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Jan 20

BEYONCÉ – “Crazy In Love”

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#956, 12th July 2003

History in the making,” says Jay-Z in the intro, and he’s been proven right. As I’ve said before, there’s a temptation with Beyoncé to treat her big moments as inevitable steps in a process of becoming. Her control over her career and image in 2019 – and the directions she’s gone and grown in – exerts a retroactive gravity on the rest of her story. “Crazy In Love” really does feel like a historical landmark, which can make it difficult to recover as a living single.

It’s difficult for Beyoncé too – on her 2019 Homecoming live album she drops it at the start of her set, in a place of honour, and at first treats it with the warmth an old friend deserves. It’s a way to show how she’s grown as a singer – her voice on the first verse is richer, fuller of feeling, than it was on the original. But halfway through the song she turns away from it, first following the line of its beat into a funk jam then switching out from it entirely.

“Crazy In Love” is a song about the spontaneous madness of desire. “Crazy In Love” is the debut single of capital-B Beyoncé. Neither of these is as straightforward as they seem.

The debut single first – of course, even at the time, it truly was a big deal. Destiny’s Child went on hiatus just at the moment where a generation of (slightly guilty) pop critics were desperate to acknowledge the group’s role in redefining R&B and railgunning it into the future. But “Crazy In Love” doesn’t fit that storyline. Rich Harrison’s production is a work of old-school hip-hop beatmaking, finding a sample, lightly polishing and cutting it and then building the track on top of it. The nervy cowbell rhythms of “Crazy In Love” are all the Chi-Lites; the song’s glorious signature blast of horns too.

So “Crazy” is a turn away from the Destiny’s Child sound, and by association from the glitchy, skittery futurism that had come to define turn-of-the-century R&B. Harrison had been nursing the beat for a while, aware of how it didn’t fit his genre’s prevailing trends. But it sounds bold and aggressive and its brass-heavy thrust asserts Beyoncé’s rightful connection with the history of R&B and soul music.

This claim to a musical inheritance had a parallel with what her new partner – this song’s guest star – had been up to. Jay-Z’s 2001 The Blueprint glittered with big, expensive, familiar samples; statements of conspicuous wealth and status as well as proven-quality backdrops for Jay-Z’s drily conversational, deceptively unflashy flow. Like Harrison’s grandiose sampling on “Crazy In Love”, the Blueprint sound was a break from both the recent past of intricate drum programming and the previous era of crate-dug samples and esoteric beat knowledge. As a sound for the 00s’ top-drawer stars, it cast them as aristocrats, not pioneers.

On “Crazy In Love”, Jay-Z is a little boxed in by his surroundings, his freestyle more bent into shape by the rhythm than loosely curling around it the way he does on his own material. Bits of his verse sparkle – like the yes-sir/texture/best-fur run – but there’s none of the magisterial offhandedness of his prime work. On the other hand, he’s not here to steal any shows. His feature does its job in the structure of the song, giving Beyoncé a pause to reflect then return, riding the horns back in triumph for the climax.

That structure gives “Crazy In Love” its kick, beginning in the way Beyoncé’s performance starts subdued, especially next to her commanding turns on “Survivor” and “Independent Women”. She’s confused, doubting her reactions. But the horn breaks work as an accelerant, pushing her deeper into the feeling, so for the second verse she’s rediscovering her poise, and after Jay-Z’s spot she surges back into the song to own and celebrate her disrupted emotions.

So when she sings “I’m not myself” she in fact sounds most herself, the charged-up Beyoncé fans expected and wanted to hear. The lyrics of “Crazy In Love” tell a story of a woman losing her identity in desire. But Beyoncé’s singing of them tells a different story, of making the crazy work for you, letting it reforge you. It’s a better story, too.

9

Comments

  1. 1
    ThePensmith on 24 Jan 2020 #

    I suspect I am probably going to be the only one giving this anything less than 8, but I have my reasons, particularly on my own feelings towards Beyoncé, most of which I will cover in more detail on the remaining bunnies of hers that we encounter.

    So let me start by saying that ‘Crazy In Love’ is probably the one single of hers I can now tolerate most with the passing of time thanks to its wedding/birthday/school disco ubiquity. Now that is established, let us return to July 2003, and my immediate thoughts about this. Everything about this was so telegraphed, even by the wider media to get it to number one that when it did it was an inevitable outcome. But my God it wasn’t fun.

