Beyoncé – Beyoncé

Beyoncé album

Beyoncé’s new album, on iTunes December 13 and in stores December 20

Since breaking out as a solo artist, Beyoncé has been regarded as one of top pop stars of the new millennium. Even I, at one point, have said she’s the most likely to be dubbed a ‘legend’. Yet, her musical output has never been truly exceptional, with Single Ladies, Crazy In Love and Irreplaceable being her ‘classics’ so far. So how can her pop-star status and such an empty prediction be justified?

Easily. It was just a matter of time.

When Beyoncé’s fifth album hit iTunes without notice last week, she sent the blogosphere and social media into overdrive in barely the time it would have taken to listen to the 14-track album or watch the 16 music videos that accompanied the “visual album”. Even without hearing or seeing what Beyoncé offered, it was a major moment in music.

Maybe it’s luck that the album’s first three tracks alone were enough, coupled with all of the hype, to slay. Or maybe the crew who worked so secretly behind the scenes on the year’s top musical event knew what they were dealing with when coming up with such an elegant and masterful plan.

Album starter Pretty Hurts opens up with a beauty pageant question for Beyoncé on her aspirations, to which she answers “to be happy.” Beyoncé has always been about female empowerment and self-worth, however something about her songs felt too general and somewhat shallow. This one cuts through with the message that the desire to be “beautiful” is an internal battle with society’s portrayal of conventional beauty. “Perfection is the disease of a nation.”

Much of the album takes a very sexualized position beyond what Beyoncé has done before, but it doesn’t feel cheap or forced. She sings about female sexualization in Blow, with its Janet Jackson vibes, and the R&B-infused Rocket. The subject matter may not be new but Beyoncé’s presentation and ownership of it is what makes it novel.

Each of the songs have their own identity. Judging by the list of producers and co-writers, it’s not particularly surprising – but nothing feels out of place and everything actually fits to make this record a solid continuous flow from start to finish.

When she’s not singing about self-empowerment and bedroom pleasures, Beyoncé is reciting her own life and thoughts about her marriage, relationships and parenthood. On Jealousy, she admits to feeling jealous and wishes she could bring herself to do what her partner does, each time coming back with the simple yet effectively powerful refrain “if you’re keeping your promise/I’m keeping mine.”

The second track Haunted, is a minimal electro song with a heavy bass line that drills so deep, it owns you, as Beyoncé sings “if I’m haunting you/you must be haunting me,” making it an early highlight on the record.

The album’s last two tracks touch on her previous miscarriage (Heaven) and the joys of being a mother to daughter Blue Ivy (Blue).

Briefly touching on the visual element of the album, with the music videos that accompany each of the album’s 14 tracks, each is a standalone music video – not a continuation of one storyline or a bunch of clips with the same visuals – they’re all different.

And again, it comes back to the surprise element of the whole project. Beyoncé didn’t half-ass any aspect of this record. Beyond the marketing and promotional strategy of the project, her vocal-delivery is top notch, the production creates an individual identity for each song, and the visuals offer a wide array of qualities and features that not only show the range of what Beyoncé is capable of but also the range of what music videos themselves can offer.

The album easily surpasses any of the records put out by the other major pop divas of 2013 as it will likely be the new reference point for anyone wanting to make an impact in the coming months or year. This album lives up to the hype surrounding it and even when that hype dies down, the music will still be killer.
Five stars

1. Pretty Hurts
2. Ghost / Haunted
3. Drunk In Love [featuring Jay-Z]
4. Blow
5. No Angel
6. Yoncé / Partition
7. Jealous
8. Rocket
9. Mine [featuring Drake]
10. XO
11. ***Flawless [featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie]
12. Superpower [featuring Frank Ocean]
13. Heaven
14. Blue [featuring Blue Ivy]

-The video side contains individual videos for Ghost and Haunted, and Yoncé and Partition, and also includes videos for Grown Woman and Credits.

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