"Is Beyoncé/Sasha Fiercethe most boring pop star 'second life' ever?" wonders MOJO's Bill DeMain.
I Am. . . SashaFierce, Beyoncé proclaims with Marvel Comics flair on her latest album. Theworld's biggest pop singer shedding her skin to assume a new identity? On thesurface, a bold move--and, hey, we dig the nifty gauntlet.But listening to the music, it's nearly impossible to tell Sasha from Beyoncé.Maybe I'm missing the finer points in the lyrics, but I don't feel like Sashais doing something radically new, or giving me a deeper understanding ofBeyoncé. Which is what an alter ego should do.
Helpfully, Beyoncé has surrounded the album withpress soundbites like: "Iwouldn't like Sasha if I met her off stage. She's too aggressive, too sassy,too sexy! I'm not like her in real life at all."
Butthis defeats the purpose of having an alter ego. Peter Parker doesn't send adisclaimer to his arch-villain foes,explaining that really he's a nice guy but his Spiderman guise allows hisdarker side to emerge. He just shoots his web and starts swinging.
Theidea of alter egos in popular music isn't a new one. In the '50s, Hank Williamsrecorded as Luke The Drifter,revealing a Christian flipside to his hard-drinking image. A decade later, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Bandallowed the Beatles to lay their moptop past to rest, and unfurl a newpsychedelic freak flag.
Ofcourse, none can match David Bowie. In 1971, he was the long-tressedfolkiebehind Hunky Dory. The next year, heemerged unrecognizable--in sound and style--as glam spaceboy Ziggy Stardust.And with little explanation. It was total reinvention, startling and brave. AndBowie kept onalter ego tripping for the rest of the decade.
'80s shapeshifter Prince introduced Camille, his sexed-upfemale counterpart, achieved by speeding up his voice on tape. But for onewho'd already pranced the stage in heat--and in lingerie--wasn't that gildingthe lily? XTC successfully magnified part of their personality with Dukes OfStratosphear, a bubblegum band with lysergic lyrics.
The '90s brought Chris Gaines,Garth Brooks' goatee-growing, wig-wearing, pop-singing doppelgänger. Apromising ruse, but when Brooks hit the TV circuit, he didn't dress up asGaines or act differently. Instead, he removed his cowboy hat, a move designedto "keep country music country and pop music pop".
The most intriguing alter ego of recent years belonged toMarshall Mathers, who shuffled his personality deck to let Slim Shady andEminem say things he'd never say. It made for some provocative records. But then,what about Randy Newman? He's said equally incendiary things in his songswithout resorting to a different persona.
Whichleads us back to Sasha Fierce. Maybe some performers just don't need alter egos. Beyoncé's already sassy,sexy and larger than life, her records the sonic equivalent of Michael Bay movies. To explore new vistas, she'dalmost have to scale back as a confessional folk singer. And would her fanseven be interested in such a move?
As tempting as the alter ego trip may be, it works for veryfew artists. If you're going to bother, why not make a profound change? PerhapsBeyoncé should take a leaf out of Ziggy's book, undergo a "wild mutation" andbecome a prancing gothic alien. Although she may need to warn Jay-Z before sheturns up at Gwyn 'n' Chris's looking like this...
Commune with the music cognoscenti at www.MOJO4music.com.