Beyoncé (Deluxe)

Beyoncé (Deluxe)

When Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth album landed unannounced on the iTunes store in December 2013, the pop world trembled. Here was one of music’s biggest stars dispensing with the normal prolonged rollout of a major work, instead simultaneously alerting people to it and releasing it. That this was a visual album—with every song accompanied by a short film—only made Beyoncé’s flex more impressive, changing the game for how artists would handle releasing new music in the digital era. Surprise drops became something of a norm not just for pop’s top tier, but for any artist with a devoted fanbase—the month’s advance notice for RENAISSANCE seems almost quaint by comparison. But BEYONCÉ would have been a career achievement even if it had been released in an old-school way. Across its 14 tracks, Beyoncé pushes herself artistically and emotionally, opening up about her insecurities, her sexuality, and her happiness over songs that demonstrate the strength and versatility of her voice. Years after its release, BEYONCÉ remains a touchstone not just for Beyoncé, but for any marquee artist who wants to break from expectations, with Beyoncé’s forward-thinking, collaborative approach to creating art aiding its of-the-moment yet not-stuck-in-time feel. Opening with “Pretty Hurts,” a soaring ballad that dives into the body-image issues that even the most revered women have to endure, even as children, and closing with “Blue,” a swaying ode to her first child (who makes a cameo on the track), BEYONCÉ reveals where the pop star’s mind had wandered after the release of her monogamy reflection 4 two years prior. Eroticism is a large part of BEYONCÉ, both in sound and in subject matter—the spikily giddy duet with husband JAY-Z “Drunk in Love” and the slow jam “Rocket” are two of the most carnally delightful entries in Beyoncé’s catalog, while the massive “Jealous” examines what happens when desire fuels inner strife. The exploration of grief “Heaven,” the ferocious pop-feminist anthem “***Flawless,” and the jagged statement of artistic intent “Haunted” fill out the emotional and musical spectrum. The videos, too, run the gamut in both style and feeling, with prestigious directors like Hype Williams, Jonas Åkerlund, and Melina Matsoukas creating companion pieces for each of BEYONCÉ’s songs. The Williams-directed video for the gently funky “Blow” is a roller-rink fantasia; the Åkerlund-helmed clip for the dreamy “Haunted” channels Madonna’s groundbreaking 1990 short film “Justify My Love” through Beyoncé’s 21st-century luxe aesthetic. Pop’s sound had shifted at the turn of the decade, with electro-pop-influenced tracks taking the spaces on radio and on the charts where Beyoncé and other R&B-leaning artists had ruled during the 2000s. On BEYONCÉ, the singer and mogul showed that, radio play or no, she was still a member of pop’s ruling class—and she did so not by flipping pop’s script, but by drawing inspiration from its most enticing aspects while writing a completely new playbook. BEYONCÉ did feature culture-ruling collaborators like Drake, who plays B’s foil on the skeletal “Mine,” and Frank Ocean, who locks up with Beyoncé on the sumptuous Pharrell Williams production “Superpower,” but Beyoncé’s willingness to explore music’s edges and revel in its greatest moments resulted in the album existing on its own plane, aware of the pop world’s trends but diverging from them in thrilling ways. BEYONCÉ represents a major turning point for Beyoncé, beginning the stage of her career where she would define “pop stardom” not by chart placement but by following her own artistic path—on her own schedule and on her own terms.

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