Saturday, August 3, 2013

Here's Why Beyoncé's "Grown Woman" is the Best Pop Single of 2013

Beyoncé's newest single, "Grown Woman," isn't actually a single: in fact, it hasn't even had an official release in full outside of the snippets that appear in the pop star and American royal's Pepsi commercial and the live version she performs on her current tour. How is it that I happen to find this ragtag creation to be the most exciting pop music of the year?

Here's what we do know: "Grown Woman" was produced by the blazing hot comeback story of the year, Timbaland, who also produced Justin Timberlake's recent blockbuster The 20/20 Experience and portions of Jay-Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail, two of the biggest-selling albums of 2013. It's the music used in the Pepsi television ad, "Mirrors," part of Beyoncé's $50 million endorsement deal with the company. Beyoncé has been performing "Grown Woman" on the current worldwide tour, The Mrs. Carter Show, since April 24 - this despite the fact that "Grown Woman" has not, as yet, been officially released for purchase or streaming, even after leaking in full on May 20. (You could say it's pretty damn baller when your music leaks and not only do you not give a shit but you don't even bother to put it out for sale)

Finally, "Grown Woman" is, most of all, AMAZING.

It is no hyperbole to say it may very well be my favorite thing Beyoncé has ever done, ever (except perhaps "Bills, Bills, Bills"). Timbaland's joyful production, anchored by an African-influenced percussion beat, remains thrilling from the first moment to the last, while densely layered details of vocal production over and within it twist and turn and shift from segment to segment just enough for the over-five minute track to maintain its freshness and energy all the way through.

As for Beyoncé, she is in rare form, in a way I haven't heard since "Ring the Alarm." Her vocal performance bursts with personality and attitude, and her shrieks, mhm's, and repetition of the hook/mission statement, "I'm a grown woman. I can do whatever I want," sound genuine rather than cynically designed. It's miles away from the sorts of technically perfect but humanity-dry performances that I have taken issue with in recent years. A big reason is that, although it was written by Timbaland and R&B writer-producer The-Dream, "Grown Woman" is lyrically believable as Beyoncé's song, in the same way "Piece of Me" was for Britney Spears even while written by a trio of Swedes. Granted, "Grown Woman" is much broader than the heavily Britney-specific "Piece of Me," and many women in particular are more apt to identify with the lyrics than hear them as proprietary to Queen Bey (exception: "You really wanna know how I got it like dat?/Cuz I got a cute face and my booty's so fat"). Despite her ascension to almost deific status in the past few years, Beyoncé is canny enough to have found a piece of common ground between herself and the peasant folk who listen to her music.

On March 17, three days before "Grown Woman" leaked, I wrote that I couldn't see Beyoncé having "something unique and risky and interesting and unexpected up her sleeve" for her upcoming album, since it would require "letting go of much of that rigid perfection and poise that make her so boring to me." Not only is "Grown Woman" exactly the sort of work I was describing and doubting from her, Beyoncé and Timbaland have ultimately done one better on me while showing me up: they've made something unique, risky, interesting, and unexpected - and made it sound like a tried and true hit.

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