Beyoncé, ‘BEYONCÉ’ (Album & Video Review)
SONG: “Let me sit this ass on you,” Beyoncé unsubtly declares off the top of “Rocket,” the record’s most horny number. Bey’s dusting off her Foxxy Cleopatra wig and sliding into slinky, seductive ’70’s porno love makin’ territory, Marvin Gaye style — but ten times more explicit: “Rock hard, rock steady,” she purrs above a gentle vinyl crinkle. At some point, she just starts launching into full-on dirty talk. “I’ve been a bad, bad, bad, bad girl.” “Punish me.” “My shit’s so good, it ain’t even right.” And as for the imagery? “Rock it ’til waterfalls/Bathe in these waterfalls.” TMI, Bey.
VIDEO: Prepare for a cold shower after watching this one, folks. Bey’s accompanying Ed Burke and Bill Kirstein-directed clip for “Rocket” is the most artistic pornography your eyes upon which will ever have the pleasure of indulging this year. Bey’s body is the star, tracing every curve and crevie of her bootylicious bod. It’s meant to be intimate – this is about love makin’, not just boning, after all. As a result, there’s a warm and familiarity to the scenes — one minute we’re surveying her curves, the next catching a glimpse of her smiling coyly in the kitchen. Hot mama! And don’t forget the symbolism overload: From faucets to shattering plates of toast, no household object is safe from becoming one of Bey’s tools for seduction.
MINE (FEAT. DRAKE)
SONG: With “Mine,” Bey’s enlisted Drake for one of his signature brooding downtempos, bringing along Noah “40” Shebib and duo Majid Jordan — two acts signed to Drake’s label — to give her some of that spook-hop majesty. “Mine” is also one of the longest songs on BEYONCÉ (only “Rocket” beats it), allowing Bey ample time to bask in those moody beats, an echoing woodblock and gentle piano melodies. It’s a (seemingly) revealing glimpse into her relationship with Jay Z, and issues past and present: “Been having conversations about breakups and separations/I’m not feeling like myself since the baby,” she reveals. Bey’s loneliness weaves its way through the record — tracks like “Jealous” and “No Angel” reveal as much – and it sounds as though she’s still struggling to keep Hov focused. “Got everything I’m asking for but you,” Beyoncé laments. “Fuck what you heard, you’re mine, you’re mine.” She passes the mic to Drake several times on the record, who alternates between overdriven Yeezus-like verses about his “good girl” and moody self-reflection. “From 8 until late, I think ‘bout you/You own my nights I don’t know what to do,” he confesses. (Also, “All them fives need to listen when the ten is talking” — props for the amazing 30 Rock reference.)
VIDEO: To match the avant garde production, Bey brought aboard Pierre Debusschere (who also directed the “Ghost” video) to provide some truly gorgeous imagery. It’s moving art, essentially: As some fans have discovered, she channels Michelangelo‘s Pietà in her Statue of Mary pose, as well as René Magritte‘s The Lovers with the hooded kiss scenes. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt of art world references, but they all make sense and connect to the central theme of “Mine.” A pretty incredible feat, really.
SONG: Of all the tracks on BEYONCÉ, “XO” was really the only one making rumblings before the night the album suddenly arrived. And after listening, it’s clear why: Written alongside “Halo” hitmaker Ryan Tedder and The-Dream (who also helped write “***Flawless,” “Grown Woman” and “Partition”), the track has the potential to become Bey’s next feel-good anthem. It’s more complicated in structure and sound than “Halo,” and somehow, even more euphoric. (Tedder himself called it a “bigger, better song” than “Halo,” and he might be right.) “I love it like XO/You love me like XO/You kill me boy XO/You love me like XO!” she happily declares. The lush electronic production quickly fills out, as powerful drums send the track soaring higher and higher: “Baby, kiss me before they turn the lights out!” she commands over and over. This one’ll make you feel all the feels.
VIDEO: The video for “XO” was shot by Terry Richardson — and yet, you’d never know it. No weird teen sexploitation or high contrast skinny models to be found here! It’s just a day of fun at Coney Island, partying it up with friends and fans alike. Watching Bey giggle and scream on roller coasters, dance it up with strangers and bust some choreography in the arcade makes her seem more human than ever before — and it completely carries the same fuzzy feeling as the song. By the time it’s over, you kinda just want to give everyone a hug.
***FLAWLESS (FEAT. CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE)
SONG: Released earlier this year in demo form as “Bow Down/I Been On,” the boast-filled trap track’s since been polished to perfection — it’s flawless, if you will. For one thing, she’s since tackled the tricky area of the song’s meaning. Bey rattles through brag-filled, cocky statements (“I know when you were little girls/You dreamt of being in my world”), demanding us to “bow down, bitches,” which led some writers to criticize her as anti-feminist. (For the record, I always assumed “bitches” was a blanket statement for haters, not women.) To drive the point even further, she’s done two new things with the song: For one, there’s now a genius sample of a speech by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from a TED Talk in April of this year called “We Should All Be Feminists.” It’s a rousing moment, highlighting truths like “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.” It’s awe-inspiring, really, to think about the potential of this song: Beyoncé is one of mass culture’s most beloved figures, and here she is challenging the patriarchy and traditional gender roles on her new album to sets of ears that, very likely, have never heard a thing about gender theory. To tie it all together, she’s included a hook at the end that has already become the go-to caption for Instagrammers and Snapchatters ’round the world: “I woke up like this, I woke up like this/We flawless, ladies tell ’em.” Preach! There’s some vintage “Independent Women” realness for you — now gag on it, haters. This one’s about as empowering and inspiring as they come.
