Most humans get only one thing, a talent or skill that will become their career, and that's if they are exceedingly lucky. Furthermore, if Malcolm Gladwell's “Outliers” theory holds true, they usually have to put in about 10,000 hours of grueling and repetitive work to transform that raw talent into something truly great.
Chalk it up to the YouTube/reality TV era, but there is a pervasive sense that few current superstars racked up those hours, that they were grown in some kind of fame farm and taken to market for instant consumption. Make no mistake: Some chart dominators currently breathing the thin, brisk air at the top of the charts are delinquent on paying their dues. But Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter, who performs Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena as part of her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, probably reached the 10,000 mark before she finished her teens.
The hits started rolling out in 1998 with the release of Destiny's Child's first album and the Wyclef Jean-produced single “No, No, No.” But the Beyoncification of America actually began in the late 1980s, when a 7-year-old from Houston took first place at a local talent show where most of the contestants were at least twice her age. The first-grader won by singing “Imagine” by John Lennon, another member of the 10,000 Hour Club.
In 1992, 11-year-old Beyonce, cousin Kelly Rowland, childhood friend LaTavia Roberson and the rest of a group that was then called Girls Tyme appeared on “Star Search.” They lost to the Detroit band Skeleton Crew, which still exists 21 years later but never quite capitalized on the straight 4's they received against what Ed McMahon called the “hip-hop-rapping” Girls Tyme's straight 3's. Clearly, Beyonce and the rest of the girls had a few hours to go.
But when Destiny's Child, featuring Beyonce, Rowland, Roberson and LeToya Luckett, was finally ready for its close-up, the timing was perfect. By the late 1990s, the alt-rock revolution was a memory and R&B-inflected teen pop had taken over the charts. At the time, Destiny's Child seemed like only the latest variation on the TLC formula that ran so smoothly as pop's adjunct to 1990s hip-hop and went solidly platinum with the debut album. But then the group quickly released 1999's “The Writing's on the Wall,” featuring “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Say My Name,” two inescapable hits that seemed to signal some kind of permanence. Even Elvis Costello deemed “Say My Name” “as good as anything (Motown's) Holland-Dozier-Holland ever wrote. It's a simple story anybody can recognize, done with tremendous panache.”
And that, it turned out, was Destiny's Child's peak. With the departure of Luckett and Roberson, the group was looking more and more like the launchpad for Beyonce's solo career, which commenced with appearances and songs in MTV's “Carmen: A Hip-Hopera” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember.” Destiny's Child's “Survivor,” featuring new member Michelle Williams, posted strong sales but fewer standout songs than its predecessor, while Beyonce's proper solo debut, 2003's “Dangerously in Love,” was fully confident and packed with great songs such as “Crazy in Love,” the opening track featuring her future husband, Jay-Z. She returned to Destiny's Child for one final full album, 2004's “Destiny Fulfilled,” but compared to “Dangerously in Love,” it felt more like contract fulfillment than destiny fulfillment.
‘What I was born for'
Each of Beyonce's solo albums — “Dangerously in Love,” 2006's “B'Day,” 2008's “I Am ... Sasha Fierce” and 2011's “4” — has hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. No surprise there, but what the 31-year-old singer excels at are omnipresent singles like “Baby Boy,” “Check on It,” “Irreplaceable” and her duet with Lady Gaga, “Telephone,” and the occasional transcendent pop-cultural moment like “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” a song that will be played at wedding receptions until the end of time. Because of the power that comes with her success, Beyonce regularly takes sounds and visual ideas that might be considered too edgy for mainstream singers with lesser clout and creates singular works like the superb single and video, “Countdown,” that look and sound like nothing else.
“The biggest thing I've learned is, if I don't feel passionate about something, as far as my music, I don't do it,” Beyonce told The Oklahoman in 2006 during a press day for “Dreamgirls.” “If I don't like a song, I don't care who likes it — I'm not putting it on an album. And if everybody else doesn't like it and I like it, I'll still put it on there, because I just live by that.”
That confidence in her choices is put over with one of the most precise and wide-ranging voices in current pop and R&B, which made it so surprising when Beyonce chose to sing along to her own voice at President Barack Obama's second inauguration in January. Days later, as she prepared to perform at the Super Bowl in New Orleans, Beyonce answered accusations of lip-syncing by breaking into an a cappella performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a press conference.
“I am a perfectionist and one thing about me: I practice until my feet bleed,” she told The Associated Press. “I did not have time to rehearse with the orchestra. Due to no proper sound check, I did not feel comfortable taking a risk. It was about the president and the inauguration, and I wanted to make him and my country proud, so I decided to sing along with my prerecorded track.”
She then promised to sing completely live at the Super Bowl halftime.
“This is what I was born to do, what I was born for,” she said. “I've had a 16-year career. All the things I've done have prepared me for this.”
Which begs the question: How many thousands of hours has Beyonce clocked at this point? Gladwell should do a special calculation.