One of the more interesting contradictions of Beyoncé’s musical persona is the split between her no-nonsense independent woman side and the part of her that just wants to be a good wife and mother. The subtext of a large majority of Beyoncé songs has always been – to paraphrase one critic – “screw you, I’m awesome”. With its guest spot from her husband-to-be, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, 2003’s iconic Crazy In Love doubled as a coming out party for its performers’ relationship. Since then, the strutting girl-power attitude of much of her output has had to compete with head over heels swooning over the father of her child. Her last album, 2011’s 4, saw her alternate between tracks like the aggressive, self-explanatory Run The World (Girls) and the deliriously euphoric Countdown, a career peak bursting with images of domesticity that finds her “all up in the kitchen in my heels” and announcing her pregnancy to the world with the confession that she’s “trying to make us three from the two”. Then there’s the name of her latest tour, the one that brings her to the O2 Arena for a six night run this month: The Mrs Carter Show (Shawn Carter, of course, being the name on Jay-Z’s birth certificate). Again, the merging of her identity with her husband’s accompanies the most recent single Bow Down/I Been On, but the hook (“bow down, b****s”) suggests that Beyoncé herself bows to nobody. Maybe that’s just the level of self-assurance that comes with being a fully equal half of one of the entertainment world’s most powerful couples – after all, at this point the erstwhile Ms Knowles could claim she’s retiring to devote herself to housework and it would do nothing to diminish her standing as an icon of 21st century pop, fully separate from her marriage to one of the biggest hip-hop stars there ever was.
By Chris Ward
• Beyoncé plays the O2 Arena 29 April