– by Antonia
There’s nothing like waking up to news that the one and only King Bey had released an album. “Surprise!,” a video post on her Instagram page read. Just last week I read an article about her album being pushed back with no word of a release date. Little did we all know that she was keeping probably one of the music industry’s best kept secrets. There was no teaser, no press release, no leaks. Just a takeover on the iTunes Store home page.
I have a love-hate relationship with the woman that seems to have it all. But with this album I have nothing but LOVE for her. There’s so much right with the album. First, the way it was released. Should we be surprised after Jay-Z set new industry rules earlier this year with the release of his latest album, Magna Carter Holy Grail? Naturally, B had to release her fifth solo album in an equally talked about way. In this case, the way her team got people talking was by skipping the bells and whistles. No pomp and circumstance. Just the music–a bomb of content (14 songs, 17 videos)–and a carefully crafted partnership with iTunes.
The second aspect of the album done right is the storytelling. There’s great storytelling within each video, as well as in the album overall. The self-titled album appropriately tells the story of Beyoncé, specifically her growth. It starts with Bey loosing a beauty pagaent (“Pretty Hurts”) and ends with her surrounded by trophies (“Grown Woman”), a parallel of her Girls Time loss on Star Search (which is shown in the video for “Flawless”) and later music domination. Watch the videos in order. There are smooth and smart transitions from song to song. There are plenty of home videos from her earlier years to make us coo and aw and they’re juxtaposed against images of her in present day–in control (for the most part), badass, a boss, an adult, a mother, a sexpot, a wife with flaws.
As a professional, the album tells the story of an evolving sound. She’s still very much the pro-woman Beyoncé who told us we run the world. But she’s saying it in a different way this time. This album isn’t your typical poppy, keep-everyone-happy Beyoncé album. This album is actually pretty dark. It’s a little gritty–gritty sound, lyrics and visuals. Whether it’s the all spoken-word song, “Ghost,” or the rims and stripper filled video for “No Angel.” Beyoncé gets dirty. And flashy. She’s a grown woman after all, and she taps, acclaimed writer (one of my favorites), Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, to express that. Adiche says, over the chaotic sounds that was once the earlier released song, “Bow Down Bitches,” now titled “Flawless,”: Why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each others as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments (which I think can be good thing) but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. These statements are spoken in a visual album filled with ass shot after ass shot. But consciously so. Beyoncé seems to be speaking to the feminists who criticized her so-called revealing wardrobe (this was before Miley-gate). Adiche’s final words, a definition of feminism, are cheekily played over a crotch shot of a young girl sitting casually with her legs open.
Speaking of open, Bey doesn’t stay away from being emotional. The notoriously private star opens up in “Jealous” saying, “I like making you jealous but don’t judge me. I’m just jealous. I’m human.” In “Mine (featuring Drake)” she sings, “I’m not feeling like myself since the baby … Are we gonna make it? Oohh… if we are, we’re taking this a little too far.” All this peppered with a few lighthearted and touching numbers like “XO” and “Blue.” (Spoiler: we do get to see Blue’s face).
Aside from the growth evident in her sound, there’s also growth and innovation in releasing a visual album. Seventeen videos is no easy feat. And each video seems to have been given a lot of love, which shows where Beyoncé has come from since her 2006 album B’Day, which similarly came packed with 13 videos but not all of equal caliber. In her fifth album, not all of the videos have a complicated story line and blockbuster production value. Some are simple. But none feels quickly made. All feel carefully thought through.
I watched the album from start to finnish, no breaks. And at the end felt, like I hadn’t listened to an album but had experienced one and for that Beyoncé deserves the crown that she (like Michael Jackson) has placed on her own head. #kingbey.
Here are my club-banging picks:
Drunk in Love
I’m sure we’ll be hearing this tune non-stop in da club pretty soon. Bey goes trappy with this one. The lyrics are swagalicious. The video is stanky, and Bey has fun getting real hood “drankin'” and “sangin’.” She raps a little but leaves most of the rapping to her husband who makes a cameo. But as stank as she tries to be, we can’t help but think that’s sweet ol’ Beyoncé on that beach with an empty wine glass. The song is about love after all.
I died watching this video. Came back to life. Watched it again. Then died again. Bey, or rather, Yoncé gets stanky again with this one but it’s a more down south stank. She channels her inner rapper both in attitude and with lyrics like, “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker. Yoncé all on his mouth like liquor.” Video-wise she takes a note from George Michael’s Freedom video and flanks herself with supermodels. She goes all black everything, with Fashion’s current brown-skinned it girls: Jordan Dunn, Channel Iman and Joan Smalls, who appears licking Beyoncé’s face. The only downside to this video is it’s only two minutes long! Long enough to titilate you, but short enough to leave you wanting more.
Flawless is probably my favorite song/video on the album. The video is an ode to 90s grunge, complete with plaid shirts and mosh pits (and a pair of shorts that bare a remarkable similarity to Rihanna’s thong shorts). Bey follows in the footsteps of Kanye, using a famous writer to help make her statement. She steps aside mid song to make room for Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche who says:
We teach girls to shrink themselves smaller. We say to girls you can have ambition but no too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful otherwise you would threaten the man. Because I am female I’m expected to aspire to marriage. I’m expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. That marriage can be… joy and love and mutual support. Why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each others as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments (which I think can be good thing) but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist, a person who believes in the social and political and economic equality of the sexes.
Adiche’s quote and Beyoncé’s “I woke up like this” line and dance, make this song.