The Upper Hand is where Grantland staffers pit unsuspecting entertainers against one another to determine who currently has a greater grip on the hearts and minds of America. It’s a long way of saying X > Y. It may seem reductive, or even unnecessarily competitive, to put our gentle creators into a squared circle, but it’s a useful exercise in seeing who is doing things right, who is doing things wrong, who is doing things differently, and, of course, who is winning. At the end, a guest judge will hand down a verdict. Today’s debaters are Shea Serrano, on the side of Solange Knowles, and Rembert Browne, arguing the case for Beyoncé Knowles. Judging will be Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s favorite nephew, Juliet Litman.
The Contestants: Beyoncé Knowles vs. Solange Knowles
Domestic Box Office
Beyoncé: $613,126,941 (7 films)
Solange: $31,203,964 (1 film)
Beyoncé: Austin Powers in Goldmember
Solange: Johnson Family Vacation
Most Recent Hit
Solange: Johnson Family Vacation
Most Critically Acclaimed Role
Solange: Johnson Family Vacation
Rembert Browne: We’re arguing about movies, right? That’s why I picked Solange. Because Johnson Family Vacation is a classic. She went 1-for-1. There’s no need to continue making films. Kind of like the Spice Girls and Spice World. Nothing left to prove.
So yeah, just wanted to make sure we’re on the same page before proceeding.
Shea Serrano: OK, we are definitely not on the same page. First: No, we’re not talking movies. Second: You’re supposed to be arguing for Beyoncé. You picked her. I picked Solange. Like, we literally settled on that just 30 minutes before this conversation started. Remember?
This has certainly gotten off to not that great of a start. I’m probably going to win, because you are already at a score of -2.
We don’t have to talk exclusively about music here, and in fact I plan to definitely not do that. We can even go over their movies again, if you’d like. Here, I’ll start: I picked Solange because Johnson Family Vacation is a classic. She went 1-for-1; there’s no need to continue making films. Kind of like the Spice Girls and Spice World. There’s nothing left to prove.
Okay, so now you are at -3. Please stick to arguing for your person, moving forward. Thank you. Beyoncé. That’s you. Not Solange. That’s me. I’m for Solange. You’re for Beyoncé. Beyoncé = Rembert. Solange = Shea.
[Picture of Beyoncé stitched next to a picture of Rembert.]
Let’s talk about more things.
Rembert: I didn’t pick Beyoncé. You picked Solange and then turned off your computer and then put your fingers in your ears and screamed “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!” because you’re a child. Which is just a day in the life of being Shea Serrano.
It’s fine, though. This isn’t even about me and you. And it’s not about Beyoncé and Solange. It’s about your ability to argue for something you believe in, versus my ability to argue for something I don’t believe in.
And I’ve still got the upper hand.
Let’s start with this fact that I don’t necessarily believe, but that is 100 percent true: Without Beyoncé, there’s not Solange.
Did I just win?
Is it over?
Does Shea still work here?
Oh, he does? Well, here’s another thing I can convince the judge of: Both Solange and Beyoncé collaborated with Lil’ Bow Wow, but only one truly maximized that career opportunity.
As you remember, Solange was Mr. 106 & Park’s date in the 2001 music video for “Puppy Love,” which is a classic film. But what did Beyoncé and Shad Moss do together, in that same year, you ask?
Carmen: A Hip Hopera.
Is there a skunk rule? Can we wrap this up, I have meetings to take, as made explicitly clear by my very important papers.
Shea: You are my little beautiful Atlanta falcon, Rembert. May I please address each of your points?
I didn’t pick Beyoncé. You picked Solange and then turned off your computer and then put your fingers in your ears and screamed “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!” because you’re a child. Which is just a day in the life of being Shea Serrano.
Will you please click play on this video while you read this next part? Thank you:
The place where I live, Rembert, is the United States of America. And in the United States of America, we are results-oriented. Results-oriented, sir. Results are what built this beautiful country of ours. So, through that lens, the scenario you described looks more like this: I wanted to argue in favor of Solange because I like her, and also because I know she clearly has the upper hand against Beyoncé. You wanted to argue in favor of Solange because you like her, and also because she clearly has the upper hand against Beyoncé. And now I have what I want, and you do not. My LA LA LAs bursting in air gave proof through the night that our land was still there. Bring home our troops. They’re the real heroes. Go, America.
Please let the video play through if you finished reading the above part before it was over. Thank you.
To your other points, my perfect little flower:
Let’s start with this, a fact that I don’t necessarily believe, but that is 100 percent true: Without Beyoncé, there’s not Solange.
