This past Friday morning started like any other. I got up, got a little breakfast, got dressed, and went to work for a mandatory meeting. When I got there, I found that the meeting would be delayed, which led me to break out my IPad and check in on Facebook land. What happened next, both delighted and shocked me. My newsfeed was cluttered with pictures of Beyonce and news of a super secret, self-titled, visual album that dropped at midnight, and NO ONE knew about it. Mind blown! Not only did she release 14 new songs, but she also released 17 videos! WHAT?! Who does that? Oh yeah, the Queen Bey. And so, at work, I totally used up all of my data plan for this month to immediately download her entire album. Great idea, right?
I really wanted to begin by watching the videos and looking at this album like a musical movie, a Beyonc-pra (Beyonce and Opera mix, patent pending) if you will. But since I was more excited than a 5 year old on Christmas morning to crack into this thing, I started by listening to the album in the car on my way home. I couldn’t stop listening! Even though I wasn’t “Crazy in Love” with every song, I didn’t want to take a break. The songs ranged from her usual anthems of female empowerment to sexy new dance tracks to some baby making songs that would make Maxwell jealous to breath-takingly beautiful ballads about motherhood. One thing is for certain, this album is not like any other album Beyonce or ANYONE else has made.
I could go on and on, but let’s boil it down to my favorite tracks: “Haunted,” “Mine (feat. Drake),” and “Blue (feat. Blue Ivy).” First, the aptly named “Haunted” starts with an audio clip from Beyonce’s childhood, winning a talent contest. Cue the heavy bass beats. Bey then comes in, not singing and not really rapping either- it’s more like spoken word ala Erykah Badu:
All the shit I hear is boring
All the shit I do is boring
All these record labels are boring
I don’t trust these record labels I’m torn
All these people on the planet
Workin nine to five just to stay alive
Nine to five just to stay alive.
The last phrase repeats into a SICKENING beat. Seriously, I had to pull over and go “AWWWW YEAH!” and thug out in my car, throwing my hands up in the air. Eventually Beyonce gets to use her most beautiful ethereal voice, like the one we hear on her cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” featured on The Great Gatsby soundtrack. Funny story, my sister does not like Beyonce. Don’t start a lynching mob; she appreciate’s her talent and general fierceness, but overall does not like to listen to her music on a daily basis. She prefers chill music, and obviously Beyonce is anything BUT chill. But when she heard Bey’s “Back to Black,” she changed her tune about Beyonce’s, saying that she could actually sing… meaning she can sing anything. “Haunted” ends up sounding like a super dark and creepy Ellie Goulding/ Deadmau5 track- elegant, beautiful, dark, scary, and all around amazing.
There are several great collaborations on this album, but by far my favorite is with Drake on “Mine.” Ah Drake, I can hear “Hold On We’re Going Home” on the radio and instantly want to make babies. We hear all of her doubts in her life, which is incredibly rare. Let’s face facts, most of us wonder if Beyonce is human. I mean, the woman is on a world tour right now, but just dropped a super secret album with a video for every track, AND has a baby. Clearly she’s a robot, alien, or some sort of angel! Either way, this track is a glimpse into her insecurities.
I’m not feeling like myself since the baby
Are we even going to make it?
If we are, we’re taking this a little too far.
Just when you think this is going to stay a beautiful and haunting ballad, cue Drake. Crazy ass beats come in, and Drake starts spitting reassuring rhymes as if to say to Bey “You’re a good girl, and any man should do anything for you.” It’s a beautifully sparse and yet layered track and everything that makes good pop music: a hook that stays in your head, but a message that gets clearer every new time you listen to it.
Then we have “Blue (feat. Blue Ivy).” This is gonna sound bad, but generally I don’t like Beyonce ballads as much as her uptempo songs. They border on saccharine and seem too showy sometimes. But this is a simple and sweet love song. Period. And Beyonce’s voice sounds better than ever. Listening to it brings happy tears to my eyes. You can feel that these lyrics are straight from Bey’s heart. I love it when verses don’t get too tangled up in making beautiful poetry. Just speak what’s in your heart and get a sweet ass hook on the chorus. The track starts out sounding like any other love song and then bumps up to a faster ballad that could easily be translated into a lyrical hip hop routine (PLEASE So You Think You Can Dance choreograph this one with a cute little kid in it!). In my opinion, this is my favorite glimpse into Bey’s mind.
As I said before, I didn’t love every single track. As much as it pains me, my least favorite track is her collaboration with hubby Jay Z, in “Drunk in Love.” The track starts off cool enough sounding more like an MIA track, but other than a sick beat, I just do not like this song. The lyrics sound contrived, and eventually we get this gem of a lyric “I’ve been drinking, watermelon.” REALLY BEY? Watermelon? If you wanna make a thugged out track with your infamously hood husband, please do not mention gross stereotypes. And speaking of Jay, this was probably my least favorite rap I’ve ever heard him spout, comparing himself to Ike Turner at one point and then ending with these classy words:
We sex again in the morning, your breasteses is my breakfast.
