Oh Queen Bey, you’ve done it again. Nobody suspected this surprise album; but it really was like Christmas coming early. Having sold almost 830, 000 copies globally on iTunes in only three days, you can see the huge bang that Beyoncé has come back with. This album deserves all the publicity it can get.
Beyoncé is Mrs Carter’s fifth album – and first ‘visual album’ as each track has an accompanying music video or short film – and is very different to her other records. Instead of focusing on catchy pop hits like ‘Love on Top’ or ‘Crazy In Love’ or huge, theatrical ballads like ‘If I Was A Boy’ or ‘Halo’, this album takes a different direction. This is not an album to try and appeal to the masses or tap into a different demographic, this is music Beyoncé wanted to release. It experiments with different genres like trap (in ‘Bow Down) and spoken word (‘Flawless’); the whole record is Beyoncé being brave with her sound, and not worrying about the effect it will have on her sales. The album is a statement; it says ‘this is who I am, take it or leave it’, and especially focuses on the themes of female empowerment and female sexuality.
Album opener ‘Pretty Hurts’ is a strong start, however I urge you to watch the accompanying video. This grants the message – which is fundamentally that being pretty can hurt – a much clearer concept, and makes Queen Bey seem a lot more human.
Beyoncé is a whole lot raunchier than in anything she’s produced before, yet the record doesn’t force this aspect (unlike many artists at the moment – I’m looking at you Miley & Rihanna). Everything is on Beyoncé’s terms. She shows you what she wants to and nothing more, and it’s not an album with videos just for the sake of it. ‘Blow’, which was – very obviously – produced by Pharrell, is about exactly what you think it is. This is one of the few tracks that would work as a commercial single, with it’s disco-tinged choruses and sing a long (although they’d probably be very innapropriate to belt out in public) verses. It was due to be the lead single but was scrapped, and instead ‘XO’ is rumored to be the lead commercial single. This is the track on the album that sounds most like ‘old Bey’. Co-written by Ryan Tedder, it’s the most radio-friendly song on the album. A huge pop ballad, it acts as a softer break between all the sexually charged tracks on the record.
‘Mine’ is a great duet with Drake, and the two artists voices couldn’t fit more perfectly. My criticism with this track is the introduction – it didn’t have to be that long; in fact it didn’t have to be there at all – but as soon as the underlying beat started going and the song started moving it got a whole lot stronger.
For me, the standout track on the album, for both musical content and the message behind it, is ‘Flawless’. This features the sample Bey put online of ‘Bow Down’, but is so much more than that early track. It now features sections of a speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and is the track on the album that really demonstrates the message of female empowerment that Beyoncé is trying to push. With lines like ‘we say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man’ and finishing with ‘feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes’ it’s incredibly obvious the message Beyonce is trying to put forward, and she does it in her typically sassy fashion.
Contrasting the huge empowering tracks are the ballads ‘Heaven’ and ‘Blue’ (which features her daughter Blue Ivy). ‘Heaven’ is gorgeous for different reasons to her previous ballads like ‘Halo’. It’s stripped down, with repeating piano riffs and relaxed drums, allowing Beyoncé’s incredible vocals to shine. ‘Blue’ is just adorable, and another more peaceful track on the album.
This is an album that you need to sit down and listen to (or watch) from start to finish. You may not like Beyoncé, or you may not like the change from huge pop hits, but this is undeniably an incredible pop record. Questions about female empowerment and sexuality are put forward, and the record shows Beyonce as somebody far more human (as opposed to her usual superhuman self). There are some filler tracks, but those are few and far between, and apart from these Beyoncé is a record comprised of the best pop music you’ll have heard this year. But lets be honest, did we expect anything else from Mrs Carter?