Cast your mind back to 2004, where, in the final moments of Sex and the City’s television run, Carrie Bradshaw came to the conclusion that the most “exciting, challenging and significant” relationship anyone can develop is with themselves. As arbitrary as this revelation may have felt – after six years of mostly romantically driven storylines, the denouement took great care to ensure each of the show’s quartet was paired up – Bradshaw wasn’t wrong, just late. A year earlier, recently established solo star Beyoncé Knowles had committed this message to record in the form of “Me, Myself & I”, a sumptuous slow jam that served as the third single from her multi-platinum debut Dangerously In Love. But despite the star returning to a more subdued R&B sound on her latest self-titled effort, the track remains an anomaly in her extensive discography.
The track’s reputation suffers not only from the being sole downtempo cut to be issued from its parent album, but also comparisons with the similarly-themed and infinitely more popular “Irreplaceable”. But “Me, Myself And I” is arguably a product of a more innocent time, before the concept of directly equating of love and wealth became the major motif of Beyoncé’s career. On album track “1+1”, she comfortably eschews one for the other, while “Upgrade U”, “Ring The Alarm” and even “Dance For You” (in which she thanks her man for “the mula, for the power… of love”) all deal with the various tribulations of a world-conquering love built on a rich fiscal foundation. On “Irreplaceable”, this outlook extends to sculpting a healthy personal identity. It’s an uplifting song, but its most potent lyrical examples of self-empowering moments hinge on assertions of the singer’s largess:
“What did you think I was throwing you out for?
Because you was untrue
Rolling her in the car that I bought you.”
This is in addition to her ability to land another partner at the drop of a hat (“I can have another you in a minute / Matter of fact, he’ll be here in a minute”), but the song’s reliance on these factors isn’t problematic. Beyoncé has never had the magpie tendencies of Madonna; her reference points have been largely restricted to current R&B trends, as well as standard tropes set by icons of the genre. This duality has lent her music some much-needed edge since its introduction on her sophomore album B’Day, but it’s also exactly why a track like “Me, Myself And I” has become a curio.
For much of its duration, “Me, Myself And I” is an emotionally detached post-mortem of an unbalanced relationship. Even when Bey refers to herself as “dumb and naïve”, it doesn’t scan as self-deprecation; she’s simply holding a mirror to the man who hurt her. Nonetheless, let’s be honest here; to squander years of your life in an abusive relationship is pretty dumb, and there’s a strong chance some instincts were ignored in favour of sticking it out – but that’s OK. These admissions pave the way for a personal reconciliation, allowing the implications of the chorus to form organically.
“Me, myself and I
That’s all I got in the end
That’s what I found out
And it ain’t no need to cry
I took a vow that from now on
I’m gonna be my own best friend.”
The onslaught of self-empowerment hits in recent years – “Firework”, “Born This Way”, Bey’s own “Pretty Hurts” – saw a lot of songs being written on the assumption that anyone who listens to the radio is suicidal, and in desperate need of a sonic cuddle. While we’re sure the people behind these songs meant well, it seems a little disingenuous to suggest that flitting from being “one blow from caving in” to a colour-burstin’ firework is a normal (non-drug assisted) emotional trajectory. There’s no in-between, no stability.
“Me, Myself and I” doesn’t rely on tired platitudes. The gentle ebb and flow of producer Scott Storch’s funk keyboards, perky string sections and unimposing bass reflects the track’s admirable lack of histrionics. The lyrics aren’t poetry, and they certainly don’t dig much deeper than the singles we’ve mentioned, but this subtlety is its main strength. Is it not exhilarating to hear someone – anyone – simply say “I know I will never disappoint myself”?
It helps that the song contains some of Beyoncé finest vocal work to date. Even if she hadn’t quite mastered the art of emoting at this point, her voice is at the forefront of Storch’s lilting instrumentation, simultaneously proving herself to be a capable storyteller. Most exquisitely of all is how she punctures the line “Even your very best friend / tried to warn me on the low” with a belt before wrapping her silky voice around it. Even if the song fights Madonna’s claim that “only the one who inflicts the pain can take it away”, it’s as if this flourish sees Beyoncé applying a balm to the wound.
“Me, Myself and I” promotes independence in a way unique not for only Beyoncé, or Destiny’s Child, but any artist this side of Whitney Houston (whose classic “The Greatest Love of All” is an obvious reference point). Not even the prerequisite “girlfriends” are name-checked as her saviors, resulting in a Beyoncé-only affair. This is particularly striking considering that between leading the DC sisterhood, as well as her chronic ubiquity as part of music’s ultimate power couple, Knowles has rarely had a moment to stand alone.
Which brings us to the most pertinent question. Should we be concerned that such an iconoclastic song appeared – and, for many people, disappeared – so early in her career? Not exactly. If anything, it’s a virtue that she learned this lesson at such a young age. Lord knows Carrie Bradshaw could have saved herself a lot of time and stress had she done the same. RG