VIDEO: Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Beyoncé: Bey’s dug into her video archive and selected another blast from the past to kick off the Jake Nava-directed clip: It’s Girls Tyme on Star Search in ’92! Bey’s first girl group (pre-Destiny’s Child) only got 3 stars after their performance (thus the title of the track) — and damn, if that isn’t this just the world’s best last laugh. And then, it’s back to Bey in black and white, delivering her track against a grungy alleyway amidst a cast of punk characters, serving scary eyes and ferocious head-banging hair flips. By the end, she’s getting down (“Goddamn, goddamn!“), giving us some new moves to work with (the shaky hands!) and remaining the ultimate boss bitch.
SUPERPOWER (FEAT. FRANK OCEAN)
SONG: Pharrell and Frank Ocean helped to co-craft “Superpower,” a pensive, slow-strutting contemplation about, well, the (super)power of love set against soft strings and a gentle doo-wop melody in the background. It’s all about the experience of understanding your true potential in a relationship. “And when I’m standing in this mirror after all these years/What I’m viewing is a little different/From what your eyes show you/I guess I didn’t see myself before you,” Bey sings. Frank joins in later on, his deep vocals complimenting King Bey nicely. “I thought the world would move on without us/But nothing I know could slow us down,” he croons. The song unfolds slowly. “The laws of the world never stopped us once,” Bey sings, “’cause together we got plenty of superpower.” Given that she’s part of one of the world’s most famous power couples, it’s hard to disagree.
VIDEO: It’s us against the world, Bey! The visual for “Superpower” is yet another one of Bey’s most artistic moments: Rocking a ridiculously sexy stealth superhero outfit (X-Men‘s calling, Bey!), the superstar slow-mo soldiers her way through a chaotic, fiery battlefield (are we inside a shopping mall?), never breaking her cool as the Molotov cocktails fly and the war rages on. At one point, she meets a fallen soldier and catches feelings, teaming up to march together. As they walk, more and more familiar faces reveal themselves in Bey’s crew: Kelly! Michelle! Solange! Pharrell! Luke James! It’s a family affair. The troupe’s faced with a human barrier of unfriendly looking soldiers (The critics? Political statement? Life’s obstacles in general?), but they’re stronger together. That final moment — as Bey takes her man’s hand and puts on a brave face — is a lasting image.
SONG: As the album draws to a close, the music takes an even more somber turn with “Heaven,” a heavy-hearted ballad dedicated to a lost love. Although the lyrics are general enough to apply to anyone, some fans speculate that this one’s about her miscarriage, as documented in Life Is But A Dream. “I fought for you the hardest, it made me the strongest/So tell me your secrets, I just can’t stand to see you leaving, but heaven couldn’t wait for you,” Bey quivers through the sorrowful, piano-led ballad produced by herself and Boots. It’s a minimal production, yet powerful — I imagine this one in particular will mean a lot to many people in time.
VIDEO: Beyoncé co-directed “Heaven” herself with Todd Tourso (who also worked on “Jealous”). We follow the singer as she enters a church and mourns, eventually breaking into tears at one point and, later on, visiting a gravesite. As the video goes on, we’re given flashbacks to Beyoncé living it up and gleefully exploring the world with a friend, attending her wedding and meeting her child. The video, I think, could be interpreted as a reflection of the experiences she’ll miss out on having with her unborn child. But luckily, there’s a (blue) light at the end of BEYONCÉ…
SONG: Every new mommy pop star has their new mommy moment on record: For Madonna, it was “Little Star.” For Britney, it was “My Baby” (or, as it is known in some circles, “Tiny Hands.”) For Bey, it’s “Blue.” The song, which was crafted solely alongside the mysterious Boots, is an ode to her bebe: “Each day I feel so blessed to be looking at you, ’cause when you open your eyes/I feel alive,” she coos above the layered track, which seamlessly alternates between future-wave R&B, fuzzy electronica and soaring orchestral strings. There’s a tone to her voice that is warm and refreshing — she’s not belting at the top of her lungs. It feels, well, genuine. And just try and not tear up by the time you finally hear that eager cry of “Mommy!” from Baby Blue at the very end.
VIDEO: You know when you’re at some family party, maybe a friend’s family party, and you somehow get stuck starting at some stranger’s home videos, or pictures from a vacation or something? It’s exactly like that, except instead of being boring, it’s actually just heartwarming and sweet and then all of a sudden you look away and you’re like “Oh wait, I’m crying.”
BONUS: GROWN WOMAN
“Grown Woman” didn’t make the cut on BEYONCÉ which is a real shame, although it makes sense — there are no real uptempo “bangas” on the album, so it would probably be a bit out of place. Luckily, we’ve still got the video, which is one of the best ones of the bunch. The clip’s a trip, taking Bey’s home footage practicing routines with Kelly (and various pre-Destiny’s Child members) and digitally morphing their mouths to sing along to “Grown Woman.” It’s done so well, it’s actually eerie. (Come to think of it, Bey’s probably got enough to afford a time machine by now.) The video then morphs into a psychedelic VHS trip, as Bey booty drops across technicolor backdrops. House of Dereon Queen Tina Knowles makes a show-stopping cameo upon a couch at one point for a few seconds, which is obviously the album’s true highlight. It’s a bright, bubbly way to sign off on the record — and yes, a final dose of girl power that ought to fully counter those obnoxious thinkpieces claiming she’s anything other than a positive role model for women. I mean, hello…she’s a role model to everyone.