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Beyoncé has been held up in society as one of our most revered icons for well over a decade. No one can deny her talent as a powerhouse performer and vocalist — she’s always been one of the best. But the one thing that was missing, for me at least, was a personal connection. I never felt like I had a sense of Beyoncé as a person offstage. And while 2011’s 4 made me appreciate her more as an artist, BEYONCÉ made me actually care about Beyoncé. It’s an unexpectedly personal record without publicly exploiting that fact — from the vintage footage of Beyoncé’s pageant-filled past and her loss on Star Search, the endless cameos from friends and family in the videos. The lyrics dig deeper, too — questioning her record label, opening up about her marital insecurities, challenging societal standards, and yes, indulging in her carnal thirst for sex. This is a superstar I can finally relate to.

With just every producer in the industry drooling at the idea of sitting in the studio with Bey, she had every opportunity to deliver an album full of “Single Ladies”-sized hits…but she didn’t.

She swerved left (to the left, to the left), digging deeper still and giving us texture. Personality. Diversity. Food for thought. A gorgeous final product, from start to finish — yes, real art. It’s more impressive, still, considering that many of the producers and songwriters she worked with on BEYONCÉ are responsible for some of the most Top 40-friendly productions of the year. She’s pushed them all to operate on a higher wavelength. And it worked.

In the final hour, Beyoncé stomped her stiletto down and demolished the box, and the industry’s been sent scrambling ever since.

Who run the world? The answer is more obvious now than ever before.

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Beyoncé was released on December 13. (iTunes)