Last night I watched two music “documentaries,” one heavily promoted and highly anticipated (Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream) and the other which I came across by accident while channel surfing (The History of the Eagles).
First off, even though these two films are called “documentaries,” let’s call them what they really are: 90-minute (in the case of Beyoncé) and 3-hour (in the case of the Eagles) advertisements for the artists in question. In her documentary, Beyoncé says “I always battle with how much to reveal about myself.” Really? Is that why you filmed the most intimate details of your personal life and broadcast them on HBO for 315 million people? But that’s another story…
Beyoncé would seem to have it all: looks, voice, costumes, choreography, computerized graphics, lighting—the whole nine yards. But what’s missing are the actual songs. With a few notable exceptions (“Halo,” “Love on Top,” “Single Ladies”), you’d have to go back to Destiny’s Child (“Bootylicious,” “Survivor,” “Independent Woman”) to find a song that even has a recognizable melody. Beyoncé is capable of doing quite remarkable acrobatics with her voice, but that’s the point. Her voice becomes the star of the song rather than the song itself. Much like Mariah Carey, who perhaps is responsible for starting this disturbing trend, listening to a Beyoncé “song” is often like listening to a singer practice vocal scales before a performance.
How many times have you come away from a Beyoncé performance humming the tune rather than marveling at her vocal pyrotechnics? I haven’t. The closest I’ve come would be “Crazy in Love,” and what I’m actually humming is the horn riff from The Chi-Lites’ “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So).” (Now that group had some memorable songs!)
The Eagles, on the other hand, are almost the polar opposite of Beyoncé: four or five average-looking men (depending on the lineup), no costumes, no choreography, no graphics, minimal lighting. But the songs are instantly recognizable.
And, in contrast to the vocal grandstanding of a Beyoncé or a Mariah, you have four or five voices carefully blended to sound like one (not to mention some virtuoso guitar playing).
The other thing I would point out, of course, is that the Eagles’ best songs (“Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane” come to mind) are lyrically light years ahead of any Beyoncé song I can think of, but I’m concerned primarily with the music here (and Beyoncé is primarily a vocalist, not a songwriter).
Eagles songs are still being performed, played, and listened to 40 years after they were first written. Can you imagine saying that about a Beyoncé song?