Now that the dust has settled on Beychella and we’ve watched the performance a good two or three times, it’s time to have a very important conversation. Where does Beyoncé stand on the list of the greatest performers of all time?
After Beyoncé’s breathtaking performance at Coachella, a conversation ensued on whether or not she has officially surpassed Michael Jackson as the greatest live entertainer of all time.
After going back and comparing performances from the two, I’ve come to my own conclusion. Now, if you guys don’t know, I’m a huge Beyoncé fan and even my eyes opened pretty wide when I saw where this discussion was heading.
Let me be clear, Beyoncé and Michael Jackson are both the ultimate performers. They’ve both reached the peak of their craft and have set the bar for other performers, however, I don’t believe Beyoncé has surpassed MJ as a performer. I’m not even sure if she needs to or if this has to be a thing, but I can understand why music enthusiasts want to have this conversation.
On my podcast Breakdown 2 Lowdown, my co-host and I had a conversation I wish we could’ve continued forever. We discussed at length whether the student can surpass the teacher and likened it to Beyoncé and Michael Jackson. We lovingly call Beyoncé “Queen Bey” and no one can diminish her light or downplay her influence. The Queen however, learned all she knows from the King of Pop himself, from work ethic to stage endurance and more.
It’s obvious Beyoncé is a student from the School of Michael Jackson and she has mentioned many times that Michael Jackson is her biggest inspiration and influence (Tina Turner being another major one). So, if she’s a derivative of Michael, can she ever truly surpass him and become the greatest performer of all time? I wish. I truly wish that in 25-30 years we could look back and say that the greatest live performer of all time is a black woman, but again, I don’t entirely believe that can be the case.
Let’s look at this objectively. Beyoncé and Michael Jackson are from two completely different eras of music and technology. I would say that when it comes to live performances, Beyoncé has had access to tools and effects that MJ could’ve only dreamed of. Even without all the constant theatrics, Michael was able to command his audience with a simple finger point. It can also be argued that Michael Jackson didn’t “need” as many gimmicks and screens to put on a great show. To that I would say watch Beyoncé perform her minimalist sets at Roseland and at Wynn Las Vegas.
They’re both remarkable performers who can put on a great show full of special effects or a great stripped down show. So then how do we decide? Beyoncé is younger than Michael was at the time of his unfortunate death and we assume she’s just getting warmed up. We were robbed of Michael’s final performances and we’ll never know how they would’ve turned out. Despite that fact, and the fact that Michael Jackson had already solidified his spot before he left us, Beyoncé might be able to surpass him, but we’ll see in 15 years. After all, Michael Jackson surpassed his idol James Brown.
Whatever happens, Michael Jackson will always remain the most influential artist of all time. The bottom line is we’ll never forget Michael opening that HIStory tour coming out of a spaceship, or him hitting that Smooth Criminal lean every night. And we won’t forget Beyoncé hitting every key change to Love On Top every night of her tours and leaning so far back in that chair at the Grammys that we got scared for the twins. Iconic. Legendary.
Before I close, I have to mention some other amazing and legendary performers that you dare not forget. Janet Jackson. James Brown. Diana Ross. Prince. Bobby Brown. Tina Turner. Whitney Houston. They teach us that being a great performer isn’t about being the best dancer or the best singer, but about the ability to execute one or both of those things at an extraordinary level, while commanding and captivating your audience; and nobody does it better than Beyoncé and Michael Jackson.
By Nicky Jean
Nicky Jean is an Ottawa-based poet, podcaster, singer and rapper, as well as a radio host at CHUO 89.1FM