In some respects, I'm quite anti-music. I can't stand it used loudly in shops and restaurants, I loathe pushy, incidental music in TV programmes and films - I find it distracting and irritating in equal measure. I rail against my husband's necessity for BOTH radios in the house to be on at the same time - they're not in sync, so one plays a second behind the other, driving me incandescent with annoyance.
Oddly, however, there are similarities between the way I use music and how my father - an obsessive audiophile and multi-genre slag - uses it. When I feel the need, it must be very loud and in short, intense bursts. Just a song or two satiates me... then its back to my hutch of silence to pore over books and listen to the noises inside my head.
My father prescribes to a similar methodology and although he listens to music far more regularly than I, it's always with the same deliberate intent: using the noise for a specific purpose and to fit a very definite mood or emotive requirement. His audio equipment, however, having been built for the sole purpose of rattling teacups in the next county in as logarithmically perfect a manner as possible, far outweighs my own set-up of plugging a crappy pair of free headphones into my laptop, but the net results are the same.
I listen to music, it occurred to me, for one reason: to mark the transition between one mental state and another. For example, having finished working on a piece of writing and deciding to do a bit of ironing, or having made the seven urgent 'phone calls on my list and just prior to spending half an hour staring fixedly into space thinking about those little circular red and white gingham paper things that go on the top of jam jars.
Compartmentalising the day is entirely necessary when one doesn't have the markers available to those who work in a more structured environment: morning break, lunch hour, afternoon sneaking into the stationary cupboard to pinch Post-It Notes etc, etc.
So, for all my lack of learn'd knowledge on the subject I nevertheless have the temerity to cast an opinion on music (let's not dress it up as critique, I am after all of no such standard): Beyonce isn't as good as Kelly Rowland. And I'll tell you why.
To begin with, it having no bearing on the standard of her musical output whatsoever, I'd always been somewhat suspicious of Beyonce's role as "leader" of Destiny's Child. My gravitating towards Kelly began early in their career when Kelly stood out as the more natural performer - blessed as she is with that effortless homegirl sway compared to Beyonce's wholly contrived strut.
It soon became apparent that by rote of Beyonce's mum being the one who designed all their stage costumes, and Beyonce's dad being their manager, it was Beyonce who was forever going to take centre stage.
Admittedly, it did Destiny's Child no harm at all to have Beyonce all up front, dishing out the obvious moves for the others to follow and practising her "fierce" face throughout their early releases. It served to define them in the same way that it was important for Liam to punch photographers while Noel wrote the music and did his job as a proper musician.
There was something in the tilt of Beyonce's chin that made me question her belief in the portrayal of the independent woman she was purporting to be. Of course, the mere idea that Beyonce is, in any way, independent is not borne out in the tales of her sheltered upbringing and the machinations of her father's singular ambition for his daughter. No matter: to be a female pop star is to get into character and assimilate yourself into the consciousness of the millions of young women you'll inspire to their own efforts at chart domination. By that measure alone, and for me at least, Beyonce's smile was writing cheques her eyes couldn't cash.
Then, there's the insistence from Camp Beyonce that she's some kind of reckoner in the fight against male domination of the hip hop world. This shocker came in the form of Beyonce's recent interview in The Gentlewoman where she says: "I’m controlling my content, controlling my brand and archiving it for my daughter and making sure she has it and she respects it but there’s not enough of us that become moguls".
Oh, really? Beyonce is about as much of a mogul as she is an independent woman. She's a puppet, controlled by the men who market her and has lived way too an insulated life to even begin to know what true control is. In any case, why is it so that women must be seen to be powerful? In the hip-hop/R&B music industry especially power is, all too often, a byword for misogynistic practices (perpetrated by men and women alike) which deem females as having to "fight" or "struggle" to be seen favourably by males.
The focus is all wrong. True undiluted creativity is power itself - having the guts, talent, drive and self-belief to be yourself, 100% of the time. Beyonce isn't herself and she admits as much when she refers to herself as a "brand". She's a creation of the industry and will, therefore, never bite the hand that feeds her by being too creative, too honest, too visceral, interesting, opinionated or, dare I say it, even too black.
Kelly, by contrast, doesn't know how to be anything other than herself. She'd no more know what to do with "power" than she would with a Black & Decker workmate. What she DOES do, however, is consistently help to create music that makes me want to get up and dance. Far from purporting to be some kind of equality-seeking exocet missile in a leotard, Kelly turns up, does her job as the perfect reincarnation of Donna Summer and skips off home again (most likely stopping off to chew suggestively on a red liquorice shoelace in amongst a group of basketball playing homeboys along the way).
Kelly has power purely because she appears to have no real idea of her allure or sexuality. She's Cinderella to Beyonce's ugly sister: innocently going about the business of making the kind of music that doesn't need to punch itself through a wall for every hard-won intonation of womanhood.
I urge you, dear reader, to watch the video for Kelly's "What a Feeling". There's our disco nymph, clad only in thigh-high black leather boots and a simple white shirt letting the music direct her and acting accordingly. Beyonce, by contrast, sets herself up as a goddess, requiring all manner of bling and frippery to deliver her message. Have you seen the teaser for her next "world" (Europe and North America) tour? She's actually gone and contradicted the entire message of her own weak philosophy by labelling it "The Mrs Carter Show". Laugh? I nearly didn't.
Kelly, by rote of your simple ethics, carefree manner and quiet dignity, you're the muse a million DJs long for to bring their beats alive with a coy little smile and understated style. You put the ass into sass in a way that Beyonce can only ever do when surrounded by a multi-million dollar PR machine and given the kind of fettling usually reserved for highly-strung racehorses (who may look great out on the field but sweat and shudder uncontrollably in the paddock and have to be medicated to keep them from having a heart attack when not running at the limit of their capability).
When our Cinder-Kelly loses her glass slipper, she'll shrug and hitch a lift home on a milk float before falling softly into her little bed and dreaming of pastel-coloured ponies. Unaffected and light as a feather, everything she touches turns to spun sugar: elevating the simple practice of vocalising for a DJ to disco gold that will always get me up out of my chair and singing at the top of my terrible, tone-deaf lungs.
And that, in the way I use music, is what a truly great performer should do: no more, no less. Kelly, I salute you.