Album Review

Beyoncé, ‘BEYONCÉ’ (Album & Video Review)

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PRETTY HURTS

SONG: Inner beauty anthems are hard to pull off these days without succumbing to cliché (TLC‘s “Unpretty” and Legendtina‘s “Beautiful” have stood the test of time), but “Pretty Hurts” manages to be a hugely emotional slice of truth that doesn’t sound like just another trendy #ItGetsBetter ballad. “Pretty hurts/Shine the light on whatever’s worse/Perfection is the disease of a nation,” Bey cries out on the soaring Ammo-produced ballad. You can thank Sia for penning those outstanding melodies and heartbreaking lyrics (“pageant the pain away” — genius). This is easily one of her best songs she’s done in years and, of all the songs on BEYONCÉ, maybe the most Top 40-friendly of all. It’s the anti-Photoshop, #nofilter battle cry against impossible standards of beauty, and one of my absolute favorites from the record.

VIDEO:My aspiration in life would be…to be happy.” Oh boy. This one’s powerful. Digging into her pageant girl roots, Bey unpacks the darker side of being a beauty queen in her Melina Matsoukas-directed video. How much can I praise a video? Everything about this concept is an exact fit for the record: From Beyoncé’s nervous a capella rendition of the song in front of the judges, to those cameos by Shaun Ross as the bitchy pageant instructor (who just played the lead in Lana Del Rey‘s Tropico) and Harvey Keitel as the host, to the almighty trophy room smash scene. It’s Drop Dead Gorgeous without a lick of the dark humor to pad the ugly truth. Oh, and that vintage footage at the end of Bey receiving an award is like a ghostly cautionary tale. Also, there’s a good chance you’ll cry.

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GHOST/HAUNTED

SONG: Easily my favorite. Well, they’re all my favorites — but this is really my favorite. The opening, known as “Ghost” in the video collection, is a “stream of consciousness” from the album’s mystery collaborator, Boots. In fact, it’s Boots’ favorite song too. Just look at the citation he left over at RapGenius:

I had met with a record label earlier in the afternoon and they had heard some of the songs I was working on for the Beyoncé album and said “That’s so interesting Beyoncé is doing weird records like this…. Once that comes out we can put stuff out like that too!”

I was so appalled with the fact that record labels don’t view music as art anymore. They view it as product. So I wrote this late one sleepless night and it turned into an entire stream of consciousness about whatever came to mind, the state of myself, the state of pop music, the overall state of the world and most of all, people blindly going about their daily life as worker drones but ultimately not doing anything to be happy. I showed it to Bey a few days later and she was over the moon about it, and got real fired up. She said it was something she had been wanting to express for so long… We worked together to perfect it for her and this is the final product. I love this fucking song.

Produced solely by Boots and Bey (REVEAL YOURSELF, BOOTS), the meat of the track glides across a spooky, drifting piano melody at first, building across creeping trip-hop and trance-y electronica as Bey slowly croons her ghostly passages: “My haunted lungs, ghost in the sheets / I know if I’m haunting you, you must be haunting me.” It’s a deliciously experimental record, filled with otherworldly sounds and repeat-heavy lyricism. The best part of all, though, is when Bey goes into full on Dita mode (that’s Madge’s S&M-lovin’ alter-ego, for the record), breathlessly doling out commands: “You want me? I walk down the hallway/You’re lucky, the bedroom’s my runway/Slap me! I’m pinned to the doorway/Kiss, bite, foreplay.” Intrigue, introspection — this is the closest we’re coming to experiencing a Ray Of Light for the new generation.

VIDEO: Bey broke “Haunted” down into two pieces for the videos. The first, “Ghost,” floats solely on Boots’ meditation on the state of the industry. Visual artist Pierre Debusschere helmed the first part, which looks like something of a cross between a high fashion editorial shoot and Björk‘s “Cocoon,” as Bey solemnly delivers her monologue. The black and white wraps flowing around her body are gorgeous visuals — made to represent the constraints she’s fighting against, perhaps? — but mostly, this one’s meant to bring the focus to the words she’s speaking.

