Looks like those shots of Beyoncé from the upcoming "Girls" video—in queen regalia, commanding her femme army of hundreds—were pretty well on the right track for what the song was going to sound like. One minute into "Girls (Who Run the World)" and Beyoncé's already worked in 16 mentions of of girls running shit ("Girls! We run this motha!" "Who run the world? Girls!" "Who run this motha? Girls!"). From there, Beyonce preaches female dominance over a popping Diplo beat (sampled from his own Major Lazer co-production "Pon De Floor"), emphasizing girl power not so much as straight-up girl militarism.
"Girls" is certainly an unconventional choice for a lead single, sounding more like a four-minute drill instruction than a traditional club banger. A lot of it has to do with the Diplo beat, which oscillates wildly between jaunty dancehall funk and stark minimalist drumming, often within the same measure. It worked brilliantly for Major Lazer's underground club hit, but mainstream embracing may be another matter. For Beyoncé, it's not too far out of the vein of others stripped-down hard-hitters like "Ring the Alarm" and (to a lesser extent) "Single Ladies," but it's not just the beat that makes the song strange—it's also fairly free-form in structure, featuring a chorus in three parts that kind of comes and goes in pieces throughout the song, and a verse whose melody rarely stays consistent for more than a few bars. The final product might have more in common with left-field pop icons like Grace Jones and Yoko Ono than with arguable peers like Rihanna or Mariah Carey.
Does it work? Well, yeah, for the most part. Beyoncé never sounds less than committed on her part, sounding feistier than she has in some time, growling "I might need a barber / None of these bitches can fade me / I'm so good with this / I remind you I'm so hood with this." Not many performers could grab such unquestionable command of a beat as slippery as Diplo's, but Beyoncé lassos it nicely, and as experimental as the song might sound, it's all unquestionably her. The song's general lyrical sentiment is far from revolutionary, and can even get a bit tiresome—not to mention that it's already been covered by B more than a handful of times in the past—but it's doubtful that her fanbase will be too put out by the thematic redundancy when she still puts it over so convincingly.
Will it be a hit? That's harder to say, since the thing is definitely weird. But then again, weird in pop music isn't as weird as it used to be, and a performer of Beyoncé's stature and command definitely possesses the power to made the odd normative without anyone even seeming to realize that something hinky is going on. Besides, it's not that much weirder than Chris Brown's similarly Diplo-produced "Look At Me Now," which the public didn't have any hesitation sending to the top ten. In any event, it's good to see that Sony exec Dennis Handlin's comments about B's new stuff being "groundbreaking; she’s gone to another level" weren't total smoke-blowing—"Girls" may or may not be legitimately innovative, and it may or may not end up being commercially successful, but nobody is gonna be mixing this up with Katy Perry on Top 40 radio.
For lots more pics, videos and up-to-the-second dish on Beyoncé, be sure to check out her Popdust Artist Page.