Jesse Jarnow

“crazy in love” – beyonce featuring jay-z (part II)

A tactic I frequently try to take when I write about music is to try to imagine what an imaginary listener with no foreknowledge of the group (or maybe even of the genre) might think. What would stand out? What would be puzzling? Usually, the reason to do that is try to force myself to listen with a fresh ear, and ultimately be able to communicate what it is that I love about a favorite track or band that I take for granted. Here, I find myself being genuinely naive. Here that comes to bear with the way I parse “Crazy In Love” without much knowledge of who Beyonce and Jay-Z are.

Given the nature of the song (R & B/pop-style love tune), Jay-Z’s appearance in the middle, rapping about stuff that has little to do (upon first inspection) with the rest of the song, which is a fairly normal set of verses about being (not to sound too stiff or nothin’), er, crazy in love. Slowed down with the horns playing live, these parts could basically be an early Motown side (and a good one, at that). Jay-Z’s rap, then, is a far more literal interpretation of “crazy in love” might mean, hinging on the “crazy” part. “Crazy and deranged,” he sings. “They can’t figure ’em out, they’re like ‘hey, is he insane?’ Yes sir, I’m cut from a different cloth, my texture is the best fur, of chinchilla.” (Or, of course, this could be totally bunk. Me trying to figure this shit out reminds of that Bloom County strip where Michael Dukakis, George Bush, and Bill The Cat present their versions of the “Louie, Louie” lyrics.)

The two sections – Beyonce and Jay-Z – are vastly different. How is this meant to be read? As (like above) a literal embodiment of crazy, via the sudden shift from a sultry slice o’ R & B/pop to a rap? Or, does it hinge on the listener’s knowledge of Beyonce and Jay-Z? I dunno much about ’em, but her All Music entry refers to Jay-Z as “her man.” Okay, so we’ve got that. Whether or not one knows that, though, one is likely expected to know a bit about Jay-Z, which would then contextualize his appearance. (Though if one is expected to have background on Jay-Z, is he also expected to know that he is/was in a thang with Beyonce?) Can it be both? If one knew what Jay-Z normally sounded like, and even knew what was going on, would his appearance then be jarring and crazy-sounding? In this case, I don’t think one can have it both ways.

It’s not a matter that’s likely to be given much thought, nor should it be. That’s the nature of pop, and that’s why I’m probably more inclined to go with the latter explanation, even if the producers are going for the former. (Does it work, in my case, then, for the wrong reasons?)

The All Music Guide is a great resource, but it is unable to account for things going on now (again, that’s fine, it’s not what it’s designed to do). For example, much of the impact of “Crazy In Love” probably has to do with extra-musical things — bits of “news” about the musicians not conveyed by/through the medium of recorded music, but through culture at large: star gossip rags, websites, etc.. To me, that’s a very big element of pop music. For a listener who knows about Jay-Z and Beyonce’s history, that would add an amount of pleasure (in the form of expectation) when listening to the track for the first time. Star power, in other words.

Maybe that can be simplified into saying that it’s music that very much relies on its place in current culture. In that sense, content aside, pop can always be considered relevant, can always be considered “news” of a sort, in a way that more insular/consciously art-minded musicians (like, say, Phish or Yo La Tengo) never could be.