Dreams and fantasies creep into the mind, often cloaked by the darkness of night and with little warning. Such is also true for Beyoncé’s fifth solo album, “Beyoncé,” which was secretly released through iTunes on a random Thursday night in December without any promotion.
While albums are typically released on Tuesdays and hyped-up for months beforehand, Mrs. Carter decided to forego industry standards and make her own rules. She wanted to be the one to deliver this 14-track, 17-video “visual album” directly to her fans, and that is exactly what she did.
It was a risky endeavor, but in a world where tweets and Instagram photos spread within seconds, Beyoncé’s risk reaped major rewards. The singer’s most erotic album to date now sits high on its throne as the fastest selling album ever on iTunes.
Collectively, “Beyoncé” is a brilliant portrayal of one woman’s flawed but honest journey into womanhood. What makes it brilliant is that as Beyoncé shares her most intimate thoughts, she speaks to and for so many others. Despite the fact that Beyoncé is worth an estimated $53 million, the album reveals that at 32 years of age she still struggles with very common emotional battles.
In line with Madonna’s 1992 album “Erotica” — also her fifth album which features alter-ego Mistress Dita —“Beyoncé” delivers a heavy dose of sexuality, so much so that Freud would seriously have a field day analyzing it. Not only do listeners get a boatload of not-so-subtle innuendos, but Beyoncé also ties childhood sound bytes into the story and introduces yet another alter-ego—smack-talking ferocious Yoncé—to her fans. It doesn’t get much more Freudian than that.
After watching the rise and fall of MTV, Beyoncé is doing her part to bring back the art of the music video. While the accompanying videos leave little to the imagination, they are playful, poignant and cinematic, all while providing a vivid vision to back the lyrics. Tracks like “Blow,” “Partition,” “Drunk in Love” and “Rocket” are matched with in-your-face images across the spectrum of attraction that breathe life and love into her closest relationship.
In particular, Beyoncé — along with Miguel and Justin Timberlake — find that sweet spot with “Rocket,” which is unmistakably the female version of D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel).” Thirteen years after D’Angelo’s iconic song hit the airwaves, “Rocket” explodes with Prince-esque boudoir beats and rich R&B runs. This type of between-the-sheets plea to husband Jay Z effectively permeates the album without making fans feel like uninvited peepers. Rather, Beyoncé’s transparency translates as a newly found freedom from expectations that have previously been placed upon her.
While the erotic nature of the album demands attention, there are other important themes that develop through the tracks. One of the most powerful tracks, “***Flawless,” features the powerful words of Nigerian poet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and reminds women of all ages to fight for gender equality.
Another standout fan-favorite is “XO,” a call-and-response percussive carpe diem love jam that celebrates living every moment like it is the last. “Pretty Hurts” speaks to the pressures of sacrificing the soul for superficial beauty, while “Blue” celebrates the triumphs and joys of motherhood. Beyoncé also gives a glimpse into the ups and downs of marriage on tracks like “Jealous” and “Mine,” tapping into some of the not-so-sexy emotions that can threaten even one of the most influential couples in the music business.
Stylistically, Beyoncé experiments with a more electro-pop sound, often jagged and jolting in its delivery, similar to methods found on Frank Ocean’s “Chanel Orange.” It is no surprise that Ocean joins Beyoncé on “Superpower,” an apocalyptic anthem that could be construed as a call-to-arms to her fans, or perhaps just a love letter to Mr. Carter.
Interestingly, across the album’s tracks and videos there exists a drastic trade-off between the harder and softer sides of Beyoncé, along with a fierce loyalty to her family and hometown, Houston. As with almost everything she has ever created, there is an air of modern-day feminism and empowerment that prevails on this album.
However, this empowerment has never quite felt as authentic as it does on “Beyoncé,” because Beyoncé is finally showing the world that she is confident and comfortable being her true self. It is in her honesty that she is liberated as a woman, mother and wife, and this in turn spreads naturally to her listeners. While this girl-power quality may imply that “Beyoncé” is strictly for the female listeners, think again. With open minds, men can get a detailed glimpse into the female psyche after taking in this visual album, and if he were alive today, Freud would certainly agree.