Sharing a family bond/last name with a superstar can be a double-edged sword: it can provide instant exposure, but it can also cast a huge shadow that may never be dodged. Such has been the dilemma of pop songstress Solange (Knowles). Being Beyoncé’s younger sister definitely has its perks, but it also has the downside that everything Solange has done up to now has instantly been held for comparison against the work of her superstar sibling.
With the release of her new EP True, Solange has done probably the smartest thing she could have done to step out of that shadow: she has removed the impulse to draw comparisons. Tapping the co-writing and producing talents of Devonté Hynes, Solange has created something that sounds nothing like her sister—something of quality that will appeal to a completely different audience.
We’ll get to the content of True in a moment, but it is worth mentioning that we can actually see a progression of smart choices from Solange in the past few years, each of which has helped create a healthy distance between her and her sister:
- Keep the last name off the moniker. Check. Solange is just “Solange,” not “Solange Knowles.”
- Go indie. While this move may reduce some exposure at the beginning, getting off the major labels pulls Solange off the field of competition.
- Adopt a completely different musical style. If Beyoncé is growing apples, you grow oranges. It’s that simple.
It is this third step in the progression that best describes the value of True. While still “officially” in the pop/R&B vein, Solange has actually created a niche sound that combines electronic, dance, and even 80’s synth-pop elements with a reflective, almost morose indie-rock vibe. And while this girl definitely has some solid vocal chops, the songs rely more on overall mood than on vocal runs. The end result is a well-produced EP that not only is so different from Beyoncé that comparisons can’t be made, but will actually appeal to an entirely different crowd.
In other words—rather than fight for her share of the fish, Solange has chosen to fish in a whole other pond. Smart move, girl.
Now floating in completely different waters, Solange has room to experiment on True. This typically happens in the form of creating a semi-minimalistic sonic environment, and trying out some different brush strokes against that backdrop. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. With the opening track “Losing You”, the dominant feature is a complex drum loop filled with voice samples and clicks, overlaid with simple keyboard chords and a melody. At first, the loop feels sloppy and distracting, but it comes to make sense within the context of the song. A less-successful venture is the effected, rambling, spoken-word section (courtesy of producer Dev Hynes) on “Some Things Never Seem To F**king Work.” Well, that part sure doesn’t. Work, that is. All things considered, however, the album doesn’t just provide good music—it creates good art.
Creating a niche indie work like True does create a sense of risk, and admittedly the size of Solange’s audience is highly unlikely to come close to that of her sister. But given the magnitude of Beyoncé’s success, that was never going to be the case, anyhow. The best way for Solange to play the hand dealt to her and find her own voice is to formulate a different sound and play to a different audience. True accomplishes this brilliantly, giving Solange a fighting chance to find her own place in the light.