tremble clef

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Beyoncé, "Irreplaceable" (2006)

Taken from B'Day, "Irreplaceable," which is slated to be the third of its three excellent singles, sees Ms. Knowles giving her no-good cheating man the kiss-off. "You must not know 'bout me, you must not know 'bout me," she tells him. "I can have another you by tomorrow/Don't you ever for a second get to thinking you're irreplaceable."

The song fires off some excellent put-downs: the lines, "Could you talk and walk at the same time?/It's my name that is on that Jag/So remove your bags, let me call you a cab," don't just tell her man to fuck off, but does so while rubbing his face in what he has to walk out on (not just her, but a fine set of wheels). Indeed, the entire song is fairly sly: aside from the chorus, another vocal hook comes from the "to the left, to the left" refrain. It's the first thing we hear, but it's not until three iterations later that we understand what it means in context ("everything you own in a box to the left"). Even Beyoncé's voice, which I find -- unlike the rest of the world, which tends to call it "powerhouse" -- shrill and reedy, works well here: because it is so thin at moments, it helps balance her firm insistence that her man bugger off, with an affecting vulnerability. At the 2:20 mark, most notably, all but the beat and the strumming guitar drops out, and her vocalization of the line, "I won't lose a wink of sleep/Cause the truth of the matter is: replacing you was so easy," is restrained (notice how she lets the word "easy" just drop away) and effective in conveying that, while she is happy and certain that she wants him to leave, she does harbor some sadness about it. In fact, he's already been replaced ("was").

She does think it's sad, but no great loss, doesn't she? If you're a regular reader of this blog, then...well, then I'll be home for dinner this weekend, mom. And you might also have divined that I'm endlessly fascinated by, but often suspicious of, songs that contain repeated assertions that may or may not be sincere and true. "I know we're cool." "I'm not in love." "I don't want to rush you now." "I ain't missing you at all." "Ah-ha, um-um, gonna get along without you now."

"Irreplaceable," however, is a rare example of such songs in that it seems to actually mean what it says. Beyoncé's repetition of the sentiment that her man is by no means irreplaceable is not overdone enough to cast doubt on itself. But if we insist and look hard for such moments of irony or self-deconstruction, we could perhaps find two. The first might suggest that it's significant that the song, in the final reckoning, is titled "Irreplaceable" -- as if announcing its true feeling about Beyoncé's man. But then again, a more properly accurate title like "Dude, You're So Not Irreplaceable," would have not just confused the less attentive with its double negative, but been much less elegant too.

A second point of pressure is perhaps more persuasive, more interesting to contemplate, and relates to the position of "Irreplaceable" on the album. Beyoncé has explained that she conceived of the album as made up of songs that her Dreamgirls character should have sung, and its ten main tracks (not counting the bonus tracks on various editions) clearly form a narrative in which she and her man hook up, run into trouble, and then break up. Although "Irreplaceable" is only the penultimate song in that cycle, it nevertheless begins to return the album's story back to the start -- specifically, to "Deja Vu," and in doing so, adds a new shade of meaning to that opening track.

When I first heard "Deja Vu," I was not entirely sure if it was meant to be celebratory. Is the feeling of deja vu a happy one, or unwelcomed? A few more listens and a look at the lyric later, it became clearer that it is ostensibly pleasureable: "Is it because I'm missing you/That I'm having deja vu?" But now, in the context of the album and of "Irreplaceable," when we reach the end of B'Day and "rewind" the album back to the start, "Deja Vu" has the potential to turn into a darker song, in which the experience of again meeting a(nother) man becomes tainted by the inevitable end of the relationship. Who's to say that "deja vu" wouldn't include another round of being disappointed? Who's to say that even though his "sexiness, so appealing [that she] can't let it go" will stay as a kind of healthy lust, instead of crossing over into a kind of destructive obsession? "Irreplaceable" suggests that men are always replaceable -- and that's grand (if a little sad). "Deja Vu" actually has the same idea, it is now clear: meeting a new man, she is reminded of someone she may or may not have already known, so by definition he is not unique to begin with, and always replaceable. (In this light, the "was" I pointed out earlier makes even more sense.) On the surface, "Deja Vu" celebrates this fact, and derives a sexual thrill from it, while "Irreplaceable" takes comfort in it at a moment when replaceability feels like a feature that's both a boon and a bust. By bookending (somewhat) the album, the two tracks, which turn out to be essentially the same song, thereby play off of each other, so that it's not finally clear if there is -- or if there should be -- good to be gained from the replaceability of those we once thought we loved.


  • You know when I first heard that song I thought she was telling us how he'd treated her and the chorus was her fighting back. Like HE'D been the one to keep her boxed in and now she was getting rid of him.

    Bee tends to be all or nothing though, doesn't she? Either super fierce and reminding men that she paid for her shit OR putting his slippers on him. Not too much in between!

    By Blogger xolondon, at 7:21 PM  

  • I think that metaphor is part of it! And the "I'm richer than you'll ever be" undertone is great. Everything he owns (or at least what he left at her place) fits in a box; her stuff, meanwhile, is in six walk-in closets. And really, Bee, with those closets I'm not sure why you even need a man.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 6:37 PM  

  • I saw picture of Bee with Paltrow this week and realized I had never seen a picture of her with anyone other than the member's of DC, Mr JZ Carter, her parents, that awful Solange and Prince. That's it! But apparently she does step down from her pedastal long enough to chat with someone not in her entourage.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 8:48 AM  

  • Everybody else is in a box to the left, etc.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 4:50 PM  

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