And then, there’s “Haunted.” The video is something like a dream within a dream: King Bey makes a glamorous entrance, rolling up with her chic luggage and strutting her way into a giant mansion (putting out a cigarette on the floor like a boss bitch, obviously), and from there, shit just gets fierce. Fierce and weird. Actually, it’s sort of like a grand homage to all things Madonna at her most experimental, done in a sleek, modern way that doesn’t feel anything like a rip-off: There are distinct elements of “Erotica,” “Justify My Love,” “Hollywood,” “Nothing Really Matters” and “X-Static Process” written all over this Jonas Åkerlund-shot video — and that’s some high praise. The combination of surreal oddities (J-horror ghosts? Emergency room LSD nightmares?) and Bey’s seductive bedroom choreography makes this one a complete playground for the eyeballs. A visual representation of the insanity of the music industry? Perhaps. You might not exactly know what you’re watching, but damn, does it all look good. Oh, and that image of Beysus sitting triumphant in a crown? Truly fitting.

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DRUNK IN LOVE (FEAT. JAY Z)

SONG: America’s reigning royal family came together earlier this year on their superb Bonnie & Clyde contribution to Magna Carta Holy Grail, “Part II (On The Run).” This time around, the two get together on a woozy throbber called “Drunk In Love,” a head-over-heels ode produced by Detail and co-penned by Timbaland and J-Roc. Bey soulfully dives in and out of a love affair complimented by the kind of opulence only Bey and Jay could know about. “Feeling like an animal with these cameras all in my grill/Flashing lights, flashing lights/You got me faded,” she swoons. It’s a bedroom banga for sure, as the two start getting hot and heavy above bouncing hip-hop beats and scorching electronica. Jay comes in later with his own verse and, well, I’ve never been a huge Jay fan, and his lyricism certainly isn’t anything to write home about lately. “We sex again in the morning, your breasteses is my breakfast,” he proudly declares. Uh. K, Jay. The most important bit, obviously, is when the twosome fill up the tub and go for some watersports — no, not that kind: “Then I fill the tub up halfway then ride it with my surfboard, surfboard/Surfboard, surfboard,” Bey snarls. SURFBOARD. Just the way she says it. SURFBORT. Hang 10!

VIDEO: Having had enough fun smashing up her pageant trophies, Bey’s decided to head down for a midnight dip by the beach, dragging along one final trophy across the sand as a little momento. The Hype Williams-shot clip largely revolves around Bey smirking and shimmying across the sand (Madonna “Cherish” style), utterly elated to be holding it down as Mrs. Carter. She’s also prouder than ever of her hot bodeh (and rightfully so!), which is why she’s flaunting it for all it’s worth. Jay joins his girl down by the water toward the very end for his verse, keeping his eyes averted and looking as cooly disinterested as possible in the affair. But there’s those little moments, like when he makes Bey bust out laughing as he’s turned away from the camera, that makes this feel like a home video we’re not supposed to be watching. That just makes it better.

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BLOW

SONG: Bey must be hanging out with RiRi lately, because she’s all about getting her man to go downtown. That’s the only way to interpret this raunchy, unsubtle ode to dining in and eating out, crafted by Pharrell, Timbaland and J-Roc. Gliding across that revivalist Donna Summer-lite disco stomp that’s so tasty on radio today with Daft Punk‘s “Get Lucky,” Justin Timberlake‘s “Suit & Tie” and Robin Thicke‘s “Blurred Lines,” Bey promises the sweet, sweet goods to her man. It’s full of flirty lyricism — you’ll never really look at Skittles the same again! — and an immediately infectious beat, enough to inspire some severe dance floor fever. (Note: It’s the same production team behind Madonna’s Hard Candy, which remains ahead of its time. Just sayin’.) If Billboard is to be Bey-lieved, then “Blow” is about to be the first Top 40 single off of BEYONCÉ, which is a solid choice. The only thing keeping this fairly instant jam from being a smash might be Bey’s filthy mouf. Will radio be willing to turn that cherry out?

VIDEO: Break out the rollerskates, ’cause we’re heading down to the roller rink! In keeping with the song’s disco fever feel, Bey and a group of bangin’ dancers shake their groove thing amid flashing neon lights, strobe lights and disco balls. It’s pure ’70’s fire — and the choreography is blazin’. Locker room pop and locks. Day-Glo skate booty poppin’. Seriously, that piggy-tail hairflip-into-hip swivel skate action? Lawd. Absolutely unreal.

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NO ANGEL

SONG: “No Angel” was written and co-produced by Chairlift‘s Caroline Polachek alongside Boots and master pop penner James Fauntleroy, making this one an instantly promising track. It’s one of the records most left-leaning productions, and really wouldn’t sound all that out of place on Solange‘s latest work with Dev Hynes. (It’s maybe not a coincidence — Caroline worked with Dev on his new album, Cupid Deluxe.) The track floats along a midtempo groove weaved out of early ’80’s synths and snappy beats, as Bey levels with her bae along the smooth groove: “You’re not an angel either, but at least I’m trying/I know I drive you crazy, but would you rather that I be a machine who doesn’t notice when you late or when you’re lying?” Bey has needs too, you know, but she’s still in it for the long haul: “I love you even more than who I thought you were before.”

