In the year since Beyoncé released her somewhat schizophrenic double disc magnum opus, I Am… Sasha Fierce, any number of would-be pop divas have sprung up to seemingly instant super-stardom, twittering and smiling their way into our hearts and headphones (Lady Gaga and Ke$ha to name a couple). This new class of starlets may have swagger to spare, but Beyoncé brings a few more important pieces to the equation: genuine star power, an air of mystery, and untethered musical ambition.
Beyoncé out-divas the rest of the pack in all of the above mentioned areas, not the least of which is swagger and sass; she’s got those in spades. But throughout her career, she’s continually kept herself above the din, refusing to give in to today’s media-obsessed TV troglodytes. And in doing so, she’s created an impenetrable air of mystique – indeed, the only place to get to know the artist, the woman, is through her music – and she’s made great strides to establish herself as her generation’s premiere diva on the level of greats like Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey.
Beyoncé’s third solo album was initially released in bifurcation, divided onto two discs (though the music would have easily fit on one). The idea was to showcase the two distinctly different personae that Beyoncé embodies. The I Am… section features a bit of a glimpse behind the makeup at a gentler, more tender side of pop divadom, while the (decidedly more exciting) Sasha Fierce disc gives Beyoncé a chance to sing a few for the club audience, and it’s here that she really excels.
Indeed, I Am… Sasha Fierce has aged quite well in a year where pop songs have come and gone with blinding rapidity. In its newly restructured Platinum Edition, the album that generated the Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) phenomenon takes on a whole new dimension as disc-separation barriers are broken down and Beyoncé’s attempt at dividing her musical psyche in two have been shoved into the melting pot amongst a whole album’s worth of bonus tracks. Also presented is a DVD featuring, among other things, what Kanye West famously called – allegations of jackassery notwithstanding – one of the best videos of all time.
The Platinum Edition opens with the Sasha Fierce tune, Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It). Amid spastic handclaps and slip-sliding synths, Beyoncé leads a chorus of ladies in what became the smash female empowerment anthem of 2008. “If you like it, then you should have put a ring on it,” Beyoncé sings tauntingly over a Eurpop electronic barrage. And the surprisingly risque and voyeuristic Video Phone (in which she tempts, “So press record, I’ll let you film me”) becomes even more jarring whilst hidden between the bubble-gum pop perfection of Radio, a remix of Ego – featuring a lackadaisical and disappointing appearance by Kanye West – and the lightning fast disco of Why Don’t You Love Me.
The tender moments, once allocated to the I Am… portion of the album come off as less tedious (or boring, for those among us who once considered them as such) when not placed one after another, proving that perhaps glimpses behind the diva’s mask are easier to take in small doses. The love-conquers-all ballad Halo is a swooning display of vocal emotive prowess – and the blistering cavalcade of nonstandard arena-ready drum sounds remains Prince-like in its innovation. But here, it follows the bonus track Ego, in which Beyoncé fronts a horn-driven soul revival, singing, “I talk like this, cos I can back it up.” Throughout the album, she proves this brashest of statements again and again.
In its newly expanded form, the Platinum Edition of I Am… Sasha Fierce is an apt demonstration of what a worthy pop diva should look and sound like in 2009. Beyoncé is as tough as she is tender, as commanding in heart-on-your-sleeve ballads as she is in blazing dance-floor blinders so fierce you can almost hear her six-inch stilettos. It seems this new configuration has allowed Beyoncé to embrace both sides equally, with plenty of overlap, creating what may well become a permanent entry in the pop diva canon.