Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Number 1s of 2008: November 23

After three weeks of the X-Factor finalists and their charity single, it's back to business as usual...

Those first twenty seconds really do come off like a Calvin Klein aftershave ad, don't they? Anyway, this is Beyonce, "If I Were A Boy" (23 November 2008). It's been on the chart for three weeks, but climbs to the top now that the X-Factor record is starting to flag.

Under various guises, this is her sixth UK number one, the others being "Independent Women Part 1" (as a member of Destiny's Child in 2000), "Survivor" (ditto in 2001), "Crazy in Love" (with Jay-Z in 2003), "Deja Vu" (with Jay-Z in 2006 - no, I don't remember it either) and "Beautiful Liar" (with Shakira in 2007).

"If I Were A Boy" has the curious distinction that the more I hear it, the less I like it. At first glance, it's a decent enough "if only you could see things from my perspective" song. But then the more I hear it, the more whiny it starts to sound. The basic gist is that if only Beyonce were a man, she would be much better at it than any actual men - not just her specific man, but any man - such is their stunted emotional inadequacy, and their inability to appreciate their universally saintly womenfolk. But as a woman, Beyonce lays claim to understanding all perspectives. If you're not paying attention to the lyrics, you're probably imagining something a lot more nuanced than the actual contents.

It's a song for self-styled emotional martyrs, and men who want to indulge their inner self-loathing. And I have great difficulty believing that it truly reflects the experience of being Beyonce Knowles, who strikes me as neither downtrodden nor long-suffering. Basically, it's a nice enough idea, but it's got a streak of self-righteousness that makes it tremendously irritating when all is said and done.

"If I Were A Boy" is the lead single from her new album, "I Am... Sasha Fierce." Half the album consists of songs in the style of her new alter ego "Sasha Fierce", a conceit which probably wasn't supposed to remind me Leonard Nimoy, who once put out an album with a "Spock side" and a "Leonard Nimoy side."

Anyway, in America, they released two lead singles, one from each side. "If I Were A Boy" is the Beyonce song, and the other one rejoices in the title "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)". This device works quite well in America, where the idea is that each single appeals to different radio formats. It generally doesn't work over here, because our radio stations (even the commercial ones) are much more broad-minded about genre, so faced with two singles, they tend to just pick one and ignore the other. That's presumably why the UK label hasn't bothered with "Single Ladies" - or maybe they just thought it wasn't very radio friendly. It's crept to number 67 as an album-track download, presumably because the video is available online.

Since it's been out three weeks already, I don't expect "If I Were A Boy" to last long at the top. An intriguing challenger is Leona Lewis's version of "Run", which isn't even out yet. It's an extra track from the reissue of her debut album "Spirit", and she's been promoting it for a couple of weeks. But, for once, you can't download it as an individual track, and so it can't make the singles chart.

That's likely to change soon, because there seems to be a remarkable amount of interest in it. Not only has the Snow Patrol original spontaneously re-entered at number 28, but this week's number 57 is "Run (In The Style of Leona Lewis)" by Ameritz - a karaoke backing track. We've never had one of those make the charts before, and it suggests that once the Leona Lewis version is available, it's going to do well. Since Lewis is from the Simon Cowell stable, he's got a choice here: get her single out now so that it doesn't tread on the toes of the X-Factor winner, or hold off into the new year and risk missing the moment. Hmm...