Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Solange, A Seat at the Table (2016)

Imagine your Beyoncé Knowles' sister. I know you have before but humor me and do it again. Imagine it. I mean, the flesh-and-blood 36-year-old Solange Knowles, like her older sister also from Houston, Texas.

Although she got her start as an independent singer-songwriter with the 2002 Solar Star, this 2016 album is an attempt at a reinvention for her, presumably to receive more recognition. You can just picture the cynical marketing behind this. It's in the very fabric of the music.

And look at the title. A Seat at the Table. What table? The table of recognition where brother-in-law Jay Z and sister Beyoncé sit.

Regarding the music, there's interludes where someone, presumably a family member, is telling her not to compare herself to others. She's got a song called "Cranes in the Sky," about how she doesn't want to be similar to the popular crowd. This doesn't preclude, however, her wanting to be part of the popular crowd. She just doesn't want to be like them. She wants to stand out. To be unique.

The paradox at the heart of the music is what perpetuates the problem. Part of the messaging is "Look, I'm tired of being costar in the Beyoncé Show."

What work of art has ever succeeded whose messaging is I'm the prototypical costar? It's doomed to fail. No one wants to fanboy or fangirl the self-proclaimed costar.

Some unfortunate things. One is that her sound is different than her sisters. It's less poppy, more soulful. In my opinion, it's more searching, more honest, less cookie-cutter (the very thing Solange claims). Sadly, too much of the album is still thematically about the comparative stuff and not trying to stand on its own.

To the extent that the work tries to stand on its own, it is interesting. The album wants to have more to do with social justice and anti-racism than what you would find on a Beyoncé album or your typical mainstream hip-hop album. And yet the music is still overshadowed by the "Why am I not in the limelight?" questioning.

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