Girls on top
As Beyonce wows Glasto andAdele tops the charts, the world is goingGaga for female artists, says EdPower
When it comes to pop, the ladies are on top right now. This was made blindingly clear at last weekend's Glastonbury festival, where U2's clunky headline set was thoroughly overshadowed by a dazzling turn from Beyoncé.
While Bono appeared simultaneously ill at ease and a mite too pleased with himself, Queen B's performance was so perfect you didn't know whether to applaud or gawp with awe.
Stomping across the stage in a procession of eye-popping outfits, her frizzy hair seemingly possessed of a life of its own, Beyoncé looked less like an r'n'b diva than a pop goddess descended from on high to bring joy to the muddied masses. She danced, she sang, she emitted cynicism-withering levels of superstar charisma. How could four middle-aged guys from Dublin with increasingly iffy dress sense -- what was Adam Clayton wearing -- possibly compete?
Beyoncé is far from the only female artist blazing a trail at the moment. If anything, she's dashing to catch up. No matter how well her new album, 4, does, the one-time Destiny's Child leader will have her work cut out eclipsing Adele's nine-million selling 21.
A runaway phenomenon, 21 started shifting units by the truckload in January and has barely slowed since. In Ireland it sat at the top of the charts for an unprecedented nine weeks, seeing off releases by REM and others. It's performed even better in Britain, toppling Madonna's Immaculate Collection from the record books by occupying the number one spot for two-and-a-half months.
Speaking on British radio recently, Graham Norton observed that, during a trip to New York, he couldn't escape Adele's single 'Rolling In The Deep'. No matter where he went -- be it luxury department store, trendy restaurant or hipster bar -- there was Adele, bawling brassily in the background.
In this triumvirate of chart-slaying uber divas, arguably the most high-profile of all is Lady Gaga, a star who approaches fame the way her idol Andy Warhol approached an empty canvas. Despite a horrible record sleeve and humdrum reviews, Gaga's second record, 'Born This Way', sprang from the traps in May, becoming the year's quickest selling record within days.
Of course, music merely marks the beginning of Gaga's influence. In the realm of social networking, she casts an even bigger shadow. A few weeks ago she roared past dead-eyed pop monkey Justin Bieber to become the world's most popular Twitter personality, with 11 million followers. All those followers, and during a relatively quiet period in Gaga land. Imagine how ubiquitous she will be as she heads out on the road later in the year.
Throwing into sharp focus the degree to which women dominate pop is the frankly pathetic resistance the menfolk are putting up. For instance, Prince, one of the last few male pop stars capable of filling a stadium on his own, may be going back on tour but nowadays his chief appeal is as a nostalgia figure. It is literally decades since he put out an album anyone cared about.
Elsewhere, the last great hope for old-fashioned rock'n'roll, The Strokes, present an ever-sorrier sight. Frontman Julian Casablancas absented himself from most of the recording sessions for their new long player so he could tour Europe on his own.
He was probably correct to follow his instincts -- arriving a decade since their iconic first LP, new album, Angles, is an unmitigated lemon, a project of such awfulness it falls into the category of self-parody.
What about Take That, you cry? Granted, their ongoing Ireland and UK tour has smashed box-office records. Ultimately, though, their appeal is limited -- nobody in America, for instance, would recognise them were they to walk through Times Square naked (you suspect Robbie Williams has contemplated the tactic at least once). Nor has their ambitious comeback album Progress performed as well as expected. While containing some of the best music the now-reunited quintet has ever written, sales flat-lined at a disappointing two million.
Beyoncé, in contrast, holds the entire world in her thrall. Why is the 29-year-old so irresistible? Maybe it's because she appears incapable of being less than 110pc perfect in everything she does. Not only are her songs sinfully catchy, they also contain a serious message, conveyed with wit and intelligence. Under its ritzy trappings, for example, Destiny's Child's 2000 hit 'Independent Women' was a pithy feminist manifesto for the 21st century, albeit one packaged so slickly it didn't feel rammed down your throat.
She had further words of advice for the sistahood on 2008's I Am ... Sasha Fierce, wherein she introduced a ball-breaking alter ego and delivered the scorching anthem 'Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)', the most savvy pop song ever written about men and their commitment issues. Even more explicit was recent hit 'Run The World (Girls)', where she essentially suggested that the fairer sex would get along fine if all the men on the planet were to vanish.
However, it's on tour that she makes the strongest statement of all. Stepping in front of a baying Glastonbury crowd, Beyoncé was flanked by an all-female band. In what is surely a unique demand for an artist at her level, Beyonce insists that her touring troupe is comprised exclusively of women, even the traditionally male-dominated roles of drummer and lead guitarist. She doesn't merely spout feminist slogans -- she lives up to the message of her songs every time she goes on stage.
While you won't catch her barking out political manifestoes, Adele is, in her own quiet way, a poster-child for independent womanhood, too. Written after her break-up from a man 15 years her senior, 21 is the ultimate revenge album.
Adding to her appeal is the fact that, unlike Beyoncé and Gaga, she comes across as a normal person who just happens to be blessed with an extra helping of talent. Speaking to the media recently, for instance, it was notable that her ultimate goal wasn't a mantelpiece groaning with Grammys, but a nice life in the suburbs.
"I honestly don't feel like I'm here to be a singer," she said. "I feel like I'm here to be a mum. I wanna look after someone. And be looked after. Give my all to someone in marriage and have a big family. Have a proper purpose." Before we crown the female pop queen of all she surveys, however, it's important to note that, though they've been thoroughly whipped in the charts, in the live realm, the guys are very much in control. U2's ongoing 360 tour is set to eclipse the Rolling Stones's Bigger Bang as the most profitable ever.
Meanwhile, wrinkly artists such as Paul McCartney and Neil Diamond continue to perform to packed houses. Because female singers are judged on looks as much as music, it is difficult to imagine Lady Gaga, Beyoncé or Adele bestriding the culture in their seventh decade. They're top of the pop food chain at the moment but the unpalatable truth is it's still a man's world.