by Andrew Garrison
If this is your first time in front of the Internet, or you recently escaped from some sort of prison camp that inhumanely does not keep you informed on pop culture, Beyoncé released surprise a video album, 17 videos, 14 songs. How did she tell us? JUST BY POSTING THIS TO INSTAGRAM!!!!
The current state of pop music has albums getting hyped for the upwards of nine months prior to the release date. We have music videos getting teaser clips months before they are sent to the public. Albums/songs get leaked all the time by the guys who clean recording studios or whatever. We, as the public, HAD NO IDEA THIS WAS COMING! It is remarkable and improbably that Queen Bey made a whole album, with videos, without an inkling of this coming out of the TMZ’s of the world. I figure a minimum of 100 or so commoners had to be involved in the making of the videos/music for Beyoncé, which was an ongoing project for however long, and no one said anything to the effect of working on a secret, in-depth, artistic project with one of the world’s biggest pop stars? I am not buying it. So I have come to four logical conclusions as how she pulled this off: 1) Hypnosis. 2) Kept them in a hole in the ground until she released the video album. 3) Mass Murders. 4) Entirely used Cuban Labor from their trip back in April. Right now, my money is on some combination of the four.
Now, that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the third most remarkable about Beyoncé (The first, obviously the clandestine nature, the second being the brilliantly executed videos that are actually related to the music), the music itself. The 14 songs on their own do something that pop music should, work both cohesively, and independently. This is to say, Beyoncé plays just as good in sequence as it does on shuffle.
Leading off with “Pretty Hurts” Bey reminds us, lest we forget, that goddamnit can she sing. Incredibly powerful vocals that show outstanding range and a strong beat makes “Pretty Hurts” a perfect lead-off song. Nothing too artsy, or groundbreaking, just some really good Yoncé. “Haunted” comes in, and is for lack of a better term, haunting. Slow and soft piano ultimately build with strong drums and an increasingly sultry sing-whisper-sing performance from Queen Bey. The beat varies from something rather electronic at times to intimate and deconstructed and back again over the course of the six minute track. And, because it is Beyoncé, it works.
“Drunk in Love” strays a little bit from the pop tone set initially and Bey has a bit more of an R&B (and kind of raps?) sound to her. Oh, and Mr. Knowles-Carter is featured on the track. They are drunk. And in love. That’s all you need to know. “Blow” is absolutely dripping with sexuality, and innuendos. Heavy, yet refined dance beat accented with an nifty little guitar line make this a song that will be played, remixed and played again at clubs for years. It is a little unsettling that a significant portion of the song is occupied by the line, “Turn(/tear?) that cherry out.” Which, female readers correct me if I am wrong, doesn’t sound all that pleasant. After a brief cool off with a breathy “No Angel” serving like a post-coitus musical cigarette, Beyoncé has another sexual, albeit moderately more intimate song,”Partition” which is about getting it on in a limousine, or what the Knowles-Carters call a Tuesday. “Jealous” is a big staged styled pop song that will have a lot of connection to a lot of people with lyrics regarding, well, jealously.
“Rocket” is a bit slower and roughly marks the halfway and turning point within our journey through Bey’s creative video venture. “Mine” which features Drake, is maybe the best song on the album (Hard to really say. I need to listen roughly 1000 more times before I say anything declarative.) Drake’s verse is great, but obviously Bey is the star. The production is outstanding and the song changes tone and tempo to tell and story and relay emotion deftly. “XO” is an upbeat arena pop number, running just over three minutes, and is a near perfect song for radio. I can already imagine scores of women, aged 7-57 belting “Baby love me like XOXO!”. “***Flawless” has a bit more ‘hip-hop rapping’ to it and a pretty large girl-power vibe to it, especially with the addition of a brief academic lecture on body image.Even with that it has great tempo and flow, and the speaking part is actually done so in a way that is purposeful and meaningful to the song itself, not gimmicky. “***Flawless” will be on a T-Shirt. And they will sell millions. Mark my words.
“Superpower” features Frank Ocean, who always brings a stellar vocal performance. The slowed tempo of this song brings us towards the end of the album where we are starting to get more emotional and soulful. “Heaven” goes even slower, and has a very deconstructed sound, with piano as the lone instrument accompanying Beyoncé for most of the song. The tasteful lack of production does a great job of not detracting from the very serious message of the song. Beyoncé ends with “Blue” a unfathomably beautiful song obviously dedicated to her daughter, and future ruler of American Pop Culture, Blue Ivy. And, Blue Ivy is credited on the song! It actually ends with Blue Ivy speaking some of the lyrics! It is absolutely amazing and a moment in pop culture that should be cherished forever.
Pop music, is short for popular music. While some can look at the term “popular music” as what the public likes, which is true, that is too narrow of an interpretation. “Like” is one thing, but there is also an aspect of what the people can relate to. That is why we get songs about breakups, love, boys/girls, nights out, etc. etc. Pop music can and should enhance the things that happen to all of us, elevate common experiences to something grander; make the mundane into the majestic; provide inspiration; take the sadness of a breakup and make it sadder; take the happiness of a new love and turn it into a euphoria. This kind of emotional enhancement is really only something that music can do, if done correctly. And Beyoncé does this perfectly. While some of the messages are more universal (“Pretty Hurts” & Body Image; “Blow” & Lust; “Heaven” & Loss) and some experiences are more unique to the Knowles-Carter’s (“Partition” & Limo Sex), it is hard not to listen to Beyoncé and find yourself connecting and relating in some way, on some level to Mrs. Knowles-Carter, and being able to feel that, and knowing that others are feeling the same way is something truly remarkable.