Beyoncé – Self-titled

beyonce-s-self-titled-album-stays-at-billboard-200-s-no-1

Beyoncé

Self-titled

Released: 13 December 2013 (Parkwood and Columbia)

By: Sarah Yarrington

Beyoncé’s surprise visual album is a remarkably well-executed, ambitious, daring, and surprisingly stylistically diverse effort. With a distinct self-awareness, it’s appropriately self-titled. Beyoncé, her fifth solo album, is quite possibly her most epic release yet.

Before even addressing the album itself, let’s just appreciate how this album was kept absolutely on lock until its release, not a song clip leaked or a word spoken about it. Dropped on exclusively iTunes with no warning at all, it created Internet uproar immediately, and according to Billboard, sold around 80,000 copies within just three hours of its midnight release.

Beyoncé stars in all 17 videos, looking hot enough to make anyone a bit flustered and embodying a true double capital “B” Bad Bitch in every single one. The videos are visually enticing, high in production quality, and each seem to have their own unique and very cinematic vision. The songs alone would still be extremely memorable and enjoyable, but the visual aspect is what makes it an instant classic.

Simply because commercial appeal is largely reliant upon a certain amount of consistency and familiarity, pop albums are generally less diverse in sound and less likely to be outspoken. However, this album avoids falling into the mundaneness that is characteristic of pop music albums, giving off the vibe that B is less concerned about her music’s popularity in the mainstream. This is her first album with the availability of both a “clean” and an “explicit” version of an album, and nearly half of the tracks are explicit. Issues of pop culture, gender inequality, and the music industry itself are discussed explicitly, intermingling with expressions of sexual empowerment and pleasure, emotional vulnerability, and self-actualization.

The Beyoncé we witness in these songs has been evolving for quite awhile, and throughout the album her past identities are highlighted. It is sort of a narration of her transformation from a young aspiring pop star to the powerhouse she is now. The videos each present a certain time period and very recognizable setting, from the prohibition era in a mansion, to bubbly and fun 80’s roller-skating, to modern day in lower-middle class neighborhoods. Each of these images, with the music, carry a feeling representative, possibly, of the many stages Beyoncé has gone through as an artist, a wife and now mother, and just as a woman in America. Overall the result is a wide range of tones, namely; fun, energetic, exploratory, and unapologetically human.

The lack of a typical pop album vibe most clearly comes through aesthetically. Beyoncé dabbles with a much wider range of sounds, both in production and vocally. She experiments with vocal techniques in ways that she really hasn’t before, from using a girlish voice, to getting really low pitch and guttural at certain times, then screaming at others, overall using a little bit more of a subtle Houston twang in her sassier tracks, and even rapping a bit. She has gradually started to sound womanlier throughout the years, but she never tried variation to this degree. In terms of production, the same could easily be said. There are many different sounds, hand-picked from various genres, with 80’s neon synths, indie dream pop, trap hi-hats and bass, to classic 90’s R&B. There are slow jams, bangers, and feel-good anthems. The result is that there is that almost everyone can find at least one track on here that they enjoy, and you don’t have to be in any particular mood to listen to it. As an acquaintance of mine recently said in a Facebook status, “it just feels right at every moment of every day.”

My sole criticism of this album is that, while there is clear effort to address things like America’s beauty standards and the remaining necessity of feminism, the effort is more minor and not as much spoken from Beyoncé’s mouth, so they’re slightly robbed of their potential power. But, even still, it is daring to discuss these things at all as such a hugely visible member of pop culture, especially as a woman mainly known for her sex appeal before her talent.

Yoncé proves herself as an extremely talented and powerful individual over all, and uses her artistic ability and vision to create something distinctive in the pop music world. Especially with the help of the guests she features, Drake and Frank Ocean, this is a well-rounded, unique, and enjoyable work that everyone should listen to at least once.

Bow down bitches.

Favorite Tracks: Partition, Rocket, Superpower (Feat. Frank Ocean)

Rating: Gotta Have It

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