She declared her independence with her first solo album, "Dangerously in Love," whose kinetic, genre-busting first three songs ("Crazy in Love," "Naughty Girl" and "Baby Boy") established her career on high gear. Before she turned 30, she was one of the best-selling female singers in the world. Along with Dolly Parton, she holds the record for the most Grammy nominations for a female artist (45) and has won 16 statues herself--behind country's Alison Krauss, opera's Leontyne Price and the original Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who has 18.
The dancing and performing aside, her distinct yet familiar, mainstream yet idiosyncratic sound has been at the core of her appeal.
B'Day Who sounds like Beyoncé?
Bey's sound is expansive in its reach, encyclopedic in its references, "like Broadway meets the jump rope game in Brooklyn," "Halo" then the soul and blues of "I'd Rather Go Blind," then the scat-filled, jazz-like rendering of "Deja Vu," then the rap-sing syncopated, "A Milli"-like groove of that out-Minajs even Nicki herself. (Or, for that matter, just compare her take on Tina's "Proud Mary" to her reading of Barbra's "The Way We Were.")
Who else but Beyoncé could have given us the eclectic and eccentric "Countdown"?
Among female singers, Beyoncé's how-does-she-do-that virtuosity is only matched by Audra McDonald, the five-time Tony Award-winning Broadway star. (Interesting side-note: Beyoncé and Audra have both played Deena Jones, the prim-and-proper, Diana Ross-like character in "Dreamgirls." With varying success and obvious strain, you can almost hear their cords fighting to get out of that vocal straightjacket. No wonder Beyoncé recorded the bombastic songs of "B'Day"--from "Get Me Bodied" to "Freakum Dress"--shortly after filming "Dreamgirls." )
Two of the most perceptive critics of Beyoncé's oeuvre--Jody Rosen, who's written for Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, and Sasha Frere-Jones, the pop music critic of The New Yorker--have run out of superlatives to describe Bey's sound. "You'd have to search far and wide--perhaps in the halls of the Metropolitan Opera--to find a vocalist who sings with more sheer force," Rosen writes in his review of "B'Day." For her third album, the less musically impressive if not more commercially successful "I Am...Sasha Fierce," the headline of Frere-Jones' review summed up his verdict: "The Queen." Beyoncé is "pop's A student," Frere-Jones writes, "a strange and brilliant musician" on her way to the Genius Lounge that's crowded by "the moody, the male, and the dead."
And Queen Bey is most definitely alive, dancing with the kind of jubilance and enraptured energy that often masks the difficulty of her enterprise. On stage, she's like a tall can of Red Bull served over ice, always lit from within, a sprint runner in search of a marathon. Through her dances, lyrics and music, she exemplifies a kind of female empowerment that is at once accessible and mysterious. How does she do it? We don't know. She's Beyoncé.