Beyoncé has never been short on ambition or self-belief. By 2003, the future Mrs. Carter had pretty much done it all. Destiny’s Child was a global phenomenon and her position as the unacknowledged-but-obvious centerpiece of the group had brought money, fame and even a budding movie career. But the 21-year-old sensed she had a higher calling and set about making the oft-tried, rarely successful transition to solo stardom. To say Bey achieved her goal is something of an understatement. Dangerously In Love sold 11 million copies worldwide, produced four top 10 hits — including two chart-toppers — and garnered five Grammy Awards. Beyoncé was not just a viable solo star but the new Queen of R&B and arguably the hottest female artist on the planet.
For such an influential and important album, Dangerously In Love was greeted with palpable disdain from many critics upon release. Rolling Stone praised the uptempo songs but dismissed the ballads, declaring: “Beyonce isn’t in a class with the likes of Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey as a singer.” The LA Times described her voice as “tiresome” and lamented her “diva acrobatics”, while The New York Times went a step further — calling Billboard‘s Millennium Award recipient “no Ashanti“. The general consensus was that Bey’s debut tried too hard to please everybody to the project’s overall detriment.
There is an element of truth to that. Dangerously In Love is the triple threat’s least cohesive offering but much of the album’s considerable charm stems from its eclectic nature. In many ways, it lays the blueprint for I Am… Sasha Fierce by dabbling in commercial pop and soulful R&B — the only difference being that the genres aren’t clearly delineated here, which could explain some of the initial confusion. I also believe critics misinterpreted Beyoncé’s ambition as a lack of focus. She wasn’t so much pandering to all-comers as trying to show what she could do. And she can do a lot. Really, really well.
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