Saturday, June 22, 2013

Beyoncé Vs. Kelly Rowland: Destiny's Divas with "Grown Woman" Pains

Despite the implications of the title of this post and a number of recent articles I've stumbled across online, the former (and hopefully future) Destiny's Children aren't feuding. At least I don't think they are. Not at the moment anyway.

But if we are to go by the lyrical content of Kelly Rowland's "Dirty Laundry" (not to be confused with Don Henley's 1982 hit, his biggest outside of the Eagles, which went by the same title), all has not always been well between Destiny's main Child and her second-in-command. (Poor Michelle Williams. She'll forever be seen as the third wheel who got incredibly lucky.) The first single from Kelly's fourth solo album, Talk a Good Game -- which was released last week and which features Beyoncé (and Williams, once again along for the joyride) on the next track, "You Changed" -- suggests that some bad blood has been spilled all over those soiled diva duds.

"Post-'Survivor,' she on fire, who wanna hear my bullshit?"

Frankly, Kelly and Beyoncé's relationship has always confused me, but not as much as the public's reaction to them as separate entities. Like Beyoncé, Kelly was an original member of Destiny's Child. She's just as talented; she's just as beautiful; and in general, her material is just as hit and miss. So why isn't she a huge star in her own right, too? Her loyalty to the Beyoncé brand has been rewarded with moderate solo success, but from the moment DC hit the top, for the second time, with 1999's "Say My Name," it's been all about bootylicious Beyoncé.

Which is actually a shame because Kelly is no Andrew Ridgeley. Far from it. Sure she has had a bit of an image problem over the years -- Is she a dance diva? A beatnik soul mama? A blue-funk temptress? A television presenter/talent-show judge? A child still looking for her true destiny? -- but as a solo artist, she's had at least three flashes of near brilliance: "Stole" (a No. 2 UK hit) and "Train on a Track," both from her 2002 solo debut Simply Deep, and "Motivation," from 2011's Here I Am.

Still, despite getting off to a rocking solo start via "Dilemma," her No. 1 2002 collaboration with Nelly (which was as big as any of Beyoncé's five No. 1 hits outside of Destiny's Child, but was ultimately Nelly's single), Kelly's solo career never really happened. She went to No. 1 solo on the R&B singles chart and Top 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 with "Motivation" (featuring Lil' Wayne) in 2011, but she's yet to score a true across-the-board smash as a headliner.

"Motivation" was out at the same time as Beyoncé's solo single "Best Thing I Never Had," and while Kelly's song was considered a huge success for her, Beyoncé's, which peaked at No. 16, one notch above Kelly's high mark, was a career lowlight (commercially speaking), highly unlikely to make it to a future Best of Beyoncé compilation. But then comparing Beyoncé and Kelly chart placings is like comparing apples and oranges, and whichever would be Kelly's remains far from ripe.

To make career matters worse, in "Dirty Laundry," Kelly (who, incidentally, shares a birthday, February 11, also Whitney Houston's date of death, with similarly under-appreciated R&B-pop diva Brandy and Jennifer Aniston) hints at an abusive boyfriend in her past. I don't know if declarations like "I was battered/He hittin' the window like it was me, until it shattered" make her another Rihanna (if only her confessional was as interesting sonically as Rihanna's Rated R ones), but good God, hasn't this woman suffered enough, publicly playing second fiddle for years in an industry where, The Beatles and Genesis aside, no supergroup ever seems to produce more than one solo superstar?

My career advice to Kelly, who's expected to sell only up to 65,000 copies of her new album in its first week, would be fourfold: 1) Stop appearing as a guest vocalist on every other throwaway single. (She's been "featuring Kelly Rowland" on at least 10 since 2011.) 2) Disappear for at least two years. (She's already done her time as a judge on the UK X Factor, why does she have to do the U.S. one next season, too?) 3) During her hiatus, decide once and for all who she is and who she wants to be. (Beyoncé gets by largely on the sheer force of her personality, which is as distinct as any in pop. She never blends into the woodwork of overproduction.) 4) Return no sooner than the summer of 2015 with a kick-ass opus in collaboration with one producer/production team.

I'd suggest the red-hot again Pharrell Williams, who produced the Talk a Good Game standout "Stand in Front of Me," or someone outside of the normal R&B rotation, someone as unexpected as David Guetta was when he and Kelly scored their 2009 global hit (except for in the U.S., where it peaked at No. 76 on the Hot 100) "When Love Takes Over."

There's no telling where Beyoncé stands on the subject of Kelly Rowland and her solo career, but there's some curious subtext lingering in the background behind her new single, "Grown Woman," from her own upcoming fifth solo album. The song itself is throwaway, typically frenetic, shapeless, aimless, and hardly likely to end Beyoncé's recent string of non-hits. (None of the seven singles from 2011's 4 -- more than half of the album -- made it into the pop Top 10.) The most interesting thing about it is how it swipes the title of a 2010 Kelly Rowland single in what I'm inclined to believe wasn't a complete coincidence.

What exactly was Beyoncé thinking, releasing her own "Grown Woman" at 31 going on 32 (on September 4)? It's not exactly the type of song title you'd expect to hear twice (like, for instance, "Work," the title of a 2008 Kelly single and a 2009 Ciara single, neither of which should be confused with "Work It Out," Beyoncé's 2002 debut solo single), and surely Beyoncé is familiar with Kelly's own "Grown Woman" (even if hardly anyone else is -- it never charted).

In my fantasyland where it's every diva for herself, it's no mere coincidence but a deliberate ploy to put Miss Kelly in her place. It's Beyoncé's way of saying, "I'm grown, too, and not only can I take the title of your flop and turn it into a hit, but I can also re-team with the co-writer and producer of your new single -- The-Dream, who co-wrote "Grown Woman" and co-wrote and co-produced Beyoncé's solo signature, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It"), which shouldn't be confused with "Put Your Name on It," from Talk a Good Game -- and take him higher than you can ever hope to"?

End of fantasy.

The jury is still out on who wins the chart battle of Destiny's divas this time around. Neither song has charted on the Hot 100 yet, and after five weeks in circulation, Kelly's audio track has some 2.3 million YouTube views, while Beyoncé's has only 1.2 million after four weeks. I can't wait to see whose dream, if either, of a The-Dream-produced hit becomes her destiny fulfilled. I'm hoping that for once, it's Kelly's.
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