hopefully, resist) external tampering.
Unfortunately, for the world, the manufactured gloss of Beyoncé — concealing warts and all — has prevented music fans from establishing a personal connection that was possible with Janet on “Together Again”, Madonna on “Human Nature” and Tina Turner on “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” Thus, it goes without saying that, to enjoy Beyoncé completely, one has to do it visually. No heartstrings required.
Beyoncé’s music can not be appreciated with one’s eyes closed, as with Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston. For music lovers, there is no internal chemistry or song for the ages to look forward to. Sadly, the songstress, along with the songs she sings, is nothing more than a manufactured good created solely for commercial profit. And, as with most things, in this day and age, art is no longer the name of the game. Beyoncé even alluded to this fact, when she announced her forthcoming album, B’Day, was written and recorded in less than two weeks. Thus, from the outside looking in, the trappings of music’s “visual age” have trapped her.
And Beyoncé, of all people, should know musical masterpieces are not crafted in two weeks. Despite the massive media blitz for B’Day, the album’s lead single, “Déjà Vu”, received a lukewarm reception at radio — stalling at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay before making a quick descent. And the album’s second single, “Ring the Alarm”, seems uninspired — heavily resembling Kelis’ “Caught Out There”, in sound and style, and Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” in her performance at MTV’s 2006 Video Music Awards (08.31.2006). All in all, B’Day may just be the beginning of the end for Miss Beyoncé, regardless if it goes gold or platinum in its first week.
As the record stands, in my book: Beyoncé is not a diva.