Dear Jay, you’re better than this.
There is a video that Beyonce released with the album detailing why she released this album the way that she did. One, she didn’t want a large conglomerate pushing the album, but rather her fans to push it into super stardom, which was a brilliant move. She also states, that she wanted everyone to see what was going through her head visually when she created the audio tracks. Again, BRILLIANT! Her videos range from fun and fantastical to fierce and fabulous to seductive and sensual to downright disturbing. Again, I would love to just hit upon the videos that I loved the most: “Haunted,” “Blow,” and bonus video “Grown Woman.”
“Haunted” is seriously disturbing. First, we start with what seems like the infamous “Do Not Watch” video from The Ring, even seeing a flash of someone screaming that will make you jump out of your seat. Then, we see Bey enter some strange hotel, light a cigarette, take one puff, put it out on the marble floor, and walk up the stairs. While the song rages (literally) on, she looks into every room to see some crazy stuff going on, including a pair of twins in the Betelgeuse suits constantly moving in forward and in reverse, a lady boy in the bathtub eerily happy about catching bubbles in his mouth, and a family of mannequins standing like some creepy “Leave it to Beaver” tableaux forever paused in time. She then writhes around on a bed in just a blazer and panties looking damn good, which further proves my theory that she might not be human. It’s a very artistic video and is a departure from what the Queen Bey normally does, but I kind of like this conceptual side of her.
“Blow” is more of what we are used to- the fierce and fabulous Beyonce singing and dancing to perfection in a glossy, fun video ala “Get Me Bodied,” “Single Ladies,” or “Love on Top.” Pharrell obviously had his magical hands all over this track, as Pharrell has been the key proponent to bringing disco-tastic funk back to mainstream music in songs like “Lucky” and “Blurred Lines.” “Blow” is no different. The song brings candy coated sexual innuendos to a new, and dare I say, more fun level and has an insanely infectious beat and melodic hook that just won’t leave your head. Most of the video takes place in a retrotastic roller rink complete with fluorescents, black lights, and hot pants. This is pretty much the only time that we get really impressive, cohesive choreography… and on roller skates none the less. Bey and her dancers roll around the rink and gyrate on the sidelines. Sure it’s overtly sexual and pushes the line of raunch, but it’s so much damn fun to watch that I really don’t care!
We’ve heard “Grown Woman” before… remember Beyonce’s amazing Pepsi commercial where she’s looking at her past selves in a mirror? That’s right- it’s THAT song. The song is really great, but the video is really cool too. It’s Beyonce through the years, but the super cool thing is that they have CGI-ed her singing the song onto all of her former selves. Granted the animation isn’t the ABSOLUTE best, but it’s still a really cool concept. In the end, we see her break it down to some African beats, which is great because it’s what she does best.
But not all is perfect in the visual section of the album either. Again sadly, “Drunk in Love” is a miss. In fact, the video just makes the song even worse… laughable and not in a good way! We start on a beach in black and white with some waves. Then we see Beyonce, looking better than ever, in a black bikini under a completely sheer black gown with a tousled bob. But that’s where the good stuff ends. Don’t get me wrong, Beyonce is a bad ass bitch and is WAY more gansta than I could ever hope to be, but for some odd reason when she is with Jay, her street personality always seems forced, like in “Upgrade You” or the dreaded “Dejavu.” Maybe she’s trying to impress him? Well, while she’s dancing like a drunken white girl at a Kanye West concert, this less than stellar song goes on, until Jay pops up, and then it just gets worse! Jay looks like he is holding a glass of white wine, but I’m seriously hoping it’s light Courvoisier! It almost seems that he’s trying to make himself softer for Bey… while she’s trying to make herself harder for him. You would think that they would meet somewhere in the middle, but it just ends up being a muddled mess. No, just no.
There are many more high points on the album, but honestly, it’s so action packed that I can’t fit it into this piece. I do love Beyonce’s new direction. She’s growing up and becoming more assertive, more sexual, and more venerable. That is what a grown woman should be. She took great lengths to make sure to not only show her point of view, but also empower women at the same time. In “***Flawless” she uses a sound bite from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that describes in a nutshell what society has done to women. It has pushed us to strive for marriage rather than excellence. It has pushed us to fight with each other, not for work but for men. And society has taught us that it is perfectly alright for men to be sexual, but women cannot assert themselves so. Damn, if this isn’t a wake up call for all of us women, I don’t know what is. And that’s what Beyonce represents: strength, venerability, and fantasy- everything that women should take pride in. It’s ok to have an amazing job and want to spend your time there, and it’s also ok to be a strong mama and raise your kids right by staying at home. It’s OK to show emotions whether they be negative, positive, affirming, or fearful, because they are all beautiful. And it’s OK to be a man’s fantasy, to be sensual, sexual, and naughty;) That is why this album works. Sure it’s not perfection, but it’s an honest portrait of where she is at this point in her life, and I love it. We should all aspire to support and build each other up like this. All hail the Queen Bey!