Beyonce and Drake: a mess of contradictions and moral quandaries as entertainers
Both performers combine high quality music-making with questionable artistic choices
Beyoncé and Drake will storm into Glasgow soon, leaving a trail of controversy in their respective wakes. Malcolm Jack tiptoes through a cultural minefield
She's the one of the biggest global brands in pop. He's a Jewish-Canadian rapper and ex-actor with a fierce flow and penchant for feeling sorry for himself. They teamed-up on the track 'Mine' and are both captivating live performers in different ways. And yet Beyoncé and Drake equally represent a mess of contradictions and moral quandaries as entertainers, typical of an age in which pop stars seem to solicit the attentions of an increasingly fragmented mass media in ever weirder and more problematic ways.
Having seized the popular agenda lately as only Beyoncé, shaking her posterior on US primetime TV, can, the ex-Destiny's Child singer's Grammy Awards ceremony performance of her latest hit single 'Drunk in Love', featuring husband Jay Z, has become a hot topic in several senses. In the main, a deliciously carnal celebration of a healthy marital sex-life (doing it in the kitchen seems to work for Bey and Jay but everyone has their kinks), it bears a couple of alarmingly dodgy reference points in Jay Z's rap.
One contentious lyric refers to 'beating the box up' like (convicted rapist) Mike Tyson, while the other invokes a notorious cinematic depiction of spousal abuse: 'Eat the cake, Anna Mae!', quotes from a grim scene in the Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got to Do with It. The exact context of both lines is debatable, but quite what they're doing placed so elliptically in a high-profile release by a self-purporting tower of 21st century feminism is baffling. Furthermore, her chair dry-humping dance routine felt like an indirect slap-down to Miley Cyrus.
Meanwhile, Drake did much to soften up his image in January with a widely-praised guest-presenting turn on Saturday Night Live, evidencing such un-rapperly traits as a wickedly self-deprecating sense of humour (even he surely appreciates drakeweather.com, a website remixing the art from his latest album Nothing Was the Same to give your local forecast).
Sometimes disarmingly truthful in his lyrics, he'd be plain likeable did he not so often go in for just the kind of bone-headed behaviour you'd expect of an artist from Lil Wayne's Young Money litter. There are the public feuds, with everyone from Ludacris to Common and Chris Brown. There's the casual misogyny in a song like 'The Language', in which he appeals to an unspecified man to come and reclaim his clingy girlfriend who just wants to 'smoke and fuck' – widely thought to be a thinly-veiled reference to Rihanna aimed at Brown (not that anyone could ever feel sorry for Chris Brown).
But what about, like, y'know, the music and stuff? Beyoncé's decision to make her latest, self-titled set a 'visual album' – each of its tracks was accompanied by a video – says a lot about the equal pegging that image shares with music in her world. But discount 'Drunk in Love's' questionable aspects and, like much on Beyoncé, it's a thrillingly strange pop song: funereally slow, all cool synths and low-bass wobble. Drake delivered a few game-raising bangers too on Nothing Was the Same; in particular, 'Started from the Bottom' undercuts your run-of-the-mill rapper's rags-to-riches brag with what feels like genuine neurosis about proving his worth to a doubting family.
Sometimes crass, sometimes inspired, always capital A-listers: it's for artists like these that The Hydro was built.
Beyoncé plays The Hydro, Glasgow, Thu 20 & Fri 21 Feb; Drake plays The Hydro, Glasgow, Sat 15 Mar.