I’m no music scholar nor sound engineer, but I am a creative who believes music can be one of the most transparent forms of communication. And though our practice varies in medium, musicians are artists after all. These are my thoughts on music (and their visuals).
Beyoncé [Visual Album] : A Review
Beyoncé dropped her surprise album last December and it is to-date the best album she's ever produced. B now manages herself, and it's incredible to imagine how much of hand she has hand in her career (and this album) ever since. Against the wishes of her label however, B released Beyoncé, an album that has been praised for showcasing B's new claim to feminism, sexuality, honesty, and transparency.
"Beyoncé, her fifth solo album, repositions the singer as the Houston-bred Yoncé, a woman lustier and surlier than B, more playful than Bey, fiercer than Sasha but softer and more natural than the lot. The album is brassy but elegant, its post-coital breath smelling faintly of cheap liquor sipped from a crystal flute. It finds Beyoncé shifting gears to pull off her most explicit and sonically experimental music to date, exploring sounds and ideas at the grittier margins of popular music." - Carrie Battan (Pitchfork)
From the very start, I knew this time would come. I let the wave of fandom pass and bought the album in the new year, a month or so after its debut, I gave it time. Six months time. This past week while listening to Pretty Hurts, I decided it was time to unleash my thoughts. So here we are, at the beginning of B’s album , conveniently, as I enter this review first looking at 'Pretty Hurts' (*B - will be the primary name I use to refer to Beyoncé from here on out).
‘Pretty Hurts’ : To be honest, this was my least favorite song on the whole album for a very long time. It wasn’t until last week, where I was mid-way through a song I would normally skip, and oddly felt a connection. I had finally connected to what I believe is an aspect of B’s goal on this track. As cliché as it is, women’s body issues are a thing. I was feeling that strain of unsatisfaction, and the song helped. For a song that I felt was a bit cliché in the beginning, I certainly developed a respect for it. It has a purpose, and the song's deep if you’re there for the listen. It has spoken once, and I think that was all it needed. That was the goal of the song. This wasn’t meant to be a radio song nor a club hit, it was a song created out of a need to heal. And that it did.
‘Haunted’ / 'Ghost' : It’s been about three months and I still only listen to this song for the aesthetics. I like the sound design and the monotone voice. I like her play on words -“Ghost around.” I love the diversion to the slower portion of the song. We begin at such a different place than where we end and I like the construction and trajectory. I am not sure what she’s referencing as this is one of the more ambiguous songs on the album, but I like the sound and I anticipate an ah-ha moment as I continue to put in my time on this record. For now, my guess would be that the beginning part is a sort of landfill for a lot of B's thoughts as of current, on music ("I don't trust these record labels, I'm touring"), on her supporters ("Working that 9-5"), and on life - the basic structure ("reap what you sew, perfection is so..*shrug*") and boring-ness of life ("All this sh*t I do is boring"). This song seems to just be an escape from her head, one in which I believe would be quite imaginative.
‘Drunk In Love’ : Call me basic, but this was of course initially one of my favorites. The beat is killer and the overall tone of the song is winner. No wonder it was the album release song (well, video, in B’s case). I still blast this tune periodically, no shame, any day. She is shamelessly promoting her freedom to live wildly even as a married woman. I am all for reshaping the banal terms in which marriage is often defined.
‘Mine’ : A running favourite of mine. I really love the progression of this song. I am a fan of Drake’s verse, outro, and the intro. Did I say this was a favourite? The song felt lyrically and musically well constructed. I admired the openness on this track, it was probably one of the rawest releases I believe, even more so than Blue, or Jealous, and I felt as though we could really get a sense of what she was feeling. The song itself explores the ups and downs of a relationship, something we don’t always get from B. Truly transparent. And oddly, it took me hearing a cover of it by this lovely lady to realize how much I really loved it (*Beyoncé Feat. Drake: Mine - Shannon Saunders). The visuals are impeccable and I was aesthetically satisfied the entire time.
‘Blow’ : Ultimate dance track. I play this song whenever I am in the mood to hear something upbeat and fun. B is unfiltered on this song and I am a fan of Sasha. Did you peep the booty shake on the car in the video for this track? One of my favorites moments. The lyrics are quite clear, B just wanted to have a bit of fun with this track.
‘Rocket’ : This song is all about one thing- sex, and B makes no apologies. "Rock. et (it). Till. Water. Falls." The imagery only strengthens B's agency in this as the video is practically exclusively her, and her rock solid body. "Rock steady, rock hard." B has no restraints as she quite literally guides this prospected young gentleman (assumably the ever-lucky Jay-Z) to find her peak of satisfaction. It doesn't get much better than that, for both parties involved. I’ll have to make note of this song for future reference. 'Nuf said. Killer track, and of course, an impeccable visual accompaniment.
‘X.O.’ : This is a light-hearted track that I play when I am looking to listen to something as such. It is one of my go-to tracks from the album, I am also a huge fan of the video. Her interactions with those around her is not only the strongest aspect of this video, but probably the strongest feature of her entire album's visuals. There are so many beautiful moments created throughout this visual album that are cultivated outside of a studio, and assumably, captured without much pre-production fluff. It is raw, real, and honest, much like the songs on the album.
