"I took all the things I wanted to change about myself and all the things I wanted to share and I put it into this record. I'm very proud of it but more than the music, I'm proud of myself as a woman for taking the risks" - Beyonce
BEYONCE is the fifth studio album by Beyonce. She is also the album's executive producer, co-writer of every track, and was the co-director of the album's music videos. Significant contributions in song writing and production include the likes of Boots, Sia, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Tedder, Jay Z, The-Dream, Timbaland, Frank Ocean, and Pharrell Williams. Music video directors include Hype Williams and Terry Richardson.
In December 2013 the album was unexpectedly released to the iTunes Store with no promotion having taken place beforehand, with a CD/DVD set being released to selected stockists a week later. Despite the lack of promotion, and late release date, the album has been named as one of 2013's biggest selling albums, and it hit the #1 spot in 90 countries upon it's release.
BEYONCE is officially described as being an electronic R&B album, combining minimalist production, loose song structure and emotive vocals. Beyonce revisits her common theme of self-empowerment, although the album is distinguished from previous releases for its frank discourse on female sexuality.
I honesty like every single track on BEYONCE. There are a few familiar styles to different eras on Beyonce's past albums and Destiny's Child days [such as Pretty Hurts, XO, Superpower and Heaven], however the vast majority of the album's tracks are a new style for Beyonce. It's both old school electronic R&B, and a modern energy. I'm not the best at describing different musical styles, but this a welcome change for Beyonce and is a real bar-raiser of an album.
The audio album
The producers describe this track as "neo soul"; a mixture of soul, R&B, and a light sprinkling of pop. The lyrics remind me a bit of the Destiny's Child song 'The Story Of Beauty, in the way the song is quite speechy and telling a serious story.
The song is from the point of view from a beauty pageant contestant who has been raised by her stage mother to believe that her biggest success in life should be achieving perfect looks and winning recognition for them. The song goes on with the woman realizing how empty and meaningless this life is, and she decries society's obsession with unattainable and harmful standards of beauty.
Following an infuriating meeting with a record label one of the albums main producer's [Boots] wrote wrote the bulk of the rap that makes up the first part of the song [this is called 'Ghost' on the visual album]. Beyonce said identified with its content as she had similar experiences from signing a contract at a young age. It's not stated if she herself added any lyrics to this part of the song, or if she just contributed to the second part of the song.
I guess that the two parts of the song are joined because they both started life as separate tracks by Boots - Haunted was originally called 'I'm Onto You' and he didn't like the song much , but Beyonce did so she reworked it a bit. Whilst I think of the first part of the song as interesting as it's a new style for Beyonce, I love the main part of the song as the simpler keyboards and bassline fits perfectly with the sultry lyrics about Beyonce remembering a past lover.
Drunk in Love
Beyonce and Jay-Z free-styled their verses for this song, which is basically about drunken sex. Nothing else for me to add here, but that doesn't mean that I don't like the song as I do, but it's a bit of a grower. It wasn't officially released as a single in the UK, but it still entered the top ten.
I'd have just said the style of music is R&B, with a bit of hip hop. But it has been classed as trap, which the internet tells me is "from Southern hip hop. It is typified by its lyrical content and trademark sound, which incorporates 808 sub-bass kick drums, double-time, triple-time and other faster time division hi-hats, layered synthesizers, and cinematic strings". So yeah, R&B with a spattering of hip hop.
My favourite video is the one for Drunk In Love. The video is reminiscent of Chis Issak's Wicked Game. I'm not sure why, but the combination of Beyonce swearing and Jay Z doing the whole embracing on a beach thing [with the usual thick gold Mr T chains and a glass of cognac in one hand] amuses the heck out of me.
Three guesses as to what this Prince flavoured song is about - although I'll add that most of the song is about him doing it for her. The heavy innuendos make this song seem fun, not sleazy.
The music really elevates this song and turns up the fun factor; it's disco-tinged retro R&B, with heavy bass and sparse piano chords. The lyrics and music just work so well together. Blow is one of my favourite tracks on the album.
