Monday, December 16, 2013

The Pop Liberation of Beyonce

If you are online, you know that Beyonce dropped a pop masterpiece in the depths of the night with nary a peep or a tweet in advance. Queen Bey, Queen B, Beyonce- or my favorite (and the shortest song/video on the groove spectacular) Yonce. As in i sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicka / Yonce all on your mouth like liquor / Yonce all on your mouth like liquor Godamn- in the high half-crazy shriek of Beyonce's own music- she is killin it

This is the best pop album of the last ten years. If you like pop, you want to listen to it, watch it, get excited about it! I am.

Pretty Hurts, the first and one of the few weaker offerings of the album, is an easy song with predictable rhythm and chorus. The important thing about this song is that it announces, gently, maybe hoping to keep eye to eye with some less adventurous B. fans, Beyonce's theme: empowered women.
The empowerment of Beyonce is the seed of this album. In Flawless she says momma taught me good home trainin / daddy told me to love my haters / sister told me to speak my mind / my man makes me feel so goddamn fine - this is a woman who has had support and love her whole life and could have been restrained, even gagged by the seal of approval she already had from the listening public. She chose to dare some here, and that daring, however much it represents of what she has to offer, is pure pop gold. Beyonce is in flow. She is in the epi-center of herself- that amazing, powerful creature: a woman who has risen in career, love and motherhood and found her deepest love, and from that love creates a wave that washes over everything in her life- her husband, children, self, and with an artist, the art. The weakness of Pretty Hurts also lies in the sand in mouth syndrome- it's hard to take Beyonce seriously wailing about the demands of being pretty when she just had a baby and has an incredible, fit figure and gorgeous, seemingly perfect face. 

Ghost is one of my favorite songs in this platter of great pop, and opens with a Prince like mesmerizing drone: all the people on this planet / workin 9 to 5 just to say alive and then a beautiful, haunting chorus what goes up / ghosts around / in a Sarah McLachlan like epic emotional call, rolling seamlessly into a blend of Beyonce talking to us song not for sell / probably  not gonna make any money off this / oh well / reap what you sow / perfection is so… and here, in the video she throws a look to the side, nailing it- she's telling us- She's telling us look, I am bringing what I love. If you don't like it, YOU CRAZY. It's beautifully sung and at less than 2 minutes, could have been 5. Perfection. Haunted has elements of many of the songs on Beyonce, pop beats, electronic synthesizers and emotive vocals with sexual overtones. No Angel is one of my favorites here- a great mash up of intimate revelations i know i'm not the girl you thought you knew and thought you wanted / underneath that pretty face there's something complicated , great singing, pop tones and beautifully mixed melodies. Liberated B. is telling us that her husband- who we know is no angel, a man who grew up in Marcy Projects and sold drugs- picked her for a reason. She's no angel either. There is some strange echo of the 80's in this song, too, and it all works.

Standing in front of trophies, handed trophies, breaking trophies, dragging trophies through the sand in Drunk In Love, there are trophies scattered and beaten throughout this album. Drunk In Love starts out slow and unassuming, then adds a trick drum beat and Beyonce throws a growl into the chorus and the song picks up it's power. Trophy wife? Hell no. Jay-Z shows up on the dark beach of this video, wine in one hand, a lazy cat got the canary gleam in his eye, rapping about pulling his wife's panties to the side because he doesn't have time for it, eating her breasts for breakfast, while Beyonce rolls dirty with the arms and attitude in her dance, at one point staring at Jay-Z while he raps in a moment so intimate I felt voyeuristic. They manage to make the erotic both fierce and adorable in this video and in verse.