‘Blue (feat. Blue Ivy)’ : A track that also exudes this fluff-free imagery is Blue. This is a precious song. Much like what the title represents, if this song were tangible, I'd want to cuddle it in my arms. The sound design is simple, but quite majestic to listen to, much like children. She didn't have to let us in on a song about motherhood, but I am glad she did. She truly has evolved, and I think this song contributes to an album that has done a solid job at showcasing her, all of her.
‘No Angel’ : Probably my least favourite if I had to choose one. I think the visuals definitely help to strengthen this song's message but as a stand alone audio, I get quite bored. What I do love, is that the visuals complicate the song. It made me feel as though I needed to dig deeper; as if I had missed something upon first listening. It's a simple song. Not much elevation in sound nor vocals, and I think that's intentional. It's one of those songs we may rarely see performed live, but maybe only then will I ever really be able to connect to the intended message of No Angel.
‘Partition’/ ‘Yonce’ : These tracks are two of the most daring on the whole album I'd say, yet they sound so familiar and are easy to digest. Well this is because we are used to over-sexualization in music, only this time, we hear it in the context of a highly complicated 'feminist' album. Beyoncé (Yoncé) gives her listeners a peek inside who we now will call, "Mrs. Carter" via her introduction to the song. Lyrics such as "Take all of me, I just want to be the girl you like" can't be analyzed as per normal given its presence in this self proclaimed album. I love that B has included these conventions amidst such independently confident music. It complexes what it means to be a woman, and doesn't attempt to define it in one way or another. It gives the agency back to whom it belongs, and encourages women to answer to themselves. This ultimately frees women of constantly having to define themselves and justify their actions under the limited microscope in which we're often scrutinized under. One thing is for damn sure though, Peaches can work the hell out of some booty shorts and a leotard.
‘Jealous’ : This is one of the few songs on the album where B’s soul really shines through. It feels raw, real, and angry. The visuals though, were not only angry, but we entered a world where B was, well B. She was at a party with friends, recognized on the street by a fan or two... Remember, we enter this video after Partition, a song clearly representative of an aspect of her relationship with Jay Z, which is confirmed by him actually being in the video. I could see that she was singing about being her. Someone who normally stays in, but feels neglected, and goes out to try to feel better. A very normal thing to do ("Im just human"). She has fun, but accepts the moment for what it is, a moment where she reacted out of anger, not her genuine self ("Sometimes I want to walk in your shoes, do the type of things that I'd never ever do"). She'd probably be much happier just sitting on the couch cuddling with him, but he wasn't there, so she went out to try and forget her sorrows. It wasn't the solution though, she just wanted to be in his arms, and so we see her embrace a silhouette like Jay Z figure by the end of the video. It's a seemingly light-hearted track, but packs much power when depicted in such an intentional way.
'Flawless' / 'Bow Down' : The track that goes hardest on the album. This song is kind of a culmination of the album and where she's at in life. She loves herself, loves her life, and is respectful of those around her who has helped her along the way. It's her journey, and she'll do whatever the f*ck she wants because she only has to answer to herself and her spiritual guide. But as confident as she is in being a woman, she has acknowledged that sometimes, that means she still won't win in the end (via flashback intro & outro). So in order to do that, it requires resilience, selfishness, and a fierce drive. You have to recognize your greatness and not wait around for everyone else to see it, so sometimes, b*tches just need to bow. Of course, not literally, but you have to know your calling. She is taking onus of her destiny. I think the visuals of this song represent that to some degree.
'Superpower' : This track as well as the visuals felt the most experimental. I like the song, and I find myself replaying it quite frequently. It's oddly quelling despite the visuals, but of course, I believe this is intentional. The message of this song and accompanying visuals speak to me about growth, consciousness, and development over a prolonged period of time. I would imagine this video is saying: There are horrible things happening in this world, they try to break the spirits of youth and people who are different (underrepresented), but as long as we fix our eyes inward, on our community, uplift one another, and do what we were meant to do, the world will begin to revolve around us; around good deeds, over time. Quite a powerful message when paired next to 'Flawless.' It shows that the song ('Flawless') really isn't about being cocky, it's about self-worth. If you understand your purpose, and we all do so collectively, our fight will be a much more unified one, and ultimately more successful. There are so many little details that also communicate this idea of militarism and war. From the opening footage of the surveillance camera, to the end stand-off scene between her entourage and what is quite obviously meant to be military / police officers. This song in summary is saying, "on live the fight." B, am I right?
'Heaven' : If you don't know by now, this track was supposedly dedicated to the unborn child of B that was unfortunately miscarried. I can't say a whole lot because this is such a personal song and particular emotion, I lack the experience and empathy to share in this with her. However, I think the video itself was showcasing her losing a friend, the friend featured in her video, and one of her most infamous and loyal back-up dancers, Ashley Everett. I think B has ultimately dedicated this track to those who have lost someone dear, which is quite beautiful. It is often one of the songs I'll skip on the album, but I would sure be marveled by this song live, the vocals are quite melodic and her voice really shines in these moments.
Even as I recount each song, I automatically have the visual from each respective video in my head. I love that the album was released this way, not only because I study the art of video, but because I automatically knew the exact message B wanted to communicate in each tune. That was her goal, and I find it widely successful. I am not a stan, I am not a worshipper, but I respect her as an artist and I am here for witnessing her development. I love this journey she has set out on, and she seems so entirely open to change and growth. From her documentary 'Life is But a Dream, to 'Beyoncé', she has channeled so much transparency with such deliberate timing. That's why I like her, and that's why I'll cherish this grown woman album.