Beyoncé: One Year Late

WTF is Beyoncé?

Beyoncé is that surprise “visual album” that Beyoncé released all at once on iTunes on December 13, 2013. It’s a “visual album” because she shot music videos for the whole thing before it came out, and you had to buy the videos along with the audio so that you could watch the album the way she envisioned it.

What was it like?

It was okay. I’m not the kind of person who especially likes music videos, but I watched the video reel and I didn’t not enjoy myself. With one or two exceptions, the songs have gotten lots of play on my iPod, too.

Observations:

This album made me like Beyoncé

I had no opinion about her before this, but I’m impressed that, even though she already has all the money and all the fame, she still wants to push herself and take on more ambitious projects.

“Eat the cake, Anna Mae”

For reasons that I don’t remember, we had to watch the Tina Turner bio pic when I was in school, so the first thing I learned about Tina Turner – besides that she’s a private dancer, dancer for money, who’ll do what you want her to do – is that she had an asshole husband who beat the shit out of her.

So, even without reading any other comments online, I was somewhat taken a-back to hear Jay-Z say, “I’m Ike Turner… now eat the cake, Anna Mae!” while he was rapping on this album. I cannot imagine what he intended by comparing himself to someone who is famous primarily for beating his more successful wife, and by referencing a scene from the movie about that while he did it, but it was sure a strange and jarring thing to say.

An alternate title for this album – particularly the visual album – could have been “different ideas about sex”

… and I like that. I think my favourite video is “Haunted,” which elegantly presents the idea “being scared can be confused with being turned on.” That’s something that’s psychologically and physiologically correct, and also fascinating to me.

Ike Turner reference notwithstanding, I also like “Drunk in Love,” which is the total opposite, and is about being fun and playful with someone you’re intimate with.

It has an interesting sound

Beyoncé, the album, features several different sounds from Beyoncé, the singer, and, while they’re all still really mainstream – and therefore pleasing to me, because I have mainstream tastes – I appreciate the variety in switching between something like “Pretty Hurts” and something like “No Angel.” I also appreciate the variety in switching between different sounds and rhythms within a song like “Partition.”

But, is it feminist enough?

I think so. There is a nice moment in “Flawless” where she samples a quote from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech about feminism, and a lot of the album is concerned with the pressures put on women to look and behave in a certain way. “Momma said you’re a pretty girl, what’s in your head doesn’t matter…” and so forth.

The question of whether or not you think this album “passes” a test of feminism depends on what you think feminism entails in the first place. Beyoncé and Beyoncé certainly express femininity in a different way than I do, but I think there’s more than one acceptable way to be female, and more than one acceptable way to be feminist, so I’m good with that.

If you take everything else away, Beyoncé is a woman who’s succeeded in her chosen career based on merit and hard work. And Beyoncé is an ambitious album that presents her as a multi-faceted person with complex feelings and opinions, as well as an artist who’s capable of stretching herself to achieve new things. I don’t love “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” and I don’t love that these videos default to presenting her as the object of desire rather than the one who does the desiring – partly because I don’t buy the idea that women gain power by “owning” how sexy they are – but that’s okay. I don’t have to love every single part of it in order to think it’s good.

So, it’s good, then?

It’s one of the better albums I’ve bought.

Image: Beyonce Visual Album | November 23, 2014