Friday, January 14, 2011

Reba McEntire, "If I Were a Boy"

Reba covering a Beyonce pop hit?  Seriously?  While far from being her first attempt at a cover song, it may seem odd for a country music legend to be covering a song by a squarely modern mainstream pop star such as Beyonce.  The young starlets like Beyonce should be the ones covering Reba's songs, not vice-versa, right?  But, in all honesty, would such complaints exist if the world had never heard Beyonce's original version of "If I Were a Boy"?

While it may seem like a bit of an oddball cover choice for Reba, it is hard to make an argument for this song being beneath Reba's talents.  "If I Were a Boy," penned by Toby Gad and B.C. Jean, is a well-written song that examines gender gaps in a relationship.  The female narrator imagines herself as a male in her significant other's shoes, vowing that she would "be a better man," and wishing that her man in turn would make an effort to understand her and her feelings.

That may seem more convincing coming from 27-year-old pop diva than from a 55-year-old country star, but Reba sells it with her performance.  While we may more readily imagine such a scenario in a younger relationship, Reba's age does not invalidate the possibility of her having gone through a similar experience herself.  It's also noteworthy that Reba's take on "If I Were a Boy" if far from being a copy.  When compared with Beyonce's version, one may notice that Reba's vocal nuances are surprisingly different than Beyonce's.  Reba begins the song in a low and restrained tone, but lets her voice rise as the song continues.  Still, her performance carries an air of sincerity throughout, and we never get the feeling that we're just listening to a really good karaoke singer.  Her vocal carries the song through an unnecessary rise in production that pushes the song to power ballad status, but the single mercifully never approaches the utter cacophony of "Turn On the Radio."

As expected, Reba puts a country spin on the tune, but the country elements do not sound slapped-on.  The subtle steel guitar chords sound very much in character with the emotions expressed in the song, and they country elements neither seem superfluous, nor do they seem to stick out awkwardly.  It's still a far cry from traditional country music, but it's not hard to imagine this song being originally intended for the pop-country market.  In addition, this single does not sound far removed from the pop-country stylings Reba explored on her previous album.

There are a million ways Reba's remake could have gone wrong, but she turns in a strong performance on this track.  Sure, this cover may be another reflection of Reba's "appeal to the younguns" strategy, but once you get over the obvious inappropriateness of Reba covering Beyonce, you will find that this is actually a surprisingly good single.  There have been instances when some of Reba's best covers went so far as to eclipse the originals (Think "Fancy" and "The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia").  While that's unlikely to happen in this instance, it shows what a unique interpretive ability Reba has when paired with a worthy song.  It's to Reba's credit as a vocalist that she was able to make her take on "If I Were a Boy" sound this natural.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)