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Afternoon Song – (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman

January 9, 2016

Five years ago Jay Caspian King wrote a nearly perfect analysis of what makes a great pop music diva.

Nearly perfect, that is, until Aretha Franklin broke it with her performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center honors last month.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I think Aretha broke DivaRank with this… <a href=”https://t.co/yeVf3xEBl6″>https://t.co/yeVf3xEBl6</a></p>&mdash; jay caspian kang (@jaycaspiankang) <a href=”https://twitter.com/jaycaspiankang/status/682382182518775808″>December 31, 2015</a></blockquote>
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It’s not just Aretha’s remarkable singing, as Katie Surrence observed earlier this week:

“Analyzing the first few moments before Aretha starts to play: she’s wearing not only a gold brocade dress and a diamond necklace, but a full length fur coat. Indoors. That fur coat says so much. It says, my body is big and I am going to do something to make it even bigger. It says, I am rich and glamorous in a way that is outside of any judgment you could possibly make. She looks at the piano, almost like she’s inspecting it to see if it’s suitable, before she even acknowledges the audience. Then she blows these kisses. She has the barest of smiles, she’s extremely deliberate, and the message from the kiss is not, “I adore and need you, my public,” but much more, “These kisses are a prelude to the gift I am about to give you.” She telegraphs, “I am in control and I own your perceptions.” That sets her up to get what she wants from the audience before she sings.”

Then there’s the part where she takes the fur coat off (starting at 2:58, you’re going to want to watch this whole thing), and the part where she leaves the piano and occupies center stage, and the part where she overwhelms the closing, and….  Well, you get the idea.

The only other thing I have to add—and for me, this is where Aretha breaks the Diva scale and transcends to a realm all her own—is her musicianship.  The whole song starts with and builds from Aretha’s magnificent (and vastly underrated) talents as a pianist and bandleader.  Can you name any other great singer of the last 50 years who can do that?

Enjoy.

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