Khatia Buniatishvili: Beyoncé of Piano?
|Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili|
April Gibson and Nina Kennedy both contributed to this article to share their respective insights and opinions. April grew up listening to Hip Hop, Pop, R&B, and Hair Bands. Nina, herself a classical pianist, grew up listening to jazz and R&B, as well as symphonies and opera.
Nina: While living in Paris I got in the habit of watching the news channel “France24,” and was delighted to find that I continued having access to France24 here in Manhattan. Now that most American news channels have become The Trump Show, I became more dependent on France24 to be able to hear some authentic international news. One day this summer while going about my business with the TV on, I heard the news anchor announce a feature story on “The Beyoncé of the Piano.” I stopped what I was doing to sit down and watch.
The subject of this segment was world-renowned Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, who has been referred to as "The Beyoncé of the Piano" and dubbed the "Pop Star Pianist." Yes she is curvy and wears form-fitting gowns, so I’m left to assume that her self-proclaimed title of “Beyoncé of the Piano” has more to do with her figure than her status as a pop icon. After reading some of her reviews, however, I’m left wondering if this title has done her more harm than good. Granted, many classical music critics are quite misogynist and will do what they can to sabotage the careers of women pianists, so one should take their words with a grain of salt. It pained me to read how venomous some of these critics were. The few seconds of music I heard during the France24 feature showed me that she is a talented artist worthy of respect as a concert pianist, and not just a caricature with a shapely body.
April: I wanted to learn more about how this title came about. Though not a full-fledged member of the Bee Hive, I couldn’t help but “feel some type of way” about this title possibly being bestowed upon someone outside of the community of the person who owns it. How many times has the Black community given birth to and popularized a music genre or concept only to have the concept usurped, commercialized and, in some cases, stolen.
Nina: In my own personal experience, being from Nashville, Tennessee with deeply-rooted ties to the Fisk University Music Department and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, I’ve seen first-hand how this works. After all, the beloved Music City was coined that by Queen Victoria in 1872 when she heard the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the first freed slaves who traveled through Europe singing European-styled Negro Spirituals in an effort to raise money for their school. (Her exact quote was: “They [the Fisk Jubilee Singers] sing so beautifully they must be from the Music City.”) And now, when people hear the words “Music City” they think it’s all about country music.
April: I started combing through articles about Khatia to get to the bottom of this. The Georgian Journal has written about her extensively, so I started there. I noticed something uncanny. There is a distinct moment in time when the phrase starts to pop-up and it is directly following an article announcing ColdPlay’s album that feature both Beyoncé and Khatia performing/collaborating on separate songs. Soon after that article, The Georgian Journal started calling Khatia the “Beyoncé of the Piano” with France24 soon following suit. So, did Beyoncé meet her and say, “You are like the ‘Beyoncé of the Piano’?!” We reached out to Bae’s camp but we did not receive a comment at the time this article was scheduled to post. Did the Bee Hive grant Khatia the coveted title? I could not find the phrase used in one single American article that speaks about Khatia. Therefore, I can only come to the conclusion that this title is self-proclaimed.
April: It’s not like we have never seen white artists to exploit and then discard black and hip-hop culture in order to stay or become relevant. The most recent offender of the blacksploitation chronicles is our very own Miley Cyrus, the Disney sweetheart who used black culture to reinvent her career by co-opting black culture to use the irreverence and the edginess of the then-burgeoning trap scene to cement her as an “adult” star. It is a tactic that countless other cookie-cutter pop stars have used, from Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty era, to Justin Timberlake’s debut solo album, Justified. And we can keep going back in time but I think we get the gist.
Nina: And maybe this wasn’t Khatia’s intention at all. Maybe she is a victim of her publicist and marketing team. Maybe she is a willing participant who personally coined the phrase to be thrust upon the international media machine. As a fellow female classical pianist, I can understand Khatia’s struggle to be respected for her work and artistry. The way she was introduced in the France24 segment certainly got my attention; and as a result, this article was written.