Bow Down Bitches: Beyonce’s ‘Beyonce’ Is The Album Of The Year, Of Course
I’ve really dragged my feet on writing about my favorite album of the year. I have a lot of feels about this record, and I don’t think I can do it justice, review-wise. Additionally, it came out so late in the year that I haven’t had enough time to immerse myself in it as I did with other records this year. Finally, it’s pretty much literally everyone on earth’s record of the year unless you’re talking about a niche list that only deals with country or death metal or something. But if you were paying attention to pop music this year, you know that the Beyonce record came along and destroyed everything in its path.
Damn straight it is the record of the year. Why? Let me give you all the reasons. All of them.
1) Making a record that is a superstar big label pop and R&B record through and through.
Let’s get this out of the way: if you don’t like the kind of music Beyonce (or Rihanna or Solange Knowles or Kelly Rowland or…you get the picture) makes, this record will likely not change your mind. It’s a pop/R&B record through and through. If you scorn pop music or think it somehow doesn’t matter, I’m afraid I don’t know how to fix that. I will, however, bend your virtual ear with a quick bit of yelling about critical acclaim versus popular superstardom.
There’s an assumption, perhaps borne out the fact that Beyonce has been at the top of the game for a decade now, that she’s a construct, a synthetic sexy little puppet who is manufactured to churn out hits and who has little to no say in her image. This, to put it politely, is bullshit. There’s just no reason to assume that, say, a Janelle Monae is a fully authentic person who constructs her own public persona with care and deliberation while Beyonce is the grown up Real Girl of some talented men behind the scenes.
There’s also no reason to ever ever EVER assume that because something is wildly popular, it is dreck. Pop music is great music. Frank Sinatra made pop music. Elvis Presley made pop music. The Beatles made pop music. Dionne Warwick made pop music. Michael Jackson made pop music. Why not just consider yourself lucky enough to be around at a time when you can experience a pop masterpiece as it came into existence? Because you are lucky. Really lucky.
2) The sheer audacity of dropping a record with no fanfare at midnight on a Friday and watching the world go to pieces over the record.
Is that something that only someone who is already famous can do? Yep, which was a bone of contention or a point of discussion, depending on what side you were on, when Radiohead released In Rainbows. I’m not going to fault artists for leveraging their fame to do things in a new way with their staid old record label. Put another way: don’t hate the player, hate the game.
3) Managing to keep the record secret, which is pretty much unpossible.
Everything — EVERY EVERYTHING — leaks early, but no one on earth knew this was coming.
4) Filming 18 (!!!) full-length videos — real videos, with plots and such — to go along with your secret record.
See above. The fact that oodles more people had to be a part of this because videos were made makes it even crazier that no one slipped a copy of this to a buddy or a journalist. Maybe Beyonce and Jay-Z really are Illuminati and were able to make everyone sign a pact with the devil so they wouldn’t reveal it.
5) Making a record that is unabashedly sexy, and a thorough disquisition on what it means to be a woman.
There’s been a breathtaking level of discussion/argument/fisticuffs about whether this is a feminist record and who gets to claim whether it is or isn’t. I will not enter into the white feminist vs. feminists of color fray on that one, but speaking for me, absolutely it is. It’s a robust, sexy, smart, womanly album. It’s about getting freaky — instead of workaday — when fucking your husband (“Drunk in Love”). It’s about having your worth and self-esteem and success tied up in how you look from the time you were little (“Pretty Hurts”). At its apex, the record has one of the most complex songs of the last several years about that tension between the braggadocio of telling yourself you’re perfect just the way you are and bearing the weight of being told that you are only at your best when you’re physically perfect (“Flawless”).
6) Having every producer in the known universe at your disposal and choosing to go with a mystery man named Boots.
The best way to avoid stagnation as a pop musician is to change up who you work with and move outside that comfort zone. That’s the reason everybody loves Rick Rubin. He comes in and flips the script and reinvents your shit. Boots’ role here isn’t as much a reinventor as a refiner. He adds odd little wobbles and bends that skew the pop perfection ever-so-slightly and it’s exactly what the record needs.
7) Refusing to release the record in bits and pieces because it is a cohesive whole.
I cannot stress this enough. The entire album is meant to be listened to in one sitting, the accompanying videos watched in one giant binge. It’s the most immersive record of the year aurally and visually. It’s that immersiveness that makes it hard to do a traditional review of the record where you just point out standout tracks or songs that fall short.
She hasn’t released the individual tracks as singles, and most of the 18 videos are on lockdown, prolly because of that Illuminati thing, but the ones that have been released give you a taste of that immersive feel.”XO” is a dizzying swoop of a song and so is the video.
I could write 1000 more words about how this is a great record, but hopefully by now you’ve just come to your senses and bought the thing. Enjoy!