The New King of Pop is a Queen
Why Beyoncé is the only plausible heir to Michael Jackson’s sparkly glove.
At times, her aesthetic choices are inexplicable—nobody asked Ms. Knowles to frolic in a human-sized champagne glass, play with a ball of yarn or spin through a beachy marsh wearing what can only be described as a grass skirt tutu. And no one insisted that she wear motorcycle handlebars as a bustier. But Jackson’s style was equally outrageous—and like Michael, she doesn't really seem to care about convention. The singer has been seen flashing a custom-made metal glove around town, and in the series of videos accompanying her third solo album, I am...Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé has done for pantsless outerwear what Michael did for epaulets. “Diva” is all angles and attitude, and in her avant garde new video for “Sweet Dreams," she wears a gold-plated bodysuit, with Annie Lenox-style cropped hair. There is no Bubbles the chimp—only Jay-Z and the occasional alligator—but the costumery hasn't fallen far from the Michael Jackson glam-rock tree.
But what makes Beyoncé the most plausible living heir to the pop monarchy is the magnitude of her fame. Michael Jackson’s legacy is special precisely because he was famous for young and old, rich and poor, black and white—on six inhabited continents. Beyoncé’s musical reach is not nearly as large (frat boys look, but don't buy). However, like Jackson, her cultural impact extends beyond music, to the realms of fashion, film and beauty. Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker wrote that she “is creating a new kind of supersized music, a triumphalist pop that makes its point through magnitude as much as style.” And that was before she spent more weeks at No. 1 than any female this decade, sold out a national tour this summer, or carried the schlocky stalker flick Obsessed to a $28.5 million, No. 1 opening weekend.
Like MJ in The Wiz and Francis Ford Coppolla's pricey epic Captain EO, Knowles’ acting has been widely panned. But the point is that she’s out there. Countless talented female singers—from ‘60s talents such as Wendy Rene and Ann Peebles to ‘70s giants such as Diana Ross and Tina Turner—have laid the track for how to revel in the spotlight. And Knowles, whose vocal talents are not the best of her generation, has been training for this fame triathlon ever since her parents strapped on that first pair of sparkly disco pants. Between makeup endorsements and PSAs for hunger, Beyoncé has become a business, man.
Want proof? She has fans in high places. Jackson paid four visits to the White House over the years. But the first daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, begged to attend a Beyoncé show in Washington. And at the nationally televised concert preceding Barack Obama’s inauguration as president, Knowles was the de facto headliner—beating out other boldface names such as Garth Brooks, Mary J. Blige and Bon Jovi. Even the president was spotted waving his palm back and forth, in echoes of “Single Ladies.” And of course, Knowles sang “At Last” for the new president and his wife at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball that evening.