Is Beyonce the GOAT? Some think not

click to enlarge Is Beyonce the GOAT? Some think not
Aretha Franklin, 1968.

They had a funny bit on “Saturday Night Live” a few years ago where two married couples are sitting around, just shooting the breeze, when someone brings up the latest Beyonce album. One of the guys says, rather nonchalantly, “Oh, I thought it was OK.”

The other three people recoil and loudly gasp. Noting their reaction, the guy tries to backtrack. “I mean, it was really good, but all of her stuff is really good.” More recoiling and gasping. Eventually, we see the guy being chased down a dark alley by angry members of the Beyhive.

It was a funny bit, but the humor came from truth stretched out a bit. In the past couple weeks, we have seen multiple examples of just how odd some of those Beyonce people really are. At the recent Grammy Awards, Beyonce was celebrated as having won the most Grammys of any person. But when her latest album, “Renaissance,” lost out for Album of the Year to something by Harry Styles, the people went nuts.

You can always argue over which album is better (between any two albums, ever). That’s just fun. But that was just the jumping-off point for this social media coalition of fanboys, mid-level celebrities and self-important music critics. Quickly it veered off into shouts of racism and nonsense masquerading as serious analysis suggesting that there is some kind of conspiracy out there bent on depriving Beyonce of what is rightfully hers.

At the risk of being chased down a dark alley, I think Beyonce is O.K. She puts on a nice show. I first saw her when she was part of Destiny’s Child (although I thought that Kelly Rowland had the better voice). Beyonce’s concertgoers get exactly what they are expecting — lots of glitz, bright lights, and backup dancers. But people talk about her like she’s one of the all-time greats and I just don’t see that.

She might be the best of the current crop, but who is her competition? There is Megan Thee Stallion, who is basically Cardi B 2.0, who, in turn, is Nicki Minaj 2.0. Rihanna is great, but apparently she’s on permanent maternity leave. Lady Gaga has a great voice, but she made a movie, then fell off the face of the Earth. The biggest female vocalist of last year, Dua Lipa, made a fun disco album (I love the song “Levitate” with Da Baby), but her voice is nothing special and she dances like a white woman from England.

When I read all that GOAT (greatest of all time) stuff, I winced. (To be fair, I’ve been blessed to have lived through much of what is considered the modern era of popular music. Among other things, that means that I’m old enough to have seen Janis Joplin perform.) I knew instantly that Beyonce wouldn’t be in my Top Five, but then I wondered whether she would even be in my Top 10. It seemed a possibility since I’ve always been a soul man, and I really like female vocalists. So I made a list.

A person’s favorite singer isn’t always a great singer (example: Madonna), but I would like to think that most of my picks fall in that sweet spot in a Venn diagram.

My all-time favorite is Aretha Franklin. Try to come up with an example where the names of Aretha and Beyonce could legitimately appear in the same sentence. I thought not.

The rest of my Top Five, in no particular order, would include Mariah Carey, Adele, Whitney Houston and Linda Ronstadt. Adele, Mariah and Whitney are all among the greatest soul singers of all time, and Linda Ronstadt was a great singer in whatever genre she felt like dabbling in.

But what about the Next Five? I wouldn’t put her ahead of Amy Winehouse, who was just so unique as to be unforgettable. Here’s one that might raise some eyebrows — Karen Carpenter. One of the most perfect voices of all time. Held back by the schmaltz produced by her brother/partner, Richard, she still managed to shine on everything she did. I’m sorry, “Merry Christmas, Darling” is the undisputed greatest Christmas song of all time.

Based on having made the greatest album ever by a female vocalist, I would also include Dusty Springfield. Her album “Dusty in Memphis,” which includes the single “Son of a Preacher Man,” is a soul legend. That makes eight. For my final two, I would probably go with Annie Lennox and Lady Gaga.

I was at the Sporting Chance Center the week after the Grammys and I decided to ask some people what they thought. I thought maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’ve got weird taste. It wasn’t an exact scientific sampling, but I did ask several young people and a bunch of older people. I asked them to tell me their favorite female vocalist and also whom they thought was the greatest female vocalist. (I also asked a few people whether they would list Beyonce in their personal Top Five of all time.)

The favorite responses were kinda all over the place, including one each for Joni Mitchell, Taylor Swift and Shania Twain. No Beyonce. The most common “greatest” response was Aretha Franklin, followed by Whitney Houston. Again, no Beyonce.

I’m going to stay out of dark alleys for a while.

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