    I am sure there are other artists of a lesser global scale we can levy the ‘This only got to number one because it was pushed to do so by all concerned’ tag at – but for me it’s why I found this insufferable to have to put up with for three weeks. And more so because for me, it partly represents why she has always been a tough sell for me solo. Within Destiny’s Child, she was tolerable because Kelly and Michelle were there to bounce off of and provided a contrast to temper her more exaggerated ticks and trademarks. That and the fact they had several grade-A bangers to their name that I loved long before the retroactive critical movements you referred to above Tom.

    Solo, there is no such tempering, and you are expected to submit fully to this idea that even now still plays out on social media when she trends, namely that she is some sort of holy figure of worship, some higher deity, and anyone who otherwise rejects that is a peasant and / or LeToya Luckett / LeTavia Roberson / Farrah Franklin. For a lot of people that is appealing, and for me it is not. And it got worse the further into her solo career she got. Averaging all that out means I land on a 5 for this one.

    #2 watch – the far better ‘American Life’ era single from Madonna, ‘Hollywood’ bearing a more subtle, laidback sonic backing than the two singles that came before it. It was however the subject of further pillory a few months later when she recorded a mashup version of this with ‘Into the Groove’ with Missy Elliott for a Gap advert that was parodied by both French and Saunders and MadTV. The former also parodied her attempt that same year at becoming a children’s author with the book ‘The English Roses’ that even now I occasionally find untouched copies of in charity shops.

    On its third week came Benny Benassi’s fantastic ‘Satisfaction’, an electrodance classic of its time that seems to be largely remembered more for the UK version of it’s video that was all power tools and titillation for the male gaze. Shame as it overshadows what is otherwise a great record.

  2. 2
    James BC on 24 Jan 2020 #

    The problem is, the track had that “historical landmark” feel the second it came out and whatever merits it had were swamped by the obvious attempt to crown a new superstar. The fanfare horns, the Jay-Z endorsement, the live performances where B would mainly just strut while the song played in the background, all made it feel too much like a foregone conclusion being forced on the general public. To me, anyway. “You’re gonna love her, folks… HEEEEEEERE’S BEYONCE!” It didn’t help that Kelly Rowland had already released two songs that (I thought and still think) were much better. Why wasn’t she getting this treatment?

    It took me some years to admit that there is something to enjoy about it, musically. In all honesty, it’s probably somewhere up in the 7s and 8s. But it still has that feeling of celebrating a born winner that’s quite uncomfortable to the British state of mind – it might be a contender for the most American song of all time. I instinctively want to find some other, overlooked artist and root for them instead.

  3. 3
    will on 24 Jan 2020 #

    Agree wholeheartedly with Pensmith about the media’s sickeningly deferential approach to Beyonce and all her works. Especially since she started unleashing new albums as ‘surprise’ releases no-one wants to be the first courtier to stop applauding.

    And yes, nothing was left to chance regarding this single – I recall she was pretty much inescapable on UK TV/ in the press during its release week. That said, dammit, it’s brilliant – hey, I bought it at the time. I have no wish, or need, to ever hear it again though.

  4. 4
    Auntie Beryl on 24 Jan 2020 #

    It’s not as incessantly, unflinchingly unpleasant as “Survivor”, nor as noisily repetitive as the later (unbunnied) DC comeback single “Lose My Breath”, but this did wear out its welcome very quickly, not helped by the PR rollout. 6.

    This was the first single off the debut solo album, however it wasn’t the first solo single, was it? The largely forgotten “Work It Out” came first.

  5. 5
    PapaT on 24 Jan 2020 #

    I’m another one whose never been on the Beyonce train. A couple of Destiny’s Child singles I enjoy when they come on, but solo I’ve only ever really enjoyed Sweet Dreams (which until now I always assumed was called Beautiful Nightmare). Maybe Lemonade and the 2013 self-titled album are as good as everyone says, but there’s an element of Cry Wolf here; I didn’t buy the hype from all the songs I’ve heard, so it’s hard for me to go out of the way to hear the evidence when I’m told it again.

  6. 6
    IMPLODINGME on 24 Jan 2020 #

    A surprising number of pessimistic and cynical takes on this one, I thought this was a place for poptimists?

    This song is the aural equivalent of the phrase “YASS KWEEN SLAYYYY”

  7. 7
    Chelovek na lune on 24 Jan 2020 #

    Beyonce did become ridiculous later. Or at least unworthy of the degree of reverence she received and of insight and wisdom attributed to her.