Speaking of erotic- here we go with Blow and Partition and Rocket. Whew, anyone else pregnant around here? When I wrote about Rihanna and her sexless, glazed look, Beyonce was at the other end of the world grinding out her own sexuality and lyrics in one big liberated, exuberant shebang to show what it looks like when a grown woman takes possession of her own desire and sexuality in art. Blow is directed by Hype Williams and a shitload of fun to watch, with day glow seventies inspired hair and workout gear on a roller skating rink that goes with the homage to Donna Summer and Prince here. If Blow is for the languorous love making session, Partition is for the part where you squeal- ' Beyonce, I didn't know you like it like THAT! ' Partition is one freaky, awesome song and the video- with it's role playing sex games ( Beyonce with her hair neatly tucked and librarian good-girl glasses on, Beyonce with glittering ball gown and oversized hat) is so much good fun. Love the French sexy talk--The synthesizer pulse gets it going and Beyonce takes it off-  driver role up the partition please / i don't need you seein Yonce on her knees The chorus: take all of me / i just want to be / the kind of girl you like / the kind of girl you like / is right here with me is kind of a dirty 'i'm every woman' for all of us married women who keep it fresh with our husbands and also the truth about how a feminist woman can still fall prey to want to be all things to her man. Part of what liberation is for women is to claim all sides of ourselves, to integrate- that bastion of mental health. B. is liberating her sexuality, her jealousy, her street, her grief, her love- in this album, all.

Jealous is a song you listen to for clues to Beyonce's vulnerable side, more interesting for the story about the singer than song itself. i know i'm being hateful but that ain't nothin / i'm just jealous / i'm just human and part of the storyline of this album, claiming all parts of herself. XO is a lovely whitewash, free falling love song with a video of Beyonce wearing a Biggie hat and falling and rising on a roller coaster. It can't be said enough how much eye candy is in this fantastic video collection, in this example, Beyonce's copious jewelry draped and layered and dripping and long fangish nails in all colors.

Flawless : I am mad crazy in love with this song. First of all, it opens with a little kid synthesized voice rapping with a nasty edge and drops an immediate beat that nails your listening ears- then B comes in with her sweet strong voice i know you when you were little girls / you dreamt of being in my world / don't forget it don't forget it  and then snarls at us respect that / bow down bitches and then we are schooled:  i took some time to live my life / but don't think i'm just his little wife / don't get it twisted get it twisted / this my shit / bow down bitches with bitches yelled out in a high pitched shriek that is so satisfying. With her buttoned up to the neck flannel, shortish wilder hair and dark eyeliner, B keeps throwing the camera half crazed looks and shaking her hands in her face and It Is Awesome. Then we have the much talked about call to feminist arms from Chimamanda Adichie's Ted talk and the gravitas are undeniable. Back to Beyonce flossin flawless, and it's pretty much perfection. 

A large part of what makes this album exceptional is that Beyonce is a master cultural chameleon. She absorbs what she sees and is able to express it in a way that still keeps herself powerful, so that she is never overshadowed or doing cheap imitations; instead she takes what she sees and hears and turns it into new, even better magic. What in other pop performers is a one trick pony- however good that trick- Beyonce takes for one, hot shining song and brings it with full, liberated power. So in Pretty Hurts she is safe Beyonce, the one we already know, in Yonce she brings the street, in Blow she's accessing the tremulous notes and crazy sexy mashup of the seventies, Rocket runs smooth, wet and old school like D'Angelo did it, Ghost is an electronic emo Prince mesh that worked beautifully without striking a bogus note.

Mine is a pretty song and video with Drake- that's about it. Superpower with Frank Ocean is a great listen with its soulful lyrics and playful beats. Beyonce brings Destiny's Child to conquer the world in this post-apocyliptic styled video. and just like you i can be scared  / and just like you i hope i'm spared  / it's tough love Yeah. Yeah. Heaven is a rip out your heart ballad of loss, possibly about the baby Beyonce and Jay-Z miscarried. It's a stand-out, beautifully sung and heart rending lyrics i fought for you the hardest / it made me the strongest / so tell me your secrets / i just can't stand to see you leaving / but Heaven couldn't wait for you / so go on, go home Blue is the opposite end of the spectrum, about the life and love of their baby Blue- a sweet song, but one of the weaker on the album. Grown Woman is irresistible, high energy voltage beatbeatbeat with the cumulative theme of this album, the rallying cry:

i'm a grown woman / i can do whatever i want

Amen, Bey. You keep doing what you do. I love it. This is an album you can dance to, have sex to, get ready for a Friday night or sit and dream. 

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