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Bow down to Beyoncé’s protégés

| Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Beyonce webSusan Zhu | The Observer

She danced in front of screens blazing “FEMINIST” in bold, bright white letters during the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. In her 2013 song “***Flawless” she sampled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists.” Her latest music video “Formation” released just before Super Bowl Sunday, was widely hailed as a “visual anthem” to black feminism — “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making!” she exclaims in the video, lifting her arms high in a position of enthusiastic confidence.

In short, Beyoncé has dedicated a significant portion of her career and musical prowess to the popularization of notions of feminism in the music industry. And recently, the pop star and entrepreneur took yet another move that clearly manifested her feminist ideals: Her management company Parkwood Entertainment signed three new recording contracts with four young women. These deals created a new cohort of Beyoncé protégés hand-selected by the Queen herself, each artist hopeful for success in an industry Beyoncé describes as “dominated by men.”

The protégés include sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey, aged 17 and 16, based in Los Angeles; 16-year-old Sophie Beem from the Upper East Side of New York and 29-year-old Ingrid from Beyoncé’s own neighborhood in Houston.

Of the 5 songs on Sophie Beem’s 2016 EP, some hold promising features. “Skyline” showcases the depth and rich timbre of her voice as it weaves in and out of mature, cool electronic pop beats. The accompanying music video is lush, colorful and exciting, embodying the kind of exhilaration that comes from a night out in a foreign landscape. With lyrics such as “Girls will be girls / Out here, running this world,” her song “Girls Will Be Girls” shamelessly embraces the same messages Beyoncé put forth in songs like “Run the World” and “***Flawless” but within the context of her own sleeker, bubbly style. Other songs come across as disappointingly lifeless — “Nail Polish” is a confusing combination of vapid lyrics (it’s actually about painting nails) and repetitive synthetic noise. According to their interview with Elle, Beyoncé has afforded her new artists relatively free rein when it comes to their music creation — Beem’s style might necessitate some further maturing before it can truly claim worthiness of the Queen’s endorsement.

Comparatively, in their newly-released single “Drop,” duo Chloe and Halle establish a refreshingly unique sound. The sisters, who gained Beyoncé’s attention when their viral cover of “Pretty Hurts” exploded on YouTube in 2011, are conclusive proof that often two artists working together are often more powerful than one. Their exceptionally impressive voices combine to create complex, layered harmonies. Like both Sophie Beem and Ingrid, the sisters sing about their status as female musicians: “When that beat drops / It shatters glass ceilings,” Chloe raps, as Halle accompanies with a capella accents. Although they only have one original work released to date, “Drop” stands out for its unusual mixture of fast-paced rap and slower, haunting, lyrical melodies. As Halle stated in an interview with Elle earlier this month, “We all evolve … So in popular music, I want to hear something different. When it’s unexpected — that’s what makes my heart pitter-patter.”

Finally, the 29-year old rapper and musician Ingrid demonstrates the most refined perspective compared to her fellow protégés, possibly because she’s had much a much longer musical career in which to discover her own voice. Her two released songs, “Flex” and “Double Pedigree,” are intensely personal — they deal nearly exclusively with issues surrounding her own identity as a black female, born and raised in the Third Ward district of Houston. Her 2016 song, “Double Pedigree,” a reference to her dual heritage as a black, female artist, begins as she slowly and confidently raps, invoking one of her role models, “Picture me rollin’ like Michelle Obama.” The self-assured, swaggering beat complements her assertive, Southern hip-hop presence. In “Flex” (featuring Sevyn Streeter) she establishes the same theme of bravado without asking for permission. In one particularly salient moment, she declares in a matter-of-fact tone, “And of course I’m into men, I just ain’t into you.”

Beyoncé’s protégés diverge in terms of style and thematic content, yet the women remain united by the same defiantly confident, unapologetic edge that permeates so much of Beyoncé’s recent work. Now is the time for the women to take their careers into their own hands. Beyoncé, in an effort to encourage these young artists, has granted them a powerful platform from which to perform — their development in coming years will surely be something to pay attention to. To quote Queen Bey’s most recent ode to self-creation, “Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation.”

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