For months it seemed as though Beyoncé had fallen off the face of the Earth. Sure, she was on a world tour, but she hadn’t released an official song or video in nearly two years. Then out of seemingly nowhere she made one of the most ambitious and daring moves in pop music history: she dropped an album with no promotion, no lead single, and seemingly no warning. Not only was this an album filled with new songs, but a conceptual “Visual Album” with a video for each song. This kind of move is daring no matter what kind of artist you are due to today’s obsession over singles, but for a pop artist it’s almost unheard of, until now. Beyoncé not only changed the pop industry literally overnight with her self-titled fifth record, she gave us her most complete, layered, and mature album to date.
The album begins with the Sia written ballad “Pretty Hurts”. The song’s lyrics refer to how hard being good looking is and the struggles of living in an image obsessed world. The video, which is set in a beauty pageant in Houston with Knowles as the candidate from her neighborhood 3rd Ward, does more justice to the lyrics than the song does. It is one of the most basic songs on the album but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad. In fact it’s still very much a good song. No one can kill a chorus quite like Beyoncé and she proves that here by belting out all she has. The next track really exemplifies what she is trying to reach on this album. “Haunted”, written and produced by Knowles and unknown producer Boots, is just that, haunting. A gorgeous and atmospherically hip-pop track with overtly sexual lyrics comparing a relation to an actual haunting. The video contains nods to 90’s Madonna videos, specifically “Justify My Love”. The strange and perverse imagery shown within the video is unlike anything Beyoncé and truly brings out her experimental side.
One of the running themes throughout Beyoncé is sexuality. While Knowles has never held back on being sexy (songs such as “Dance for You” or “Get Me Bodied” exemplify this), she has never been this explicit. On “Blow” she leaves little to the imagination with the hook of this upbeat disco-pop track containing the lyrics “Can you lick my skittles/ That’s the sweetest in the middle/ Pink that’s the flavor/ Solve the riddle”. Female pop artists past and present have presented their sexuality as a way of evoking shock and getting attention, but Beyoncé is above that. She does not need to use sex as a tool for attention. With Beyoncé, she fully embraces her sexual side and uses it as a platform to celebrate the joys of being a sexual being, and because of that it is her sexiest album ever, not to mention videos.
Now back on the subject of “Blow”, what a fun song this is. It’s an absolute blast of late 70’s nostalgia and leaves the listener craving for more. The song gives director Hype Williams the perfect opportunity to use his eye catching neon visuals to use. The track that follows is a slow R&B jam about her hometown of Houston (where the video was filmed for the most part) named “No Angel”. Next though is one of the highlights of the whole experience, “Partition”. Opening with a small rapping interlude titled “Yoncé”, it quickly moves into a hip-hop influenced track all about servicing her man. It’s sexy and ridiculous and fits perfectly along with “Blow” as a track all about sex and contains some of the most insane lyrics on the whole album. “He Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown”. “Partition” also gives us the first taste of the post-feminism Beyoncé presents on the album with a bridge in French that directly translates to a line spoken by Julianne Moore’s character in The Big Lebowski about the enjoyment of sex. Why French? Most likely because it’s sexier.
Feminism is something Beyoncé has actually received flack for in the past. Many people thought it ridiculous when she claimed to be a feminist, and when she released the demo track for “Bow Down” she received even more criticism for being egotistical and cocky. But on Beyoncé she turned all of that around in one track. On “***Flawless” she takes “Bow Down” and twists it into an all-out feminist anthem about not worrying about the male opinion of the female image. She inserts a clip from the brilliant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on feminism and tells the ladies to let the men know that “I woke up like this/ we flawless”. It’s incredible to see an artist completely change the meaning of one of their songs so quickly in such a mature and aggressive manor. The track just might be flawless.
The album’s release strategy still has many people stunned. How does a pop artist keep a secret so well with every other album leaking left and right? We may never know, but do we need to? The mystery of the whole project is part of what makes it so memorable. It’s hard to imagine any other artist being able to pull off a project like this. Beyoncé is the real deal, an artist who isn’t afraid to get experimental while still being able to remain what the world knows and loves her for. At the end of the day it’s all about the music, and with Beyoncé, Mrs. Carter delivers.
[author ]David Long lives in North Carolina and is probably younger than you. He apologizes for his terrible spelling. [/author]