I suppose this is true, but probably not in the way you’re hoping. There is no Solange without Beyoncé, the same way there’s no PlayStation 4 without Atari, the same way there’s no slam dunk put-back without a missed shot. Beyoncé’s the missed shot. Her parents recognized it early. “Let’s crank out another kid, give this another shot,” they probably said. Then Solange came. Here is the actual video of her birth. You can see Beyoncé in the beginning:
Beyoncé is more famous than Solange. And it will always be that way. Everything you’re going to attempt to argue for Beyoncé will eventually spiral back to that point. But Beyoncé was long ago absorbed by her own level of success, and that’s made her toothless. Beyoncé’s most interesting moments all came in the front half of her career. Now, Beyoncé is like if Target or McDonald’s were a person. Solange is like if Solange was a person, which she is, which is why she has the upper hand, which is why Beyoncé is so jealous of her, which is what we’ll talk about here in a bit.
Oh, he does? Well, here’s another thing I can convince the judge of: Both Solange and Beyoncé collaborated with Lil’ Bow Wow, but only one truly maximized that career opportunity. As you remember, Solange was Mr. 106 & Park’s date in the 2001 music video for “Puppy Love,” which is a classic film. But what did Beyoncé and Shad Moss do together, in that same year, you ask?
Carmen: A Hip Hopera.
True. Both of those things are true. But may we please look a little closer, my fluffy little marshmallow? Here’s Lil’ Bow Wow in Carmen:
Two things. One: He bench presses 225 pounds in this scene. That’s beautiful. I just want to mention that. Two: Do you know who’s not in this scene? Beyoncé. Not one single time. I’m left to assume it was because Lil’ Bow Wow had it in his contract that if he did the movie, he’d have to do so with the least amount of contact with Beyoncé possible. He was one of the first to recognize she was going to become a square. Meanwhile, here’s the “Puppy Love” video:
THE WHOLE VIDEO IS SOLANGE.
Rembert: I didn’t know you could write that much without inserting some “illustration” you “drew” of “Drake” at a “basketball game.” For that, I’m not only impressed but also proud of you.
But now that you’ve truly proven the old saying that is “more is less,” let’s dead this Google Doc of ignorance that is conversing with you about something that doesn’t involve J.J. Watt.
I would bet a significant amount of money to the both of us ($15) that you could not sing three Solange songs. The same goes for two Solange songs ($10), as does it for one Solange song ($3.50).
You’re a fraud, Shea Serrano. A Mexican American fraud. And not even your chaperone, Bill Barnwell, can help you now. You’re the guy who writes 5,000 words about The Godfather and has never seen The Godfather. The guy who stumps for Mitt Romney but isn’t even registered to vote. The guy who can’t stop talking about all the advantages of pants, but doesn’t even own any pants. You’re THAT guy, Shea Serrano.
I bet you use Bing.
One time, someone tweeted this at Shea:
Shea didn’t respond. Because Shea doesn’t really have any idea who Solange is.
Because you don’t even know anything about Solange, I’ll tell you some things that she has going for her. Solange had the better wedding. Solange is BFFs with Janelle Monáe (another person you’ve never heard of). True is an incredible EP. And Solange has more surface-level Tina Knowles attributes than Beyoncé, which goes a long way.
I have no issue doing your job for you. Because it’s actually more challenging to argue against myself than to battle you.
You’re Freeway. I’m Cassidy.
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If you need any more ammo against me, just email me. I’ll act surprised.
Shea: Yes, please, let’s end this. Allow me two acts to do so, and then Ms. Litman can hand down her verdict:
Act I: 0 to 560, Real Slow — or, The Unraveling of the Beautiful Rembert Browne
Have you ever seen Catch Me If You Can? It’s one of my favorite movies. Leonardo DiCaprio is the star, but Christopher Walken, who plays Leo’s father, has the best bit. It’s very short, and it happens near the beginning of the movie, and it’s relevant to this very moment. Walken asks Leo if he knows why the Yankees always win. Leo takes a beat, and then asks if it’s because they have Mickey Mantle. (The movie was set in 1963.)
“No,” Walken tells Leo, “it’s because the other team can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.”
Your firm anti-Shea stance has blinded you today, Rembert. It swallowed up your whole everything.
Your only job was to argue why, and how, the most famous musician of the last 20 years has the upper hand versus her younger sister, a woman a sizable portion of the country had never seen or even heard of until she punched and kicked Jay Z on an elevator seven months ago. It was impossible for you to lose. And yet still, here we are.
An analysis: You contributed just a bit more than 560 words to this discussion here. You used 53 of your words to talk about how Solange was in a better movie than Beyoncé, because you’d forgotten you were supposed to be championing Beyoncé. (I’d like to point out here that Solange’s best movie is not Johnson Family Vacation, it’s Bring It On: All or Nothing. You somehow messed up your mess-up, which is truly special.) You used around 37 more words to offer a few more reasons Solange is better than Beyoncé. And with the other 470, you attempted to piece together an argument in 2014 Beyoncé’s favor, based on 2001 Beyoncé having been in the proximity of Lil’ Bow Wow for a moment. I mean, I’m looking at the wreckage, and I’m just not even sure how you got your car to hit that wall, that fast, on such a short road. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it this bad before. It’s you, then it’s 1994 NBA Finals Game 7 John Starks. I will say this, though: You have the warmest smile in your pictures. It’s really something.