    But musically, she was not consistently inconsistent, at least, for the most part. This is obviously a real banger, intended as a bit of solo trail-blazing, and, yes, as a conscious statement of intent post-Destiny’s Child. Whose world-beating fame thing had come a bit late in their career. Even if it weren’t a debut solo single, “Crazy In Love IS ON FIRE. No, it’s not subtle, but it’s not intended to be. The title is a clue. It sweeps the listener away. (As did much later, another much slower non-bunny performed, again, with her husband, to similarly powerful effect). The chaos and craziness of intense romantic love, at high place. Brilliant record. Main flaw? Not sure there really is one. I was thinking of saying it could have a more beautiful melody, but really that would be entirely missing the point. A sure-fire classic.

    8.5

  8. 8
    Shiny Dave on 24 Jan 2020 #

    The pop-cultural reference I’m immediately drawn to in this discussion isn’t from pop at all. It’s the MCU movies, and “Crazy in Love” is the “Avengers (Assemble)” of this story, the moment the biggest names come together in an endlessly-hyped collision and deliver on the hype.

    Yes, it’s coming at you with utter confidence it will indeed be the biggest cultural phenomenon in the world when it’s unleashed. Yes, that’s been shamelessly built up to the point it’s really set up to look bad if it doesn’t deliver. (And Beyoncé’s already had recent history of not delivering at this point, c/o “Work It Out.” Which might be to her discography as Hulk is to the MCU – an early-era disappointment that’s been brutally discarded under the weight of future gigahits in the public memory.)

    But what makes this analogy fit – why, indeed, I’m even thinking about it – is that MCU movies (and broader-Disney-family movies generally) get relentlessly focus-grouped and polished up in post-production to an even greater extent than other movies. And “Crazy in Love” carries that same combination of utter self-confidence and laser-cut precision in the cause of making sure it’s justified. Heck, being 20% brooding doubt and 80% unstoppable force of energy is very superhero-movie-esque.

    If there was ever any doubt at this stage that hip-hop had conquered the world, this is the sound of the argument ending.

    Going for an 8 only because I think it doesn’t wear its ubiquity quite as well as “Like A Prayer,” the only other song that I can think of that matches this for “instant classic and knows it.” (Maybe “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head,” but that was a heck of a lot more low-key about it.)

    #1 I too vastly underestimated “Satisfaction” off the back of that nauseating video. For most of the mid-00s, my perspective (even or perhaps especially as someone for whom trance was the defining sound of the previous few years) was that dance music’s only ideas were head-banging repetition and nauseating misogyny in the video. But while “Satisfaction” had both, it also had an absolutely banging robo-dance sound and no lack of playing around with it.

  9. 9
    James BC on 24 Jan 2020 #

    Re “instant classic and knows it”, the entire Morning Glory album is the first thing that springs to mind. But I was happy to be swept up in that one, I suppose because it had a communality about it that Crazy In Love lacks. Oasis were saying, everybody come together and be a part of this, it’s special. Beyonce is saying (at this point), everybody come together and watch this, I’m special.

    Other instant classics that know it a bit too much: Pet Sounds (the sleevenotes!); FGTH especially Two Tribes; Rock DJ.

  10. 10
    Andrew F on 24 Jan 2020 #

    The idea that “celebrating a born winner” is inimical to the British psyche would have a bit more legs if it wasn’t for the Royal Family, just saying.

  11. 11
    Mark M on 24 Jan 2020 #

    I don’t remember the media/cultural noise around Crazy In Love – what I remember is hearing it, and it being thrilling and dynamic and sounding like an event. It is, however, a song I’ve heard way, way too many times, and that thrill has gone. Still would be at least an 8 for me, for that initial impact.

    Although I broadly subscribe to immeasurable majesty of Beyoncé point-of-view, I have sympathy with those who feel bludgeoned by that cult. In many ways, though, the peak of that – when she got the whole loss-of-perspective treatment that was as ridiculous as that given to Bob Dylan c1964 – happened AFTER she had ceased being a force in the UK singles chart. There are assorted times to talk about Beyoncé before we get anywhere near that time.

  12. 12
    Mark M on 25 Jan 2020 #

    That CD cover looks more like one of Beyoncé’s upcoming rivals than B herself, I reckon.

  13. 13
    Steve Mannion on 25 Jan 2020 #

    The cover also really makes me want a cinnamon swirl.

  14. 14
    Tom on 25 Jan 2020 #

    I’m slightly annoyed we don’t get to talk about 10s Beyonce much as her stuff from the last 10 years feels oddly both overrated (in that nobody could be as good as she was written up as being) and underrated (those records ARE really good and not much of the writing has got at what’s good about her music – even as her cultural significance has been covered exhaustively and well)

  15. 15
    Mark M on 25 Jan 2020 #

    Re14: Exactly – all the writing was about importance and relevance and biography and not at all about grooves and hooks and beats and tunes. That went beyond Beyoncé, of course – the pompousness of this response to Anderson.Paak’s King James suggests a reversion to a state where songs fail if they don’t help solve the world’s problems (you could ague that King James is a protest song and so should be judged by those standards, but I’d say a protest song that’s catchy succeeds in spite of itself.)

