Beyoncé’s ‘Break My Soul’ remix is a retort to Kelis

OPINION: Beyoncé's talking back to her chief critic in her new record

Beyoncé (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for People.com)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Beyoncé is in competition with no one but herself. She’s alone at the top of the pop star food chain. 

I remember one night many years ago after Michael Jackson had passed away and BET was doing a tribute to him. That night, Black Twitter was ablaze—I’ll never forget that someone tweeted, “I wish BET died and Michael Jackson was doing a tribute to them,” but that’s another story. That night, a conversation popped up around who is the King of Pop now? Naturally, it got heated. That night, Questlove, dream hampton and I tweeted at each other the answer we knew to be true: Beyoncé. It was her then and it’s still her today. 

MJ devotees, and many music fans, freaked out at our answer. They screamed no, she’s not as good as MJ was at singing, dancing or songwriting. Fair, I said, but he’s dead. For Beyoncé to be the Queen of Pop she does not need to be better than MJ. She needs to be better than the living. Over the past two decades, she has been a massively popular singer and dancer and actress and fashion icon. Who is on her level? Who is making great music and successfully multihyphenating in multiple areas like B? Who is 40 and making albums as hot as Renaissance

That album perpetuates the notion of Beyoncé being the Queen of Pop by aligning her with several of music’s most beloved goddesses—Grace Jones is featured on the song, “Move.” The album ends with “Summer Renaissance,” Bey’s remake of the greatest song ever made by the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer. And now comes the incendiary “Break My Soul (The Queens Remix)” where Beyoncé remakes “Vogue” by one of the absolute Queens of Pop, Madonna. All of this reinforces the notion that Beyoncé is an icon on the level of past greats. She’s not competing with anyone working today. But that doesn’t mean she’s above talking back to those who throw rocks at the throne. The “Break My Soul” remix shows us the lady knows how to fight with class.

Right after Renaissance came out, Kelis let it be known that she was upset about Beyoncé’s “Energy” using an interpolation of her famous la-la-la’s from “Milkshake.” So Beyoncé took the la-la-la’s off of “Energy.” We thought that was the end of it. But no. Bey sings them on the “Break My Soul” remix. I can almost hear the dastardly laughter. The song begins with Beyoncé singing a lot of la-la-la’s, almost dangling them in Kelis’ face. It’s like one sister antagonizing another. I got your la-la-la’s! And then Beyoncé sings “I vow to love thy hater.” Is she not talking about Kelis? She could’ve followed that line with a sample of Michelle Obama saying, “When they go low, we go high,” because, in a way, she’s taking the high ground, responding to Kelis’ anger with grace-filled love. She sings, “Redirect all that anger to me. Give it to me.” Of course, it’s not entirely a high road because reusing those contested la-la-la’s is just, wow. Oh the pettiness. Oh the shade. I’m so here for it.

B gets back on the Obama high ground when she responds to Kelis’ charge that she doesn’t give enough credit and support to other women singers by giving credit to lots of amazing Black women singers. B’s mid-song rap names a plethora of legendary singers and some modern greats, too—she starts by name-checking Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an icon from the ’30s and ’40s who was a major gospel star and the godmother of rock ‘n roll. Bey also names Santigold, a modern post-punk genius, Bessie Smith, a blues goddess from the ’20s and ’30s, Nina Simone who is, in my book, the greatest singer of all time, Betty Davis, the ’70s funk diva, Solange Knowles, her talented sister, and on and on. 

In her list, she gives special love to Grace Jones by mentioning her twice and she bows to Sade by giving us her full name, and she sings “Anita” as in Baker with a husky force to salute Baker’s amazing voice, which was deliciously deep. It feels like Bey’s giving flowers to all these amazing women and at the same time maybe invoking them to be present at a virtual coronation. I mean, OK, if she’s been queen for decades then there wouldn’t be a coronation now, but I feel like it’s time for a celebration because since she turned 35, she’s made three of the best albums of her life.

Pop music is a younger person’s game—by your late 30s most artists get phased out. The pop star John Mayer once told me that before you’re 40, it’s best to spend most of your time trying to make hits because after you turn 40, it’s best to spend most of your time touring because it’s so hard to make hits when you’re a lot older than the music-consuming audience, most of whom are 15 to 25. But Beyoncé released Lemonade when she was 35, Everything Is Love (her collab with Jay-Z) when she was 37, and Renaissance when she was 40. These are among the best albums of her career. I have Lemonade as her No. 1 all-time and Renaissance as No. 2 but a few more months listening to Renaissance and maybe it’ll move up. Who knows. Beyoncé is getting stronger and better as she gets older. She’s in competition with herself and she’s winning.   


Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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