Act II: The Entirety of the Solange vs. Beyoncé Battle, in Two Videos
This is the most recent video from Beyoncé. It’s for a song called “7/11”:
She released it (or, probably more accurately: Someone she told to release it released it) late Friday night almost two weeks ago. It arrived on the Internet for no real reason, it seemed. People watched it, and a lot of them swooned. “Oh my God,” they said. “Look how quirky and fun Beyoncé is,” they said. “She’s a normal person, she’s so interesting,” they said. “She just put this up because she was there having such a good time with her friends,” they said.
You know what I said? The same thing you said, and the same thing anybody who was paying attention said: That’s some real phooey. Because about a week prior, this video of Solange came out:
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That’s her, at her wedding, dancing with her son. That video is everything that Beyoncé wants to be. It’s intriguing, which Beyoncé definitely is not. (I’ll point you toward this picture of her wearing this Biggie Smalls hat, which is a thing only an uninteresting person would ever try.) It’s authentic, which Beyoncé definitely is not. (I’ll point you toward last year’s Beyoncé documentary, which was produced by Beyoncé and directed by Beyoncé.) It’s fun, and funny, and sincere, which Beyoncé definitely is not. (I’ll point you toward anything Beyoncé has ever said or done.)
Solange’s video came out and it was great, and so there were five minutes where 10 people were talking about a Knowles who wasn’t Beyoncé, and Beyoncé did not like that, so Beyoncé made the “7/11” video, and attempted to do so in a similarly carefree context.
Solange has always seemed interested in art for art’s sake. Beyoncé has always seemed interested in art for likes on Facebook.
Beyoncé is like one of those “These Two Old Women Got iPhones and You Won’t Believe What Happened” headlines, except with eye makeup. The only time she’s ever been not that way was when she was falling down those stairs at that concert:
Remember when Beyoncé performed at the Super Bowl and there were some pictures of her out that her camp thought were unflattering, so they tried to make them disappear from the Internet because Beyoncé thought she was actually bigger than the internet? That’s the perfect Beyoncé thing.
Solange has the upper hand.
When Beyoncé finds out, she’s probably going to have several scientists attach a bunch of extra arms to her torso in the hope that one of them is even more upper. Beyoncé doesn’t understand anything.
Rembert: Best of luck to you, Shea Serrano. And by that, I mean if the #Beyhive ever finds out about this, best of luck in finding a witness protection program that they aren’t already monitoring.
Guest Judge Juliet Litman: Well, that didn’t go according to plan! I assumed that as the judge, I’d be weighing opposing arguments. But as far as I can tell, Rembert used this exercise as a means to turn Shea into public enemy no. 1, while they both advocated for the same sister. Thanks for confirming, guys, that the Internet is very high on Solange right now. Who knew it’d be on me to point out that Beyoncé landed at no. 1 on Forbes’s Celebrity 100 list after earning $115 million from June 1, 2013, to June 1, 2014. I also didn’t think I’d have to remind you that she’s Malia, Sasha, and Michelle’s favorite artist.
The Beyoncé apathy gets at something that Shea summed up by saying she “is like if Target or McDonald’s were a person.” She has spent more than a decade perfecting her public, constantly refining her image. She began as the breakout star of a winsome girl group, steadily evolving into the perfect shell of a pop star. She’s a genuine entertainer with a bevy of catchy tunes, but there’s a distinct lack of substance beyond the radio-ready beats. Meanwhile, Solange is like the new café that just opened a few blocks away, where the tables are all made from reclaimed wood and metal. She’s simultaneously fresh, but vaguely familiar.
And that’s why Shea and Rembert gravitate toward Solange. She seems real, and I write “seems” because she’s still a part of the Beyoncé Industrial Complex and thus cannot be fully trusted. If you buy into Solange now, you’re late, but there’s still room on the bandwagon. Her raw talent is obvious, and thanks to the elevator video, we know she’s got a fiery spirit. Continuing to revel in the Beyoncé experience is as exciting as eating the same thing for breakfast every day for two years. Every thing she does is staged. And yet, can you blame someone for mastering the art of being a pop star? Along with Jay Z, she figured out how to commodify her life while also winning the affection of a lot of people in several different countries. As much as I’d like to fault her for it, the boring ubiquity of Beyoncé is the greatest testament to her success. Solange’s adorable wedding video notwithstanding, Beyoncé still has the Upper Hand.