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Last week, a new Beyonce debuted a new song, "Standing on the Sun," in an online advertisement for the clothing company H&M. In the 90-second ad, she models bikinis while staring into the camera, dancing, splashing in the water and lip-synching the song. Apart from two bits of text on screen identifying the clothing maker, it looks like a Beyonce video. So does another commercial, released a couple of weeks earlier, that introduced the song "Grown Woman": In between sips of Pepsi, Beyonce dances with multiple mirror images of herself, dressed in outfits from her previous videos.
This isn't the first time a pop star has introduced a new song in an advertisement, but as with nearly everything Beyonce has done recently — gestate and bear a child, perform at President Obama's inauguration and at the Super Bowl, present an awkwardly assembled home video — it has felt like news, and fodder for endless discussion online.
"There's as much Beyonce as you can take," NPR Music's pop critic Ann Powers tells Morning Edition's David Greene. It's not unusual, that idea of using celebrity to sell a product. "In the early days," Powers says, "fan magazines were invented so that products could be pushed through the images of very early movie stars. Like Mary Pickford, for example: Her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks was the early 20th century version of Beyonce and Jay-Z."
You may think she's great; you may think she's overexposed, but there's no denying: Today, Beyonce stands alone in the pop landscape.
"One of the things about Beyonce's saturation of every moment of our lives is that she is largely in control of it," Powers says, "which makes her very different than many tabloid stars. The nature of tabloid media is that it's not in the star's control. We think of Britney Spears, that moment years ago when she shaved her head. Beyonce has almost completely taken command of her representation in these media, which is extremely unusual."
That control, and her drive for perfection, which led, indirectly, to both the inauguration controversy and the Super Bowl spectacular, means that we scrutinize her differently. "I do feel that what we're watching, we might call it The Beyonce Experiment," Powers says. "She wants to be A-class, No. 1 in critics' eyes. She wants to sell the most, and she wants to influence the culture. I'm interested to see how far she can take it. Plus, her new song is bangin'."