This week, Beyonce's fourth studio album — appropriately titled 4 — is the number one album in the country, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It's an accomplishment each of the singer's four solo albums have managed.
Ann Powers sat down with Morning Edition's Renee Montagne to talk about the singer, who can legitimately claim two titles at the moment: Queen of Pop and Queen of Hip-Hop. Forget Gaga's quirks and Britney's controversy — Beyonce runs this town by setting her sights on one goal regardless of genre: she wants to be a great artist.
"She's a massive star, and yet in a strange way, she's overlooked in plain sight," Ann says. "If critics fault Beyonce, they often do it because she seems to not have a center, or she's hard to read, a mystery to us. But I think the reason for that is what matters to Beyonce is actually the music. Not the statement she's making or whether or not she's in the tabloids, certainly, but being a great, long-lived artist in the style of Barbra Streisand or Diana Ross. Those are her role models."
Ann says this makes Beyonce's music a way into the world of pop for hip-hop fans, and simultaneously a way into hip-hop for pop fans. Her longterm aspirations for longevity, and for the kind of multifaceted and flexible career of her idols, mean Beyonce will be around for a long, long time. And though Beyonce has crafted a personal, inimitable musical style — "like Broadway meets the jump rope game in Brooklyn" — her overall persona remains a little slippery.
"This record has been getting kind of mixed reviews," Ann says. "And I feel like part of it is we as music critics have become so used to reading pop stars as brands. So we look at Lady Gaga and we know what she means: she means 'freak,' you know? We look at Katy Perry and she means 'screwball.' Well, what does Beyonce mean? She means 'artist,' going for different styles."