On the Beck/Beyonce Debate

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It’s silly to compare Beck and Beyonce. Both are at the top of very different heaps. Beyonce belongs to the world of corporate pop music. There are a lot of people right now working on the next Beyonce record – probably 60 of them, who knows. They won’t all get on there, but they’re trying. Some have never met her. It’s a corporate business practice that applies to pop music and has for a long time.

Here’s the thing though. No value judgment is implied, at least from me. That system has produced a lot of amazing pop music. It’s the system that built Sinatra, Elvis, Ella Fitzgerald, and hundreds of others. 

As to whether the standards of pop music have declined since then, that’s another discussion.

A Beyonce record is the product of a massive effort by a slew of producers, songwriters, DJs, market researchers, beat-makers, samplers, executives, and of course Beyonce herself, who fits in there somewhere – we’ll never know where. She is the public face of a massive corporation that makes music that is based on her persona and musical style, in a kind of feedback loop, so that it’s hard to tell where the corporation ends and the person begins. It’s always been like that. People wrote songs for George Jones to sing, based on things that had happened in his life weeks earlier.

This is not a gender or a race thing. I could name just as many men who do this, just as many white people. It’s the pop music industry. And I’m not against it, nor am I for it. It’s just there.

Then you have Beck. He represents the Bohemian style of art or music. In other words he’s a guy who sits around and writes songs based on his personal observations and experiences until he has enough for a record. When he does, he gets a band together and records. More than likely, his record company puts it out.

It’s essentially what my friends and I do, but with more money and a bigger audience. I understand it completely. Beyonce’s world – that is very foreign. It is similar to the world of Hollywood cinema in which an idea become a script, which is then passed around by teams of writers and endlessly revised at the studio’s discretion until it is finally approved as the most marketable possible product.

Beyonce’s model is just as old, actually older, than Beck’s. Bob Dylan, maybe more than anyone, created Beck’s job. That one person could or should be the singer AND songwriter, even sometimes bandleader and producer – that’s a fairly recent idea. It has NEVER become the industry standard.

If the Grammys were smarter or fairer or meant anything, they would have two separate categories for artists like Beck and Beyonce. It’s like giving the same award to a plumber and an electrician. Their jobs barely resemble each other.

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