Beyoncé — “Irreplaceable”

Released: 12.5.06

Peak: #1

Beyoncé contends that the travails of her mistreated Dreamgirls character “inspired” the music on B-Day, and how fitting that a genuine star should alchemize worthwhile pop from (and simultaneously one-up) a rank pile of Motown clichés bowdlerized into stank showtune clichés. Anyone who prefers Jennifer Hudson’s maudlin slog though “One Night Only” to Beyoncé’s Diana-gone-disco version obviously appreciates casual sex and pop music with the kind of begrudging high-handedness that’s worse than outright dismissal.

As so often in this era of craft by committee, just how much of her own “inspiration” Beyoncé bestowed upon “Irreplaceable” remains an open question. The Norwegian songwriting collective Stargate originally intended a country song (hence the acoustic guitars?), then planned to pitch Chrisette Michele, at which point apparently Ne-Yo and B entered the picture. That origin story may account for the ways that “Irreplaceable” wedges Beyoncé into uncharacteristic vocal patterns, such as the pained “another you” that stretches upward before her voice sprawls out across the title boast. Not coincidentally, it’s her finest vocal performance since “Say My Name.”

The intertwining between finance and romance is a recurring theme in Beyoncé’s hits, and on “Irreplaceable” as on so many others, independence is reserved for the honeys making money. Demographics and economics being what they are today, a Beyoncé fan could well find herself in a (far) downscale version of this scenario. But she’s always trod the thin line between self-esteem and self-importance; with “Diva” (“a female version of a hustler”) and “Halo” (because really, why shouldn’t every song be “Bleeding Love”?) she committed herself to the wrong side of that divide. With all due respect to the YouTube devotees who spent hours learning the “Single Ladies” dance, “Irreplaceable” may prove to be her last great hit.

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  • incensewine  On December 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    I actually dislike the faux country twang of this song but totally love your writing and look forward to seeing new posts.

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