Album Review: 7 Reasons I’m Obsessed with Beyoncé’s Surprise, Self-Titled Album

Album Review: Beyoncé's Surprise, Self-Titled Album Could Move Mountains

When Beyoncé released her album last Friday, the world collectively stopped. It was a surprise, for sure, and that was part of what got me. But the 14 track, 17 video, self-titled “visual album” was also fun, upbeat, stunning, and utterly moving.

It also came for blood:

  • In just three hours, Beyoncé had sold 80,000 copies.
  • It has already surpassed first week sales of Beyoncé’s previous albums. Dangerously In Love sold 317,000; I Am… Sasha Fierce sold 482,000; 4 sold 310,000. Beyoncé’s sophomore album, B’Day came closest, selling 541,000, but her self-titled album had surpassed that with 550,000 sold in just three days. By Tuesdays, the international tally for her record was sitting pretty at 828,773.
  • iTunes released an official press release announcing that the record had made history — it has become the biggest-selling album on U.S. iTunes.

So here are several reasons I’m love-drunk on Beyoncé.

#1: It melted my brain with its creativity.

There was no promotion for this album, at all, and it STILL dominated. It’s a refreshing, if incredibly risky, approach in a pop world dominated by partnerships between artists and big businesses. Even if it’s been done before (and it has — Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and David Bowie have done surprise albums/singles previously), the level in which Beyoncé’s release has been talked about, analyzed, and dissected is unparalleled.

On top of that, Beyoncé is a “visual album.” While a select few artists have done this previously (Beck, Tori Amos to name two), it’s arguably never been done on this level before because… well, because this is Beyoncé, an entertainer that permeates pop culture. Everyone knows who she is, even if they aren’t a fan, so a surprise album/video combo felt like an event. And it was.

#2: There isn’t a song I don’t love.

USA Today called it a “feast for eyes, ears.” It’s the understatement of the fucking year. I’m obsessed. I’m in love. I want to bathe in this album and have it seep into my pores. Beyoncé features bouncy, fun, pop songs like “Blow” and “XO”; sultry songs like “Partition” and “No Angel”; and anthems like “***Flawless.”  The roster of collaborations is long and impressive. Jay Z joins Bey on “Drunk In Love,” while Drake and Frank Ocean can be found on “Mine” and “Superpower,” respectively.

There’s artistry behind a 14-track song list that flows from one song into the next with purpose. The juxtaposition of “Heaven,” an emotional ballad reportedly about Beyoncé’s miscarriage, and “Blue,” an homage to Beyoncé and Jay Z’s daughter, Blue Ivy, is moving. Who else could make us feel so gutted only to remind us seconds later that the mere existence of life is a reason to celebrate? This album makes me want to sing, dance, cry, laugh, love, get angry, reflect.

#3: This album could be an anthem for any woman (especially women of color).

Lyrically, it celebrates female sexuality and self-indulgence in the face of a patriarchal society that tells women they shouldn’t be chaste and selfless.

This album celebrates the power of women and “grown women”; it celebrates female empowerment. And yes, it celebrates feminism, boldly, in a world that favors the Miley Cyruses, Lady Gagas, Iggy Azaleas, and Katy Perrys over the Nicki Minajs, M.I.A.s, Rihannas, and Janelle Monaes. At its core, Beyoncé is an album about femininity and womanhood (as well as motherhood, sisterhood, friendship, relationships, self-love, feminism, and love).

I also think it’s fitting that Beyoncé’s mom, Tina Knowles, makes an appearance in “Grown Woman,” while Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams — yes, that Kelly and that Michelle, of Destiny’s Child — show up in “Superpower” to be part of Bey’s injustice-fighting entourage.

#4: “***Flawless,” feminism, and Beyonce’s effective fuck you to her haters.

“***Flawless” features a collaboration with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose TED talk, titled “We Should All Be Feminists”, is sampled in the song. Part of “***Flawless” was actually released earlier this year, known only as “Bow Down.” It included the lyric “bow down, bitches,” which received criticism for being “anti-feminist” in its use of the term “bitch.”

That was just the latest in a long string of reasons some women decided Beyoncé was somehow harmful to women. This, even once she openly identified as such, and coming from the same people who hail Miley Cyrus as some kind of feminist messiah. In response to the backlash against her, Bey turned “***Flawless” into one of the most feminist anthems of all time.

In the first few lines, she rails against the notion that she can only be a wife/mother and not also a successful businesswoman and artist in her own right.

And then there’s this, from Adichie’s speech:

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller

We say to girls: “You can have ambition, but not too much

You should aim to be successful, but not too successful

Otherwise, you will threaten the man”

Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage

I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is most important

Now, marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support

But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?

We raise girls to see each other as competitors

Not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a 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

Political, and economic equality of the sexes

Adichie’s speech is powerful on its own, but juxtaposed with lyrics about shrugging off the haters and standing on your own two feet despite marriage and a child is a criticism against all of those who doubted Beyoncé. “***Flawless,” then, is a big “fuck you” to the critics who have criticized Beyoncé for not being feminist enough.

And, while we’re at it, the entire album is a “fuck you” to people who have argued that, musically, Beyoncé leaves something to be desired; who have dismissed Beyoncé as just a pretty face; and who have angrily pointed a finger at her and said she was too perfect, too polished. Beyoncé knows what she’s about. And now we do, too.

#5: The videos are gorgeous mini-movies you’ll want to watch over and over.

They are visually stunning, creative, and playful. Like the tracks, which seem purposefully laid out, the videos are also intended to be viewed one after another as well, given that there are “Easter eggs” from earlier videos in later ones. For example, the trophies in “Pretty Hurts” reappear in “Drunk In Love” and “Grown Woman.”

Some of the videos are simple, like “XO,” which features Beyoncé at a carnival; some are explicit, like “Rocket”; some feel retro, like “Blow,” a video that takes place entirely in a roller skating rink; and some are personal, like “Blue,” which gives us some of our first footage of Blue Ivy. All of the videos are breathtakingly beautiful.

While the videos are each beautiful, the subject matter is not always easy to watch. The video for “Pretty Hurts,” which is nearly three minutes longer than the song, touches on some very real issues regarding beauty and the struggle for perfection, including a depiction of eating disorders.

Meanwhile, the end of the “Yoncé” video features a paparazzo saying, “Welcome to Paris,” while the next video, “Partition,” was filmed in Paris at the cabaret club Crazy Horse. The organization of the track list is intentional, not just to create the kind of stunning listening experience where one song slips into the next, but also to keep with seamless video transitions.

#6: It’s sexy. Intentionally and explicitly.

I’m not sure an album has been this open about a woman enjoying sex since the early days of Madonna. Listen to “Blow,” “Partition,” or “Rocket” and you’ll understand what I mean.

#7: It makes me feel less alone.

I am not one who typically feels alone. But somehow, this album taps into that tiny part of me that occasionally might feel misunderstood and makes me feel less bad. Beyoncé gets it. She gets us. She gets women. She gets daughters. She gets mothers. She gets those who have felt weighed down by a desire to be perfect. She gets the pressure to be thin and beautiful. She gets being flawed. She gets femininity. She gets sex. She gets love. She gets loss. She gets strength. She gets me. And in a weird way, I feel like the album is part of me.

Photo credit Beyonce.com and The Corner. Connect with Crystal on Google+.

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