How could a new single fail? Beyonce is quite simply one of the biggest current stars in the entertainment universe. Her first three studio albums have all been #1 hits and sold approximately three million or more copies. I Am...Sasha Fierce, the most recent, has generated four top 10 pop hits including the quadruple platinum landmark "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)." Beyonce is the owner of 16 Grammy Awards including a record-breaking six in one night in 2010. "Run the World (Girls)" was designed as an uptempo female empowerment anthem to kick off promotion for the upcoming fourth Beyonce studio album simply titled 4. The song was built around a sample from a dance club smash by critically acclaimed Major Lazer and included highly successful The-Dream as one of the co-writers. It seemed that all systems were on "go" for another Beyonce smash.
At this point, over a month after its bravura release, "Run the World (Girls)" can't be said to be a major hit anywhere in the world. It has landed in the top 10 in Norway and Scotland. In the US the song has failed to climb higher than #33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #30 on the R&B singles chart. Following high profile performances of "Run the World (Girls)" at the Billboard Music Awards and the Oprah Winfrey Show, the song only managed to limp back up to #15 on the iTunes sales chart. Columbia closed the book on promotion of the single when Beyonce appeared on American Idol's finale last night joining contestants to remind the audience of her back catalog and then introducing a new slow burn R&B single "1 + 1."
It is always difficult to speak with certainty about specific reasons for the failure of any particular song to become a hit. However, there are elements of "Run the World (Girls)" that seem alienating. The theme of the song is so in your face as to seem angry and preachy. It also constantly hints at the use of foul language to make its point. For some, this all can be pleasingly aggressive, but for a general pop audience it seems to miss the target. I have also read many comments about the song's lack of a significant chorus to invite listeners to sing along. There are hits that have managed without the big chorus, but it is not the norm. Finally, is there a backlash in operation against the sheer size, audacity, and self-promotion in the success of Beyonce? Perhaps now, once the Millenium Award has been collected and the Grammy Awards counted, it is time for a humbler Beyonce to invest her admittedly major talents in reaching out to fans with music that engages instead of assaults.
Single cover courtesy Columbia