The meme #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat began picking up steam over the past week, presumably as people started distractedly searching the Web in anticipation of the long holiday weekend. Find a song, find a GIF-able snippet of a music video and voila! Two seconds of Internet fame. Or more, if your videos were among the best as chosen by Twitter users, Time, or Vulture, which deemed #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat 2015’s “Best meme so far.” So as a dance critic, I consider it my duty to set the record straight: Is Beyoncé actually more #onbeat than other performers?
Short answer: No. But as long as there are songs written in 4/4 time, and as long as there are people who have spare time to spend searching the interview for videos of her shaking her booty, the Internet will make certainly make it appear that Queen Bee’s every hip twist and body pump can be synced up to any given tune.
There’s Bollywood Beyoncé, rollerskating Beyoncé, and hundreds of more generic hip-hop-in-a-glitter-bodysuit Beyoncés. Those curating the posts usually claim that the clips are “a tribute to Queen Bey’s flawless choreography.” She’s a fantastic dancer, yes, but if the movements sync up to so many songs, wouldn’t it logically follow that that this is because the hands-on-hips, twist the-butt routine is actually pretty generic?
The Internet has a short memory. Back in 2011, at the height of her “Single Ladies” fame, Beyoncé and her creative team were accused of pilfering that prance from musical theater icon Bob Fosse. She later said it was a “tribute” to the choreographer of shows like “Pippin” and “Damn Yankees.” The dance community accepted that explanation, and welcomed her moves back into the canon. (A personal favorite features choreographer Mark Haim, in 3-inch heels, performing “Single Ladies” with male back-up dancers at the normally austere American Dance Festival in 2009.) But then later accusations suggested that Beyonce’s choreographers actively stole the most impressive, obscure international moves they could find on YouTube and repurposed them in music videos.
When these accusations arose, it was a little harder to believe that Beyoncé would pay “tribute” to Italian pop star Lurella Cuccarini, Japanese performance artist Kagemu, and avant-garde Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. (The Lincoln Center put on a festival celebrating De Keersmaeker’s work last year; Beyoncé did not attend.) What Beyoncé called “grinding the pony,” De Keersmaeker probably called a plié with rapid shoulder rolls. (Or the German equivalent there-of.) Also worth noting that the #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat clips don’t feature footage lifted from “Countdown”—the video that is pretty clearly vintage De Keersmaeker, and presumably, harder to sync another song to.
#BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat may be fun, especially if you’re a bored butt-man who knows how to use HotMetal Pro. But by Queen Bee’s own admission, it’s not the “meme of the year” because she’s always on beat, but because she commits to the beat so fully. What Beyoncé does do well, and perhaps better than most dancers, is sell every move with a little sex and a lot of what dance folks call “intent,” without over-exaggerating. When she says she’s going to “grind the pony,” we know she’s really going to grind it.