There’s an obnoxious Twitter feed called Shady Music Facts, which does a wonderful job of feeding material to stans of various pop stars who like to slander each other’s favorite artists with the fun facts provided. The practice itself is not new. Before social media, people engaged in this habit by way of Internet message boards. Blame my mama for introducing me to this pastime as a teenager by way of not letting me go party in middle and high school.
In any event, I see these tweets inserted into my timeline damn near every single day, only I will say it reminds me of something I had already known: Though she might be a pop cultural deity, and continues to be wildly successful and influential, Beyoncé has not had a major solo pop hit all decade. Yes, “Drunk in Love” made it No. 2 on the Hot 100, but Jay Z hopped on the coattails of that obvious hit, thus meaning she didn’t go it alone.
Sample tweets from this feed about such reality include, “Despite not reaching #1, 'FourFiveSeconds' peaked higher than Beyoncé’s last FIVE singles.”
And: “BEYONCÉ era: 1 Top 3 single. 1989 era...so far: 2 #1 singles + a top 10 single.”
Also: “Thanks to Lady Gaga, 'Telephone' is the best selling song that Beyoncé has featured on this decade.”
Plus: “Rihanna has managed to achieve six #1 singles since Beyoncé last had her #1 single in 2008.”
Although these facts are irrefutable, context is key, and once you’re clued in on that, you realize how much more remarkable Beyoncé’s success this decade is. Taylor Swift is an industry unto herself, but the same can be said of Beyoncé—and really, Beyoncé’s stature overall still arguably overrides hers. Swift may as well be the Team Captain of the celebrity wing of the Beyhive.
As for Lady Gaga, well, you remember ARTPOP, don’t you?
Meanwhile, Rihanna may very well break Mariah Carey’s Billboard record (pray for Mariah if this ever happens), but she is a contemporary success wherein her biggest boasts are with singles rather than albums—a fact Shady Music Facts has, too, pointed out.
This is not to discredit the aforementioned; I like them all. What it does, though, is remind me that much of Beyoncé’s lack of solo hits this decade says more about the state of radio and music than Beyoncé. Beyoncé is still very much a fixture of radio, only she is played more so on “urban radio,” that loaded term for radio largely geared toward hip-hop and R&B fans. Or you know, the blacks as some of your older kinfolk might refer to us as.
There are still songs on those stations that enjoy pop radio crossover, but there are mainly songs by rappers and/or male singers. In 2014, Pharrell became the first black person to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 since December 2012, when Rihanna’s “Diamonds” was on top. Yes, Rihanna is a black woman, but many of her top hits are pop-leaning. “Diamonds” is a song penned by Sia, after all. Yet, when Rihanna releases singles like “Pour It Up” or “Loveeeeeee Song” featuring a crooning ass Future, those, too, are relegated to mainly “urban radio” airplay.
The decimation of urban radio and its effects on both single and album performance have been chronicled, though no one has since pointed out the obvious: If you’re a black woman singing R&B in the 2010s, chances are your greatest success will be on black radio stations and subsequently marginalized.
If you’re a black woman singing R&B in the 2010s, chances are your greatest success will be on black radio stations and subsequently marginalized.
Given Beyoncé’s music has been unapologetically black, this is proof that even the biggest pop star in the world is not immune to the current radio climate not being remarkably supportive of black women singing R&B. However, Katy Perry can do “Dark Horse” with Juicy J and go on to great success—including getting spins on urban radio. I can only imagine how much of a bigger hit “2 On” would’ve been had it gone to someone of her ilk. Or worry that John Legend’s “All of Me” might’ve never gone No. 1 on the Hot 100 if Jill Scott or Ledisi performed it.
And yet, Hot 100 positions are increasingly a less reliable way of measuring the state of certain acts’ careers. Beyoncé’s last album sold an obscene amount of copies at a much higher price point than usual through iTunes. She continues to sell out world tours; have a booming social media presence; and set streaming records.
All without having a solo pop hit all decade. Though that doesn’t make the ways of today’s pop radio any less unfair, it does prove that a black artist can remain at the forefront of music if they learn to be creative and less obsessed with keeping up with the trends that don’t value them anyway. Beyoncé has not diluted her black sound and continues to matter—often more than her contemporaries. Those tweets may be cue for a chuckle, but that’s the real shade.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem, and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him @youngsinick.