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When I just sit back and think about some of Beyoncé’s best cuts, the underappreciated top my list: the Freakum Dresses, the Die With Yous, the Creoles, the Signs, the No Angels, the Kitty Kats, and the Ring The Alarms of the bunch. For me, the front runner of that list is “Hello.” In light of the Queen Bey’s birthday, this shall be the appropriate time to show all the love to her I Am … Sasha Fierce gem as her ultimate.
It’s on “Black Effect” of The Carters’ EVERYTHING IS LOVE where even Beyoncé re-exposes her favor for “Hello.” That album being one of the more unorthodox and unrepentant of this summer’s elite hip-hop releases, EVERYTHING IS LOVE candidly displays a royal couple reliving the glory days of their courtship through public references and hidden Easter eggs for their die-hard fans.
On the second verse of “Black Effect,” Beyoncé describes her glamorous arrival to any scene. It’s here where she’s joined by JAY-Z in not only referencing the late Shawty Lo’s “They Know,” but also shouting out “Hello, Hello!” And make no mistake, that wasn’t a typo: They actually say, “Come up out that pretty motherfucker like, ‘HEL-LO-O, HEL-LO-O!’”
Flashing back to nine years ago, “Hello” would find its way on the Sasha Fierce B-Side of the album’s deluxe edition. Split into two halves, the LP plays into the duality of Beyoncé’s artistry—her I Am side embodying the lite balladry of her true personality, and the Sasha Fierce side channeling her upbeat stage persona. Though it seems Beyoncé has always navigated these waters throughout her discography, I Am … Sasha Fierce was meant to be an outright commentary.
It’s at “Hello” where we witness all of Beyoncé’s worlds collide, becoming the central culmination of her sound. “Hello” exists within the complexities of her duality. It’s a bit pop, it’s a bit R&B, and it’s a bit hip-hop. It’s uptempo at times, midtempo at others, but in actuality it’s an all-around ballad registering 98 bpm. It’s got the attitude of Sasha Fierce, but also the theatrical flair of I Am. It rings truest to the natural form of Beyoncé’s work prior to its recording and after.
During her 'I Am … World Tour,' Beyoncé revealed “Hello” had been her favorite song to sing off the album. Judging by her intense and passionate vocal performance, one that yearns to deeply express experiencing love at first sight—or rather, at first greeting—it’s not hard to tell why she would say this. Her voice dramatically resonates as it’s underscored by an operatic keyboard chord that cycles viciously back into itself.
“Hello” recalls the urgency of “Dangerously In Love,” while replicating a subtle anthemic energy which made B’Day resonate. The song also ties into a long running theme Beyoncé’s explored since her days with Destiny’s Child: communication. From including a song called “Video Phone,” another called “Satellites,” and having “Sweet Dreams” as a single, the 'I Am' era honed in on the power of sending messages by your own terms.
Beyoncé’s start in the industry collided with the Y2K digital retrograde and its aftermath on human interactions. Up until “Hello,” and its parent era, the songstress’ artistic voyage has travelled through the popularity of pagers and AOL email, Razor flip phones and T-Mobile Sidekicks, YouTube, iTunes, and the ringtone era of HD video camera phones, Androids, and iPhones.
The robotic characteristics of the Sasha Fierce volume highlights her human desire for perfectionism, recreating an A.I. Westworld version of her alter ego. The beeps, clicks, and churning screws of “Video Phone,” “Single Ladies,” and “Diva” are just some of the new age enhancers that answer back to “Satellites,” “If I Were A Boy,” and “Broken Hearted Girl.” And if “Halo” had a respondent on the flip side, naturally “Hello” would be the best choice (as Google search results even seem to be confused).
So, it’s at “Hello” where the self is removed from those digital shadows, where Beyoncé’s forced to react to someone else’s presence, face to face, in the moment. And in this instance, while Bey’s supposed to be Sasha Fierce, she slowly lets her guard down until it’s time to explode. At first, she heightens her Houstonian twang (“and when ya talk, er’rybody talk 'cause ya know just what to say”) as Sasha shows out, trying to match the swagger of Brooklyn’s Finest. But eventually she gives in to vulnerable belting, an octave change at the bridge, and then another at the final hook.
From a performance standpoint, what draws listeners into the simplicity of “Hello” is Beyoncé’s stressing of her vowels, particularly on each “oh.” These acrobatics through syllables would eventually strengthen by the time of 4’s “I Care” and “Start Over.” Aside from Beyoncé’s operatic vocal display and an adult contemporary touch of the keys, “Hello” is propelled by the heart of a thumping marching percussion. That drum is what gives Beyoncé’s rap-singing skill—a craft she’s partaken since her “No, No, No, Part 2” days of 1997—a strong platform to be flexed.
Of course it’s up for debate what actually is Beyoncé’s best—it’s quite subjective, as I’ve toyed with a while ago. What makes “Hello” a standout amongst the pack is how it twinkles with a comfortable ease. From start to finish, it’s understandable that Beyoncé felt every word and note she had to sing. It’s an instance of many more where she fully commands her song, effortlessly portraying how real life moments have drafted her present musical legacy.
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