Beyoncé has traditionalist skills. She can belt an adult contemporary ballad like Barbra Streisand; she can deliver a fiery gospel testimonial; she can channel Michael Jackson (“Love on Top”) or imitate Prince’s falsetto (“No Angel”). But she is unmistakably a product of the hip-hop era, a singer who has assimilated the aggression and slippery rhythms of rap into a virtuosic and strange vocal style. We have gotten so used to Beyoncé, it may be hard to grasp what an oddball she is, how different her approach to rhythm, melody and harmony are to those of previous generations. You can hear that eccentricity in the wild timbral shifts and skittering syncopations of “Drunk in Love,” a half-sung, half-rapped hit that sounds, in the best sense, like a song Beyoncé is improvising from scratch in real time. Like all innovators, Beyoncé has pushed back boundaries, expanding our sense of what music should sound like. To the extent that we hear Beyoncé as “pop,” it’s because she has taught us to do so.
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