This is another track that works well as it is kept quite simple both lyrically and musically; Beyonce is telling her partner that she is no means perfect but he shouldn't forget that he isn't either, over a electronic bass-heavy beat.
Another two-parter. The first part begins as what the producers called a "lady-thug anthem", which is Beyonce introducing us to her new alter ego Yonce. It's a simple catchy song about how Yonce can't simply go to a club without getting attention, but she uses this situation to catch a man's eye. The music [a combination of hip hop, dancehall and electro] makes this yet another favourite of mine.
The music blends into a sultry Eastern rhythm as the track blends into part two. I assume the two songs are joined because Beyonce opens the main section with "driver roll up the partition please, you don't need to see Yonce on her knees", and is making it clear that Yonce is her herself. Those two lines tell you all you need to know about 'Partition; it is about Beyonce having fun time in the back of a limousine, on her way to a club. This is another favourite album song of mine, as the mix of the music in the two song sections is enjoyable, and the lyrical content is new for Beyonce. She is always so sweet and polite, so hearing her purr "oh he Monica Lewinsky'd all on my gown" is a real departure for her.
The spoken french verse in the song was recorded by one of the dancers accompanying Beyonce on her Mrs Carter Show tour, and says:
Do you like 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
The style of this song is reminiscent of 'No Angel', as it is again kept quite simple and clear lyrically and musically with a electronic bass-heavy beat. This time Beyonce confesses to becoming jealous whenever a partner is out without her, so she in turn goes out and flirts with other men to make him jealous in return.
Another stripped back track which is basically a six and a half minute song about a sexual encounter. The soulful feel of the music and vocals doesn't really go together with the sexual lyrics, which is filled with innuendo. The innuendos in 'Blow' seem cheeky and fun, but I find the ones in this song a bit clunky.
Rocket is not something that I'd label as a bad song or a 'skipper', but it is my least favourite on the album as I stop paying attention to it when it plays. Nice, but nothing special.
Beyonce opens up about her postpartum depression, and past moments of rockiness in her marriage. Drake's lyrical and vocal contribution to the song is meant "to turn the darkness into hope", as he sings about still wanting her and promising to always treat her right.
Apparently most critics dislike Drake's portion of the song, but I love the way that whilst the song is emotive and personal his parts stop 'Mine' from becoming too dark and depressing. This goes for the music too; Beyonce's verses are jazzy and understated with subtle African drum beats, but then these beats speed up and the music become a bit more hip hopish for Drake's verses.
This is a love-letter-turned-song from Beyonce to her husband. The happy lyrics and pleasant mid tempo blend of soul, pop, and R&B music is the closest thing to pure pop as the album gets. I think that this song would also fit nicely on any of Beyonce's past albums, especially 4.
Is like two songs [the first part is also known as Bow Down] connected with an excerpt from a lecture given by feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [We Should All Be Feminists]. I think the vocals are very Rita Ora sounding and the music is again classed as being the trap style; it starts angry and fast during the Bow Down verse, before becoming slower and calmer, with much more subtle beats as the song reaches the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speech and final verses.
The first portion of the song is from the point of view from "the Beyoncé that was angry. It was the Beyoncé that felt the need to defend herself. ... People like it? Great, they don't? they don't. But I feel strong, and anyone who says it's disrespectful -- just imagine the person that hates you, just imagine the person that doesn't believe in you, and look in the mirror and say, "Bow down, bitch!" And I guarantee you'll feel gangsta."
Beyonce was criticized for the perceived anti-feminist use of the word "bitches" on the initial release of "Bow Down/I Been On". The negative attention over the original version led Beyonce to include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's definition of who a feminist is in the song.
In the final portion of the song Beyonce is saying that as long as she has her family she considers her life to be flawless and that she has been taught to "love her haters", so criticism towards her doesn't hurt her [I know - way include the speech then?].
