Irreplaceable Beyonce bounces back - Hit Song

Beyonce new hit Irreplaceable is the kind of song that stays lodged in your brain, says KELEFA SANNEH

If you go down to your local record shop today and buy a copy of the recent Beyoncé album, B’Day, you might notice a sticker on the cover, advertising the contents. “Includes Deja Vu featuring JayZ,” it says. Also: “Ring the Alarm And: Bonus Track: Listen.” There is no indication that the album includes one of the year’s best (and maybe biggest) pop songs. No warning that, after listening to track nine, you may find a silly little catchphrase — “To the left, to the left” — lodged in your brain. In other words, there is no mention of a fast-rising hit called Irreplaceable, which might just be the greatest... Well, let’s not get carried away. But let’s acknowledge that this is precisely the kind of song that makes it easy to get carried away.

The outdated sticker is proof that a lot has changed since September, when Beyoncé’s second album was released, a day after her 25th birthday. It would be an overstatement to say that the success of Irreplaceable marks a comeback for Beyoncé. But certainly this fall has a been a weird, scary season for this singer and for her fans. We always knew she would score another era-defining hit. But we couldn’t have guessed she would do it like this.

Near the end of B’Day Beyoncé explains that the album “came so effortlessly”. It’s shorter (38 minutes long, not counting bonus tracks), fiercer and better than her blockbuster solo debut, Dangerously in Love. And it has sold pretty well: more than half a million copies in its first week and 1.2 million so far.

But what happened to the smash hits we were expecting? Deja Vu, a collaboration with her boyfriend, Jay-Z, eventually cracked the Top 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, but it never really felt like a club classic; Ring the Alarm, the frenetic (and excellent) follow-up, didn’t even make the Top 10. Beyoncé was still popular, but no longer ubiquitous.

This hint of commercial vulnerability coincided with a canny display of emotional vulnerability. In Ring the Alarm, she convincingly impersonated a threatened girlfriend: “I’ll be damned if I see another chick on your arm.” Fans couldn’t resist the urge to de-anonymise the “arm” (Jay-Z’s, surely) and the “chick” (pop starlet Rihanna?).

Then came Jay-Z’s Lost One on his new album Kingdom Come, in which he rhymed, “I don’t think it’s meant to be, For she loves her work more than she does me.” Jay-Z later explained that the verse was about an old conflict that had since been resolved (in the lyrics, Beyoncé is 23, not 25), but still: two who had once been “Crazy in Love” were now broad casting something less blissful.

Irreplaceable is the payoff: it transforms all that mistrust and anguish into a glorious anthem of fed-up-ness. She sounds exuberant, especially as she delivers those now — famous break up lines: “To the left, to the left/Everything you own in a box to the left.” This isn’t just a sing-along; it’s a point-along.

Like lots of great pop songs, Irreplaceable isn’t quite as resolute as it first seems. When Beyoncé sings, “Don’t you ever for a second get to thinking/You’re irreplace able,” it sounds like a warning, not a breakup.

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