Tuesday 21 November 2017

Beyonce or Rihanna: who is the undisputed Queen of Pop?

Both superstars are about to touch down on Irish shores. But which one should you root for? Our music critic has the answer ...

Beyonce and Rihanna. Photo: Getty
Beyonce and Rihanna. Photo: Getty
Rihanna and Beyonce. Photo: Instagram
Beyonce for Ivy Park/Ivy Park
Models Stella Maxwell (L) and Bella Hadid pose backstage at the FENTY PUMA by Rihanna AW16 Collection during Fall 2016 New York Fashion Week at 23 Wall Street on February 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for FENTY PUMA)
99 problems and Bey is one: Jay Z's alleged infidelity is the subject of wife Beyonce's latest album 'Lemonade'.
Ed Power

Ed Power

Forget Ireland v Italy or Conor McGregor v some tattooed guy you've never heard of. This week it's all about RiRi v Bey. The battle of the chart queens is brewing in earnest as Rihanna and Beyonce countdown to their big open-air shows in Dublin. In one corner, the lip-curled high priestess of potty-mouthed pop; in the other, a one-woman feminist manifesto who has already shocked and thrilled this year by apparently airing her smudged personal laundry in public.

First up rude girl Rihanna, bringing high-kicking latest album 'ANTI' to the Aviva Stadium tonight. On July 9 meanwhile, Croke Park welcomes Beyonce and her Formation Tour, a brain-frying mash-up of song, dance and relationship angst seemingly ripped from the pages of her life.

Rihanna and Beyonce. Photo: Instagram

But which of these post-modern divas rates as must-see? They have, at first glance, a great deal in common. Both have lived through "interesting" romantic escapades, which they have channeled into their music. Rihanna poured the pain and confusion that followed physical abuse at the hands of then boyfriend Chris Brown into the unnerving 'Rated R' from 2009. Bey's 'Lemonade', meanwhile, is widely seen as a warning across the bows of Bey's husband Jay Z over his (very much alleged and unproven) infidelities. This is grown-up pop - catchy but searing and complicated too.

Tickets for both shows are still available. Ideally you should be up the front for both. But if you can make only one, which should it be? Allow us be your guides.

1 Fashion

Beyonce for Ivy Park/Ivy Park

Many celebrities have licensed their names to fashion lines. But Beyonce is not one for half measures and so this year established her own sportswear brand, Ivy Park - named for her daughter, Blue Ivy, and produced in association with Topshop and Miss Selfridge (Irish customers can buy Bey's clobber in store). The brand has been well received, though Beyonce has had to deny reports that the line of €40 hoodies and €20 vest-tops were produced in sweatshop conditions where workers toiled for just over €5 per day.

Models Stella Maxwell (L) and Bella Hadid pose backstage at the FENTY PUMA by Rihanna AW16 Collection during Fall 2016 New York Fashion Week at 23 Wall Street on February 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for FENTY PUMA)

Rihanna has also got a slice of the high-street action - her capsule collection for River Isand sold out in record time in 2013, and her Puma Creepers, part of her collection she collaborated on with the sportswear giant, has become this year's must-have shoe.

Verdict: Rihanna

2 Music

DG rihanna 1.jpg
Rihanna - Bitch Better Have My Money

Very much a matter of individual taste. There's an argument that Beyonce's 'Crazy In Love' was the best single of the 2000s - if only for Jay Z's "Yes it's so crazy right now!" bit at the start. She has also showed a willingness to step beyond her comfort zone with, for example, the three-and-a-half minutes of bonkers fem-pop that was 2011's 'Run the World (Girls)'. 'Lemonade', for its part, contains samples of critics darlings Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Animal Collective and an epic guitar solo from Jack White. How does anyone top that? Well, they don't.

Rihanna during her filming stint in Northern Ireland

RiRi has grown increasingly experimental across her career as well. Though still best known for straight-forward "bangers" such as 2011's 'We Found Love' - produced by the former Mr Taylor Swift, Calvin Harris - on 'ANTI' she ventured in a more avant-garde direction, with stripped-down beats and a cover of 'Same Ol Mistakes' by Australian psychedelic band Tame Impala.

Opinions will differ, but we're giving this one to Rihanna on the basis that hearing her belt out 'Umbrella' on a (potentially rainy) evening in the Aviva, would be a perfect Irish summer moment.

Verdict: Rihanna

3 How much do they like Ireland?

Beyonce and husband Jay-Z enjoying her day off with daughter Blue Ivy in the playground in the Phoenix Park visitors' centre.

Beyonce sent the internet into meltdown hanging out with Jay Z and their daughter ahead of his 2013 show at what was then the O2 arena in Dublin. The couple dined among the punters at Fade Street Social and took Blue Ivy to the Phoenix Park playground, prompting a paparazzi frenzy.

Rihanna Wearing Simone Rocha

Rihanna is quite the Hibernophile too, popping around to O'Donoghue's in Dublin for a Thanksgiving pint in 2011 and throwing an after-show party at the Wright venue in Swords. Sorry ladies - you are going to have to divide the spoils. Don't fight over us - we love you equally.

Verdict: a draw

4 Tabloid interest

Rita Ora and Beyonce pose for a selfie backstage at the Met Gala 2016. Photo: Snapchat

Well now. Until this year, Rihanna was clear winner. She had suffered terrible abuse at the hands of Chris Brown en route to the Grammys in 2009, images of her bruised face beamed horrifyingly around the world after the police footage leaked to TMZ. Rihanna would obliquely reference the incident on her 'Rated R' album, and on the follow-up tour, which broiled with anger and confusion. She has gone on to be romantically "linked" with Colin Farrell (uproariously denied on both sides) and Drake.

Actor Colin Farrell and singer Rihanna met on BBC's The Graham Norton Show. Photo: PA

Yet Beyonce has surely eclipsed RiRi on 'Lemonade', with its teasing references to "Becky with the good hair" (Jay's alleged paramour) and lyrics that read like an angry row between a couple on the brink of calling it quits ("Who the f*** do you think I am/ You ain't married to no average bitch, boy/ Keep your money, I got my own/ Got a better smile on my face, being alone".) Suddenly all eyes are on Bey - and RiRi's recent romantic adventures feel exceedingly "meh" by comparison.

Verdict: Beyonce

5 As a live performer

Rihanna has collaborated with Sir Paul McCartney and Kanye West

Rihanna is a fantastic in-the-flesh performer, her hard-rocking credentials boosted by the presence on past tours of Nuno Bettencourt of 80s soft-metallers Extreme.

On stage: Beyonce performs live at half-time in the Super Bowl

But Beyonce takes it to an entirely different level, with an all-female backing band (an example of her walking the feminist walk) and an intensity almost punk in its lack of self-consciousness. Beyonce sings the living hell out of her catalogue and though Rihanna gives it socks too, she is not quite in the same league. Sorry Riri, there can be only one.

Verdict: Beyonce


And the winner is… Beyonce places first on paper - but don't take it personally Rihanna. You're up against one of the true icons of popular music, whose influence transcends the entertainment industry itself.

RiRi is one of the great singers of the past decade - an inscrutable figure refusing to rest on past accomplishments.

But Beyonce is a lightning rod for the debate about the racial divide in America and even for a conversation about what it means to be happily married in 2016. She has re-written the rules - and changed how we think about pop stars. Let us salute the uncontested Queen of Pop.

Irish Independent

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