VIDEO: The @LILINTERNET-directed visual for “No Angel” takes Bey back to her roots for #SomethingMoreUrban — her hometown Houston, in the 4th Ward. And, uh, things don’t really look all that angelic: Between the tough-looking gangbangers, fancy cars and flashy jewelry, strippers and dozens of “In Loving Memory” tees and tributes, it seems like Bey’s trying to say these aren’t exactly the easiest streets to live. In fact, it’s sort of Grand Theft Auto come to life. But like the song suggests, just because things might get rough sometimes doesn’t mean it’s not still home.

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YONCÉ/PARTITION

SONG: Fucking “Partition,” man. Fucking. “Partition.” Finally, a song for all of us who prefer our sex to be done with our chauffeurs watching. But seriously, Bey’s bringing the heat with this one: Once again, we’re diving headfirst into Erotica territory, with a lil’ splash of “What It Feels Like For A Girl” messaging in the mix. This is a raunchy ass backseat sex session, bolstered by a bouncy, space-age urban-electro beat perfect for, uh, bouncin’. “Driver, roll up the partition please,” Bey cooly instructs as she gets busy. The best part comes mid-romp, as the lights dim a little and a sultry French dialogue purrs into the speakers, lifted from from a French version of The Big Lebowski:

Do you like sex? Sex. I mean physical activity, coitus. You like it? Are you not interested in sex? Men think that feminists hate sex but it’s an exciting and natural activity that women love.

This bit’s really important — it’s a subtle jab at some of the criticism she’s received for her music, and those daring to call her anti-feminist: Yes, women are sexual beings too! It’s a way of making a statement without being heavy-handed. And then, it’s right back to the freakin’.

VIDEO: “Yoncé.” Where to begin? Beyoncé hits the streets with a few drop dead gorgeous models in tow — Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman and Joan Smalls — to give us all a taste of what she’s serving up. And as if to finally put a lid on all the idiotic, sexless twerking in 2013, there’s enough of Bey’s booty bouncing to fully turn you out. Show ’em how it’s really done, Bey.

If you thought “Partition” was hot enough in audio form, well…you just wait and see. The Jake Nava-directed visual for her backseat romp cycles through plenty of pop culture influences, from Madonna’s “Erotica” to Dita Von Teese‘s masterful burlesque. It’s a little bit coquette Kylie as well, a la “The One” and “Get Outta My Way.” You see, this is how Beyoncé gets it so right: She can make a song about getting Monica Lewinsky-ed somehow look chic and sophisticated. Prepare for stripteases galore, as well as some stunning silhouette work. And to get her seduction technique just right, Bey enlisted the talented ladies of Crazy Horse Paris, which is where all those light show dance routines originated. It really doesn’t matter what team you play for, because by the end, you’ll just want a piece of Bey’s Instagram-ready cake.

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JEALOUS

SONG: Consider this a heavier, more complex sequel to I Am…Sasha Fierce‘s “If I Were A Boy.” Floating across dark, spacey trip-hop crafted by Noel “Detail” Fisher, Bey’s up in the kitchen buck naked, fuming over her absent man. “Sometimes I want to walk in your shoes/Do the type of things that I never ever do,” she sings. Bey’s no angel, but man, this guy ain’t either. So she’s taking herself downtown, mostly to spite him, but he’s still in the back of her mind amidst the hazy beats, a la Drake’s “Marvin’s Room.” Throw in a “Freakum Dress” reference and excellent lyrics about a dick too bomb to quit (“And I hate you for your lies and your covers/And I hate us for making good love to each other”), and you’ve got one of the realest, most angst-filled tracks on the record.

VIDEO: The Francesco Carrozzini and Todd Tourso-directed video for “Jealous” follows seamlessly from the naughtiness of “Partition,” and this is where we see a more vulnerable Bey come into play. Sitting silently at a royal dinner made for two, she broods alone with anger and hurt — even slamming the entire meal to the ground (which has led to one of the greatest, most accurate GIFs from the BEYONCÉ era). Unsatisfied with her solo meal, she steps out for the night to try and take her mind off as dozens of basics and lessers gawk at her flawlessness gracing the pavement. But nothing can soothe her sad heart until a car comes screeching up — and yep, it’s Jay. This is one of Bey’s best acting moments in the whole video series. She emotes that inner turmoil perfectly.

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