Beyoncé has been running the world for a while now, but she was especially dominant this week. Her surprise album, Beyoncé, ravaged Twitter and then became the fastest-selling album in the history of the iTunes store. It's been showered with praise and has cemented her status at the top of the pop food chain.
At the very top, in fact — suddenly, Mrs. Carter is Queen of Jay-Z himself. But that's not the way she presents it. Beyoncé is currently performing on the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, a name that presents her, first and foremost, as Jay-Z's wife. But in a year when Beyoncé took a huge step forward, Jay-Z took a step back. There's no reason for Beyoncé to create her identity around Jay. The label "Mrs. Carter" may be important for Beyoncé herself, but if anything, Jay-Z should start calling himself Mr. Knowles. Yet she's always been seen as his girl.
When the power couple started got involved in the early 2000s, Jay-Z was the established artist and Beyoncé the pop upstart. Jay-Z was a gifted rapper who expressed the everyday life of New York's underclass. Beyoncé was largely a sex symbol. After they got together, Jay started adding fiery verses to Beyoncé's songs like "Crazy in Love" and "Deja Vu." He was one of the first to add cred, talent, and muscle, and he helped shape the popular perception of her as a real artist.
Even just two years ago, Beyoncé's stature was irrevocably tied to Jay's. During a raucous show by Jay and Kanye at a Victoria's Secret runway, she sat patiently and threw up the Roc-a-fella sign. And when she showed off her baby bump for the first time at the VMAs after her astonishing performance of "Love on Top," the camera couldn't stop panning to the Jay-Z, the grinning lover and father-to-be.
It's been a different story for these two in 2013, or the year 2 ABI (after Blue Ivy). Jay has become the more vacuous and commercial of the two pop icons: His album Magna Carta Holy Grail (MVHG) was essentially an extended promotion for Samsung. It incited a career low of name-dropping "Tom Ford," which was a result of a deal with the designer. Despite being honored by the bumbling Grammys, most critics agreed MCHG was far from his best work. The album, combined with Jay's tour with Justin Timberlake, named Legends of Summer Tour, made it seem like he was blindly resting on his laurels this year.
Beyoncé, meanwhile, has been hard at work redefining not only herself, but also the possibilities of what a female pop star can be. She rocked the Super Bowl — and brought back her 90s group, Destiny's Child, in the process — released an HBO special film, went on a world tour, and somehow found time to record a whole album and 14 immaculate music videos. Her surprise album release was an event of enormous cultural magnitude rarely seen.
She included Jay-Z on this one, too. Her video, "Drunk in Love" artfully demonstrates how secondary Jay has become in their relationship, musically. Beyoncé carouses on a beach, toys with the pronunciation of words like "surfboard," and effortlessly belts at the top of her register. She exudes sex, power, swag, and playfulness simultaneously. When Jay shows up in the fourth minute, on the other hand, his presence is awkward and unnecessary. Moreover, his verse is straight up lazy: "That D'USSE is the shit if I do say so myself / If I do say so myself / If I do say so myself / Hold up" is his first line. Lone gone are the days when he could smoothly pull off an effortless cameo to add his unique style to a song. Now, I'd rather hear Beyoncé rap one herself.
It wasn't too long ago when Jay was the ambitious artist and Beyoncé was the starlet. Now, in 2013, the roles have been switched. I look forward to the Mr. Knowles World Tour soon.