    Some people claimed it was the seriousness with which Beyoncé was being treated represented the triumph of pop, but I never thought that what pop needed was the mindset of the more intellectual wing of Clash fans c1980. (And, of course, that treatment of Beyoncé coincided with her gradual disappearance from the charts, so was she pop anymore anyway?)

  16. 16
    Lee Saunders on 27 Jan 2020 #

    Satisfaction reminds me of stiff, outre synthpop one hit wonders like Da Da Da and Einstein a Go-Go. The video is crap but the track itself has been a favourite of mine for most of my life.

    As for Crazy in Love, its the one Beyonce song I’d call myself a fan of. I can’t get behind her status either, and I really don’t like her voice all that much, but this track at least makes me want to dance. It also makes me want to listen to 1 Thing by Amerie right after.

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 27 Jan 2020 #

    I for one welcome our new Knowles overlord – I’m all for pop that overwhelms me with joy and a feeling of empowerment as this does. Perhaps if I’d been immersed in the messianic discourse around Bey I might have kicked against it but as this managed to punch through my detachment from contemporary pop I continue to like it

  18. 18
    ThePensmith on 27 Jan 2020 #

    #16 – I’d argue that ‘1 Thing’ is a better song than this, largely because I remember it more fondly (soundtrack of my GCSE study leave between constant rotations of The Killers’ ‘Hot Fuss’ / Gwen Stefani’s ‘Love.Angel.Music.Baby’ albums). If ‘Crazy In Love’ was attached to anybody else I dare say I’d feel more fondly about it.

  19. 19
    Lee Saunders on 27 Jan 2020 #

    Oh 1 Thing is a masterpiece. I was trying to say CIL just makes me want to listen to the Rich Harrison go-go-leaning record I enjoy a lot more – more opportunity to speak about Rich’s inventive R&B in 2005

  20. 20
    AMZ1981 on 31 Jan 2020 #

    I’m pleased that a few other people are being a bit critical of Beyonce. To be fair we’re not far off the point where my musical radar starts to slip away from the charts but from the songs I’ve heard I can’t see what the fuss is about.

    Crazy In Love itself is a record I have no particular dislike for. It seemed to be an exceptionally big radio hit, one of those record that seemed to be everywhere. One thing I remember is when Mark Goodier counted down the top 40 of the year listeners were asked to predict the top 3 and most people were including Crazy In Love in their predictions – in the event it was only halfway down the teens.

    One interesting thing about Crazy In Love is that, the rap break aside, it largely sidesteps RnB to a more organic, almost Motown feel. This could have come out in the 1970s and would probably have been a hit then.

  21. 21
    Alfred on 31 Jan 2020 #

    Beyonce became a much better songwriter-producer-singer in 2011, in spite AND because of her iconicity. She’d learned to harness that battleship voice.

  22. 22
    Mark Savage on 15 Feb 2020 #

    Of course, this wasn’t Beyoncé’s first solo single. That honour goes Work It Out, a so-so Neptunes production from the previous year’s Austin Powers film.

    Still, this marked the arrival of all-caps BEYONCÉ. I distinctly remember flopping down in front of the TV after a night out and the video popping up on MTV Hits. I sobered up instantly, then waited in front of the screen for aaages until the song came round on rotation again.

    Yes, you could hear the cogs of the industry machine working overtime to turn Ms Knowles into a star but, for this song at least, it was worth it. Given Beyoncé’s ubiquity now, it’s often forgotten that her solo career went in fits and starts for a long time. Deja Vu and Ring The Alarm, the first two singles from her second album, hardly set the world alight and it was only the arrival of the Ne-Yo-penned ballad Irreplaceable that rescued her appallingly-titled B’Day album.

    A couple of years later, she suffered a similar fate when Run The World (one of her more adventurous and exciting singles) limped to a chart peak of 29 in the US and 11 in the UK. The shambolic campaign around that song’s parent album, 4, ended up with Beyoncé firing her father and taking control of her own career. Her subsequent two albums, Beyoncé and Lemonade, are for me the only essential records of her career.

    But Crazy In Love remains her best single, even if it rhymes “foolish” with “do this”. A 10 from me.

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