There is just so much to say about ‘Beyonce’. The fact that there are so many avenues for conversation is in itself indication of its impact and achievement. For a start the music industry has been bamboozled by it. The statement that Beyonce had released ‘17 videos’ in a press release that arrived in my inbox at 6am on Friday morning was a bit much to stomach before breakfast. What? 17 videos? At once? I only have time to watch 3 music videos on the tube in the morning. PANIC STATIONS! DO I TAKE THE DAY OFF? WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Bowie, Daft Punk, Arcade Fire – all immensely exciting campaigns this year in their elements of surprise, domination and intrigue. And yet this was next level. Beyonce had unleashed the entire next phase of her whole career in one go. What if nobody liked it? Didn’t she want to test the waters first? Popstars are endlessly asking fans for advice now. They’ve become so fucking needy (I’m looking at you, Gaga). Beyonce doesn’t give a shit about critics by the looks of it. She’s playing blogs and immediate critical reaction at its own game. “Hey internet, you wanna Instagram, Tweet and post every inch of me? Here is every inch of me as you’ve never seen or heard me before. WHATCHU GON’ DO FIRST, BITCHES?” Beyonce spun the entire blogosphere and music world out. There was just no way to tackle this much Beyonce all at once. I had to take everything off my iPhone yesterday just to accommodate all the files. Could I still make a phonecall? Perhaps not BUT I HAVE A BRICK FULL OF YONCE AND I’M 30 MINUTES LATE FOR WORK.
End of year polls done, accolades doled out, tours coming to a close, best of 2013 essays filed, Beyonce isn’t looking to usurp anyone in that sense or come in as some last-minute contender for the December list-ageddon prizes. ‘Beyonce’ is about her. She’s bigger than anyone’s album, least of all her own. She’s bigger than radio play, bigger than billboards, bigger than TV spots, bigger than the entire music industry. How do you get the world to take you seriously as a fully-conceived album artist? How do you make an ADHD human race with a depreciating attention span stick with your full LP? Make a visually stunning accompaniment to each song – people loooooooove moving images. Who knows if without the traditional album campaign, there’ll be any longevity to this album’s success? Are there going to be singles? Even more videos? Who could say what she’ll do next? It’s an experiment. There are few artists who could afford to take this level of risk and attempt to play with the challenges faced by the music industry. Perhaps that’s why it’s her responsibility to do this. Or maybe she doesn’t give a fuck about that. She gives a fuck about this record though. And it deserves more of a critical examination other than: how does this compare with ‘Prism’ and ‘ARTPOP’? Seriously, are we still holding up female popstars against other female popstars? SO BORED OF THIS.
We shouldn’t be comparing the success of ‘Beyonce’ to the failure of ‘ARTPOP’, we should be comparing it to the brilliant potential of ‘Channel Orange’ or ‘Yeezus’. It’s that level of twisted, ambitious, bold, gamechanging, conversation-starting art that is attempting to drive social commentary and hopefully dominate the radio once programmers have decided which song to play first. It’s fully realised. There are 17 music videos FFS. Via these stunning high production mini-movies, Beyonce is showing us what the world looks like to her. Watch the whole of final song ‘Blue’ and attempt to shrug off your feelings. You can’t. There’s a beautiful baby in it and a new mother and she’s dancing with loads of children in the street wearing a football shirt and a million dollar smile and IT’S BEYONCE. When popstars speak about their ‘vision’ it can sound trite or pretentious. ‘Oh give over, they’re just songs I’m gonna force a DJ to play at 1am.’ Well, ‘Beyonce’ is a vision in the purest sense. It’s such a gearshift - like 3D with film, but actually GOOD. It seems crazy that we’ve been listening to albums without this complete visual accompaniment before (unless you count Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ which turned Bach and Tchaikovsky into psychedelic shorts about mushrooms and animated hippos). As Beyonce has said, she doesn’t just hear music, she sees it. Why only use one sense when you can use two? Hell, I wanna smell and touch it too. I bet Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ smells DELICIOUS, like sweet pea shoots and tall summer grass.
The music itself is pretty genre-bending. The latter half of ‘Haunted’ is something you’d be more likely to find on a Burial record or a Nicolas Jaar mix, ‘Pretty Hurts’ is a defiant, massive pop anthem about the pressures to be thin and ‘Blow’ is some serious disco-funk, dirty heaven. ‘Flawless’ featuring the poetry of feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche is a trap-assisted, fiercely dark R&B number. ‘Rocket’ on the other hand could have been on a D’Angelo record in the mid-90s and ‘XO’ has a stadium-sized chorus to rival Coldplay. But let’s not be dicks and forget to spend time with this record before praising the bejesus out of it…
It’s often said that Beyonce’s brand of feminism is ‘problematic’. But Beyonce doesn’t need to be all things to all women at all times. Personally on this record she makes me want to be at the helm of an entire empire. That said not everything about Beyonce herself speaks to the woman in me. For a start, I don’t like grinding into the sand as much as Bey; it gives me carpet burn. Also, ‘Pretty Hurts’ seems a little unbelievable coming from one of the most naturally beautiful women on earth. But despite Beyonce herself not being the most relatable proposition, ‘Beyonce’ the album has the potential to mean something to some women. This is a beautiful documentation of every side of femininity in her eyes: as a dancer, a mother, a friend, a wife, a lover, a provocateur, a boss. I’d rather have Beyonce’s ambitious vision than no vision at all.