A more laid back song about being in love, and the way that love and support makes you feel. Neither Beyonce or Frank Ocean name names or give any hints on who they're singing about, so the listener can fill in the blanks and make the personal to them by imaging partners, children, family, or friends.
The music and vocals for this track are classed as being 'alternate R&B' rather then straight up soul, but it's a lovely song either way. I think this track could fit nicely on any of Beyonce's solo albums, or on a Destiny Child's album - I'm thinking the Destiny Fulfilled era.
I thought that I might have been missing some deeper meaning in the song, so here's Mused Magazine's take:
"The lyrics remind us that love can transcend the trivial and oppressive laws that imprison us from the moment we are born and forced into sex and gender categories that are no more true than the fairytales we grow to learn and hold dear. These "laws of the world" are not just written on paper, but are insidiously inscribed in our hearts and minds, policing what kinds of love are appropriate and what types of affect are acceptable."
Beyonce wrote this after witnessing the pain and loss her mother experienced, after losing her best friend. The song has mournful piano lead music, with gospel overtones in the style of vocals. Simple but emotionally powerful.
Another simple-yet-powerful number to close the album; this time exploring the relationship between mother and child, and the unique love and bond they share. Yep - that is Beyonce's daughter saying "Hold on to me" at the end of the song. The music is again piano heavy, but is more cheerful and upbeat - slightly poppy.
1. Pretty Hurts
3. Drunk in Love (featuring Jay Z)
5. No Angel
9. Mine (featuring Drake)
11. Flawless (featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
12. Superpower (featuring Frank Ocean)
14. Blue (featuring Blue Ivy)
The Visual album
But just viewed purely as a "visual album" I have to admit that BEYONCE suddenly becomes less enjoyable and diverse, so I look at the videos as simply being an added extra. First of all the idea isn't actually a new one for Beyonce as the special edition of her second album - B'Day - also used the same concept, so I'm not sure where all of the hype of her 'fresh', 'unique', and new 'vision' has come from.
However my main complaint with the videos is that the songs Rocket and Mine are shortened, so now they feel like they're slowly building up to something, but they never really deliver. It especially ruins Mine. Plus Songs like XO and Superpower [Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams and Pharrell Williams appear in the video] have nice videos, but I feel as though the actual song lyrics doesn't match up with them, so that lessens the impact of the songs for me.
And call me a prude, but it's kind of funny to start the visual album with a 7 minute video of a beauty pageant contestant realizing how empty and meaningless her life has become by being focused on her looks and body [Pretty Hurts], only to follow this video with tons of footage of a barely dressed Beyonce shaking her arse and thrusting her hips at me. I know female sexuality is a major theme on the album, but it is too repetitive visually and comes off as "same old, same old". I'm sure most men [and a significant number of women] will love this aspect, but for me personally these repeats of the same old Beyonce music video tactics is getting pretty dull now and makes me stop paying attention = in visual format the songs begin to meld together, so only a few songs stand out for me.
The only way thing I feel that the visual album improved on the traditional audio version is that it removes the lengthy intros from the tracks Haunted and Partition and gives them separate videos - Ghost and Yonce [Beyonce's new alter ego]. The intros are interesting and the tracks they were added onto are two of my favorites on the album, but all four tracks sound better to me standing on their own.
Another plus point is that the song from Beyonce's Pepi 2013 advert 'Grown Woman' is featured. The video is nothing new [Beyonce in different guises dancing around], but the music is the more traditional dancey R&B Beyonce, so it's a nice closer. The lyrical content can be viewed as Beyonce telling her audience why she's changed musical direction - she's now a adult, so she doesn't need to ask permission to play up her sexuality.
1. Pretty Hurts
4. Drunk in Love (featuring Jay Z)
6. No Angel
11. Mine (featuring Drake)
13. Flawless (featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
14. Superpower (featuring Frank Ocean)
16. Blue (featuring Blue Ivy)
17. Grown Woman