Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Beyoncé's "Run The World (Girls)" and Major Lazer's "Pon De Floor" - A History Lesson

As I've discussed, a major tenet of postmodernist pop music is the strategic and deliberate referencing of the past, or what is known as pastiche. In 2011, examples have ranged from the merely suggestive (Beth Ditto's Madonna-esque "I Wrote The Book") to the arguably ripped-off (Lady Gaga's much more Madonna-esque "Born This Way"). Then there is the process of "sampling," a fancy term for cutting and pasting directly from the original into a new product. Sampling is no new fad: hip-hop and rap has used it for over a decade to supply a thought-provoking (or maybe just free) chorus, and beats are sometimes recycled on entirely new tracks.

Gotta say, love the single cover art.
What Beyoncé has done on her new single "Run The World (Girls)," along with her producer/henchman Switch (of Santigold/Christina Aguilera fame), stretches the usual boundaries previously observed when dealing with samples. I'm still not sure how I feel about that, and once I work it out a bit more I will almost certainly elaborate here, but for now let's set ethics and aesthetics aside and have a little history lesson. First, here's Beyoncé's number.

For those who are unaware (and I say this without condescension, as I myself had to be informed of this fact by my trusty dance-oriented contributing writers), that wacky, exciting mess going on underneath Sasha Fierce's rather childish girl power hokum is not just a bit of sampled beat here and there: it's an entire song. And it's not even a particularly old song, either, which allows "Run The World (Girls)" to be simultaneously derivative and edgy all at once (again, more on that another time). In other words, it's like a painting on top of another painting, like the canvas-strapped impressionists used to do at the turn of the last century: Beyoncé has plopped her tempura on top of the base laid by a pair of relatively big-name dance producers, Switch and Diplo (of M.I.A. and occasional Robyn fame), working under the collaborative name Major Lazer.

"Pon De Floor" appeared on the LP Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do, which was released in June 2009. It features Jamaican dancehall artist Vybz Kartel, who inserts the occasional bizarre comment here and there throughout the track, which is basically a pair of hot DJs showing off for three and a half minutes.

Diplo is very hot.
So while I do have considerable respect for Queen B, I just want to make sure I represent the menfolk here and call bullshit on a song about women being awesome (which they are) and running the world and so forth when really, when you get down to it, this show belongs to the dudes.

We run this motha...
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