I really didn’t want to hop on the Beyoncé bandwagon—primarily because it’s late in the game and all of the good seats were taken. But, I have to relent and admit that what she accomplished on December 13th with her fifth studio and first visual album was undeniably spectacular. While as a music lover I always followed and enjoyed her work, never was I as genuinely impressed as I was upon experiencing Beyoncé. Most impressive to me was the fact that Beyoncé Knowles-Carter released this album with zero marketing. For those of you unfamiliar with the business side of music, marketing and promotion for an artist’s upcoming project attributes to a significant monetary portion of what an artist can owe the label–not to mention the sometimes grueling press tour that an artist is obligated to take part in. Essentially, Beyoncé cut out the middle man and was able to rely solely on the loyalty of her fan base for the success or failure of the album—and fail her they did not. As to date the album has sold upwards of 1.7 million copies. Beyond the innovation of releasing a surprise full length album with zero marketing at midnight, the true talent of Mrs. Carter’s team is in knowing when the climate is right for such a project. To ensure the fourteen track self-titled piece was a true surprise to the media and fans alike, everyone from interns and A&R executives at the label were to sign non-disclosure contracts. So what was all the secrecy for? Beyoncé takes us on a sixty-seven minute journey through many of the complex highs and lows that occur in a woman’s life. As listeners, we are taken on an R&B/Pop detour, where every song isn’t about pains of casual dating, but about topics that take longer to either achieve or heal from. We’re with her as she sings with levity about the bliss of self-love, on Flawless:
I woke up like this/We flawless, ladies tell ‘em/I woke up like this
And while she then flips toward the binary of that, struggling with the constant pressures to be perfect on Pretty Hurts:
Blonder hair, flat chest/TV says, “Bigger is better.”/South beach, sugar free/Vogue says: ‘Thinner is better’.
As cathartic as those tracks feel, probably the most heart-wrenching of all is Heaven, a song alluding to her miscarriage with husband Shawn “Jay-Z “Carter,
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.
Fret not, Beyoncé loyalists, for she returns to her roots and makes songs guaranteed to make you dance or at least sing alone in your car, with the infectious Blow and the ubiquitous Drunk in Love. All in all, this project has something for everyone: Synth based tracks for the dancers, a moving clip of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk for the feminists, experimental beats for budding DJS and it’s all brought full circle with appearances by artists and producers you expect to hear on a Knowles project (Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Pharrell Williams to name a few). The most imperative effect of this type of release for me of course, was the fact that some of my personal, absolute favorites who infamously have trouble with labels, will less often have to use those resources as the main marketing conduit between their work and their fans. Other artists have already credited Beyoncé for breaking the marketing binds put forth by labels, such as New York Hip-Hop heroes and repeated label foes Jadakiss, Sheek Louch and Styles P (remember Free the Lox?) as they released their latest mixtape Trinity in similar fashion.
My ever ubiquitous feminism makes me note however, that I was turned off by Beyoncé keeping with her ever-meticulously calculated career by choosing to release her most sexually graphic lyrics to date attached to a Mrs. Carter persona, as to proclaim that it is only socially acceptable to explore sexual liberation once a man has already given you his last name and you’ve popped out his seed. In addition, a feeling of forced raunchiness resonated with me during a lot of the hyper-sexual verses. In any event, I always concede that I’m over analytical to a point where I’m often left playing devil’s advocate with myself as any one that was crazy enough to engage in a dialogue with me had long since given up.
That being said, with the release of Beyoncé, Mrs. Knowles-Carter has made strides in innovating the way we receive music, the way she has been innovating the music we listen to for years.