In this week's Pop is Not A Dirty Word, columnist Douglas Greenwood unpacks the inimitable talent of Beyoncé, the biggest big cat of pop
In 2019, Queen of “Is There Anything She Can’t Do?” Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is a big cat, and it suits her. There are few animals on earth that possess the prowess, strength and matriarchal energy that she does. A bird of paradise, perhaps? No, too vain; all style and little substance. A majestic, Savannah-bounding gazelle? Pretty, but prey.
No, Beyoncé is a big cat. She could nurse you back to health, but also chew the flesh off your limbs (metaphorically, of course) if you gave her a reason to. She rules the roost. There are no other pop stars like her.
Which explains why Disney thought she’d be the perfect fit to head up the cast of their photorealistic remake of ‘The Lion King’, which hits cinemas this week. I saw it bleary-eyed on Monday morning and, unlike many critics, found it captivating: a feat of next-level filmmaking that retains plenty of the charm of the original while existing as its own beast entirely too. Playing the adult version of Simba’s childhood crush Nala (alongside a certain Mr Donald Glover), Beyoncé somehow manages to channel all of those energies she’s synonymous with into a computer generated character with a spattering of dialogue that she’s handed. Her talents? Boundless, to be quick fucking honest with you.
It makes sense that such an inimitably powerful woman was cast to play the most prominent female character in the film. Its title might suggest machismo but in real life, it’s the lionesses who call the shots in their prides. In an article for National Geographic, writer Erin Biba points out that “lion prides are matrilineal societies [in which] the males barely stick around”, meaning that females are responsible for both shaping and hunting for the rest of the pack. The sentiment of the male species being unreliable trash at times is, clearly, a through-line in the narratives of Beyonce’s game-changing pop records and the animal kingdom. Like I said, she was literally the perfect choice for this role.
When she’s not packed into a stadium tour schedule or navigating the release of another behemoth record, she’s also knows the ins and outs of quiet dominance. While most men in the industry showcase their power by forcefully shoving it in other’s faces (Frank Ocean might be one of the few exceptions to this), Beyoncé has mastered a way of flexing her worth in a way that perfectly maintains her flaw-free public image. She’s a goddess; a master of her culture.
If the rumours are true, Beyoncé took home a jaw-dropping pay packet for her work in The Lion King: around $25 million for playing Nala, executive producing the soundtrack and recording the film’s lead song ‘Spirit’. Considering her voice work in the film alone totals about 25 lines of dialogue (each and every one of them iconic), she’s solidified her status as one of the most prolific self-made woman millionaires in the world this year.
That’s the beauty of Beyoncé, as a pop star, film star and cultural icon: she knows her worth and will fight tooth and nail for it. I can’t think of anyone better to play Disney’s headstrong lioness.