The Queen of Pop has had her coronation.
The world over gasped on Thursday night when Beyoncé released her new album, Beyoncé. The self-titled record is the fifth solo album of the Queen of Pop music, and is emblematic of her star power.
By now, we know the story: without forewarning or previous media buzz, she made a so-called visual album available for purchase, replete with 14 new songs and 17 videos. Such a move showed Beyoncés adroit understanding of the modern music market.
With the release of this album, we have a uniquely 21st century soul and pop music situation; only in this day and age does such a low barrier to access exists between artists and fans. While many up-and-coming artists regularly only release their music in an electronic only format, its surprising that a major recording artist like Beyoncé would make such a decisive move. That alone makes this a significant feat.
Even more miraculous, in this day and age where even the most-sensitive political news has the ability to go viral and thus muddying public perception, this album managed to be recorded (songs and videos) and released on iTunes without any leaks. That is massively impressive. But while this hype might be good for business, the question still stands: whats the music like? Beyoncé claims that this was a move entirely about artistry, and nothing about selling units. How true was that?
In listening to Beyoncé, its clear that this record can substantiate her claim; this piece is a statement of true musicality. By combining stunning, piercing visuals, with an eclectic mix of sounds and vulnerable-making lyrics, Beyoncé stands out in a way characteristically different from her earlier self. For these reasons, this album is much more significant than any of her previous works in solidifying her as a force for respect in the industry-and indeed in the annals of soul music.
The first thing any long time fan of hers would notice in this album are the many candid moments. It is true that in this piece the veil has been torn and Beyoncé stands out in a brazen, almost alarming fashion. If there were a thesis for this album it would be that in the maturity of full adulthood, one becomes comfortable in exposing their truthnot in a tacky way that divulges the personal self for the sake of self-aggrandizing, but instead in an authentic way that demonstrates comfort in one’s own skin. Beyoncé uses themes of feminism, love, fears, and happiness to show the liberty and comfort of her womanhood. To that end, the music, lyrics, and images work synergistically to bring these proverbs to life.
The first theme to note in this album is Beyoncés powerful proclamations of feminism. The first song Pretty Hurts is massively important. One of the biggest tensions Beyoncés detractors have with her is that she is a woman whose success seems to center around her status as a sex symbol. The politics of body image are particularly meaningful for her as a role model for women and girls all over, but ESPECIALLY Black girls who might feel rejected by a woman with light skin and fake blond hair.The song itself is a beautifully sung pop ballad that poignantly assesses how corrosive image expectations are to the souls of women and girls, and how body shaming on both ends of the spectrumtoo thin, too thickis an unnecessary evil that we subject ourselves too.
But for all the power present in the song, its the video (directed by Melina Matsoukas) that brings it home. The beauty pageant in the video displays the treachery in the competition, the self-inflicted violence of the contestants, and the CONFUSION of the (all male) judges when a woman responds that her greatest aspiration is to be happy. This video asserts itself as countercultural, especially as you juxtapose the image of a Beyoncé clad in a plush fur coat while being marked for Botox. When Bey sings perfection is disease of a nation and that its the soul that needs a surgery, this is a bold feminist statement that can be applied to a millennial generation as a culture dangerously obsessed with the attainable.
***Flawless is the other half of the feminist coin, in which Beyoncé boldly allies herself to the term. Remixing a song we knew earlier this year as Bow Down, the superstar brings on Nigerian writer and critic Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche to discuss the value and concept of feminism. In this we see that Beyoncés brand of female empowerment is audacity, and she wears it well. And as a nod to this unapologetic feminism, the video (Jake Nava) shows Beyoncés earlier girl band Girl Tyme losing to a group of (White men) that are today nonexistent…
In addition to Beyoncés comfort with the term feminist, she also is keen on displaying her love with husband, JAY Z. A departure from the early days of their romance when this relationship was clandestine, this album features several songs that explore the many facets of their love. In fact, quite a few songs feel like personal moments that are so intimate it almost seems as though we should not watch!
