It's been almost two weeks since Beck's Morning Phase beat (among others) Beyoncé's self-titled disc for the Album of the Year Grammy. I've been meaning to write about Morning Phase since it topped my 2014 Pazz & Jop ballot, an outcome that surprised me as much as anyone. (I never liked Beck's previous sad-songs acoustic album Sea Change all that much.) But rather than spend the time arguing why Morning Phase is one of Beck's deepest, richest and (most importantly) least mannered albums, I decided instead to dive back into Beyoncé, which the loudest people online think should have won.
I might as well say this from the start: I don't get Beyoncé. I should also say that I don't like not "getting" people, and I try my best to at least understand what an artist is trying to do, even if that particular thing does nothing for me. As far as Bey goes, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" is one of the best singles of the last 10 years, but her other (many) hits leave me mostly cold. "Crazy in Love" bites "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)" without adding much new, and tracks like "Halo" are so demonstratively dramatic that I feel like I'm being trampled by an invading army.
That feeling extends to her persona, which in pop music matters almost as much as the songs. The lustful fantasy of many men (and perhaps some women, too) and an icon of self-empowerment and resourcefulness for many women (and perhaps some men, too), Beyoncé has always come across as more businesswoman than artist. Listening to her songs, I don't connect on an emotional level: It's like getting really jazzed about your Coca-Cola stocks. In this way, she and her husband Jay Z are well-matched. Especially in his recent albums, Jay has been more about brand management than artistic discovery. (And it should be said that he has utilized her incredibly well in his music: duets on "'03 Bonnie & Clyde" and "Part II [On the Run]," nailing the hook on his and Kanye West's Watch the Thrones cut "Lift Off.")
But because it's more fun to love music than to shake your head at it, I've been re-exploring Beyoncé in the hopes that it'll finally click with me. Her most acclaimed record -- it's the only one to land in the Top 10 in Pazz & Jop -- Beyoncé is, if nothing else, a model of state-of-the-art production. Featuring world-class sonics, the record gives Beyoncé a chance to exert her carnal, ferocious essence, which she can do with aplomb. I can't say I get a lot of insight into the person behind the persona, but if Beyoncé is a sleek, pricey Vegas hotel, she fills every room with fantasy, decoration, escapism.
So now let's listen to the Beyoncé song I absolutely love, "Blow." I still don't understand why this wasn't a single. Well, actually, considering its coda, maybe I do understand: I'm not sure if the radio would be ready for this filthy of a Beyoncé. Never mind that it's about a healthy married sex life.