Like most pop culture junkies I’ve had Beyonce on my brain for the better part of the last few days following the surprise release of her self-titled fifth studio album. The trailblazer unceremoniously placed the album on iTunes three days ago and has reportedly sold over 400,000 albums thus far, more than all of her fellow pop divas who released albums this year, all of whom are likely to have put way more effort into promoting their projects.
Most female writers have spent the bulk of 2013 trying to define modern feminism and set rules for its advocates. Female stars have been the subjects and the authors of open letters and think pieces regarding the representation of women in media and Beyonce’s name has certainly been thrown into many of these discussions for everything from racy magazine covers to her controversial song “Bow Down/I Been On.” If those things ruffled feathers, it is hard to imagine how critics will react to Beyonce.
Beyonce is literally ARTPOP (sorry Gaga, it’s true). 14 tracks are accompanied by 17 videos that allow fans to fully experience and appreciate every miniscule detail. But, more than that, Beyonce gives a definition of womanhood from a powerful female’s perspective. The album is Beyonce’s sexiest release to date, with lyrics that are probably too explicit for most people, but that is all a part of its appeal. Whether she’s being submissive and calling her husband “daddy,” admitting her insecurities sometimes make her a little crazy or mourning the life of a loved one, Beyonce remains confident in who she is as a woman and she isn’t ashamed of any of the emotions that comes along with her gender. That, in addition to the fact that every track on the album features exceptional production and unforgettable melodies, makes Beyonce one of the best albums of 2013 and one of Beyonce’s most progressive works to date.
Pretty Hurts – When pop divas seek out songwriter Sia for a smash hit they usually take on the singer’s unique vocal styling, too. It is not hard to imagine the singer/songwriter singing “Diamonds” and “Cannonball” when you hear the hit songs, but “Pretty Hurts” is different. Beyonce makes the song, which criticizes a vain society and showcases the effects of a negative self-image, her own and that is what makes its powerful message stand out from Sia’s other inspirational pop gems.
Haunted – Beyonce introduces songwriter/producer Boot (who produced and co-wrote most of the album) on “Haunted.” The song begins with short song “Ghost,” which finds the singer robotically chanting “nine to five just to stay alive” and putting her distrust for the music industry on full display (“All these record labels boring. I don’t trust these record labels, I’m touring.”/”Soul not for sale. Probably won’t make no money off this, oh well”). The rest of the experimental track can only be fully appreciated if you have seen the music video, which pays tribute to Madonna.
Drunk In Love – “We woke up in the kitchen saying how the hell did this sh*t happen, oh baby. Drunk in love, we be all night.” Beyonce introduces the main theme (S-E-X) of the album in lead single “Drunk in Love” over a bass-heavy production. Jay Z joins his wife on the track with a verse that sounds like he literally took a few drinks before stumbling into the booth.
Blow – This Top 40 lead single continues to explore the sexual theme, with a disco sound that could’ve easily fit in on The 20/20 Experience, which makes sense considering Timbaland and Justin Timberlake helped Pharrell, James Fauntleroy and Beyonce write the song. “Keep me coming, keep me going. Keep me humming, keep me moaning,” Beyonce coos over riffs on riffs on riffs before the beat changes in true Timbaland style and Beyonce asks her man to “turn that cherry out.” It is a bold statement, but considering the players we really shouldn’t be that surprised. This is what Timbaland and Justin Timberlake were aiming for with that terrible “she kills me with that cooch” refrain in “TKO.” If at first you don’t succeed…
No Angel – Beyonce’s falsetto is on full display in “No Angel.” The bass-heavy track is the weakest link compared to the other tracks, but it still manages to retain the rest of the album’s sultry vibes thanks to a lush production.
Partition – Beyonce ushers in her sexiest work to date by reminding us that she is a married woman, employing audio of a crowd screaming “Hey Mrs. Carter.” The song begins with “Yonce,” which can only be fully appreciated when you see the video features supermodels Chanel Iman, Joan Smalls and Jourdan Dunn sporting grills and looking absolutely stunning. “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker. Yonce all on his liquor,” she sings over piercing synths. Then, it happens. Beyonce sings of giving her man fellatio in the back of a limo, vividly describing how he “Monica Lewinsky’d all on her gown” over a trap beat from Timbaland. In a matter of minutes Beyonce went from being an independent woman to not being afraid to admit she just wants to please her man. To say it is a standout moment on the album is an understatement.
Jealous – The singer goes from confident to insecure in the time it takes to tell a lie in “Jealous.” The powerful song is the perfect follow up to “If I Were A Boy.”
Rocket – “Let me sit this a** on you,” Beyonce insists in “Rocket.” Miguel joins in on the writing fun for this track, which is a nod to D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” “Rocket till water falls. Bathe in these waterfalls” Beyonce sings before begging to be punished. Oh boy. Six minutes of sexual perfection.
Mine – “Been having conversations about breakups and separations, I’m not feeling myself since the baby. Are we gonna even make it,” Beyonce wonders in “Mine.” It’s not hard to figure out that Drake and his producer “40” wrote this track because sonically it sounds a lot like their previous work, without becoming redundant.
XO – It is hard to imagine the album’s reported second single “XO” as anything other than a hit. The-Dream and Ryan Tedder-written track is just that irresistible and it features one of those blissful hooks that makes you feel like you’re soaring through the air (or riding a rollercoaster at Coney Island with loved ones…either or).
***Flawless – Beyonce contextualizes the controversial “Bow Down” and turns it into “***Flawless.” The singer does away with “I Been On,” replacing it with an excerpt from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s feminist Ted Talk speech and ending the track with a phrase that is sure to be quoted on social media for years to come (“I woke up like this. We’re flawless”).
Superpower – You may not realize it the first time you listen to this album, but “Superpower” is one of the best tracks on Beyonce. It is pretty ironic that the songs follows “***Flawless,” because it is pretty perfect. The track features Frank Ocean, who also co-wrote the song, and it is impossible not to imagine the singer’s voice when you hear Beyonce singing the song. Everything, including the vocal arrangements at the beginning of the song scream Frank Ocean and that is a good thing because no one portrays love quite like he does. The song finds the artists describing an unbreakable bond over a do-wop-inspired production.
Heaven – “Heaven couldn’t wait for you. So go on, go come,” Beyonce sings in the most personal and emotional track on the album. The singer mourns a loved one, presumably her miscarried child, during the piano-ballad, delivering vocals that are dynamic and devastating.
Blue – Beyonce celebrates her daughter’s life in “Blue,” a heartfelt ode that features Blue Ivy herself mispronouncing her mother’s name and saying “mommy.”
Beyonce shows the complexity of women, which is great, but if we’re going to accept Beyonce and her cherry, we should probably go a little easier on the other sexy pop stars, too. Let us know what your favourite tracks are from Beyonce’s “Beyonce” album! @tinmanlondon
Review provided by The Jewel Wicker Show.