Drunk in Love is a playful song featuring plenty bass and Hov himself. This record probably best encapsulates their relationship its unpretentious and sincere. The images of them drunkenly dancing on the beach (directed by legendary Hype Williams) is alluring and intimate, and presents Jay Z as something like an introvert. And in watching, you cant help but wonder if they have that effect on each other. When he is around her, intoxicated by their love, he isnt the magnanimous JAY Z, who can bring an entire arena to its feet on his own. Instead, this is Mr. Carter, a man totally in love with his wife.
Partition (a bass heavy trap house sound, featuring the divine interlude Yonce) and Blow (a mash-up of 70s disco soul and modern synths) are both devilishly salacious numbers, where the sexual energy on the songs themselves is potent. And for all of their upbeat sounds and sexual overtones, its the slowed down, sexy ballad Rocket that really explores the grown-up-love making of marital bliss. The record is pure R&B and showcases Beyoncés full-bodied voice.
But even for all the tenderness conveyed in these songs, its records like Mine, No Angel, and Jealous that give a hallowed authenticity to their love. Beyoncé explains to us in unprecedented real terms, the road traveled in this romance of theirs. Mine (featuring Drake) acknowledges the doubts that she harbors, and the fears that are remarkably (not) unique to her relationship. This is punctuated by the explosions of literal mines in the field in the video (Pierre DeBusschere). Building on that, Jealous explores our inclinations towards the worse demons of our nature in relationships. Yet is tempered by the entirely irrational yet absolutely essential faith in trust that is necessary for love. The video (directed by Beyoncé, Francesco Carrozzini, and Todd Tourso) wildly demonstrates the maniacal nature of love by using a mad driving car to represent the frantic, off-kilter behaviors love can make us take on, and resolves by Beyoncé being in the arms of Jay. For all the fears and concerns she has about her love, the song Superpower- which is this perfectly new-wave sound of barbershop quartet meets modern R&B snythesizers- explains that their love is dynamic because it consists of two individuals who are whole on their own, but simply come together to as a duo to be invincible.
The album has many moments where we appreciate Beyoncés vulnerability. The video for Ghost (DeBusschere) consists of a dichromatic scheme of black and white, while Beyoncé gives almost a spoken-word confessional that enumerates her fears that are brought on by her life of fame. But for all her pining for normalcy, the video for XO (Terry Richardson) contrasts her melancholy in Ghost with the joy she gets from her career, laughing and living among visitors at Coney Island. As a more somber moment, the song Heaven is an evocative, acoustic piano song that appears to be a the superstar finding closure and solace of the child she miscarried. This sweet and personal note gives way in to the absolutely beautiful tribute to the youngest member of the Carter clan. The song is appropriately titled Blue.
More than just an album, this is Knowles masterwork. From the images, to the marketing, to the connection she engenders with her fans, this album is (without overstating it) a crown jewel in Knowles career to date, and admittedly will be difficult even for her to follow-up. Her dedication to her craft is simply unmatched by other artists in the industry today. Her ability to write, produce, and direct this well-built piece of music, filming videos for each song, while still being on tour since April and raising a young child, its almost unreal. Moreover, her ability to keep the entire project secret until she was ready to release it on her terms shows the respect she commands from others in the industry.
This has been a big year for Beyonce. Following the manufactured scandal of her singing of the National Anthem at President Obamas inauguration, she responded with a show (and game) stopping Super Bowl Halftime Show and a beautiful, self-directed documentary. And if that wasnt enough, she just celebrated the 100th performance of the world touring Mrs. Carter Show. Her vision is clear, and her dedication is real. Simply put, Beyoncé is the Queen of Pop. And as she so succinctly puts it bow down.
Beyonce- Beyonce Best Tracks: “Pretty Hurts”, “***Flawless”, “XO”,