Release Date: Jun 28, 2011
Record label: Sony Music Distribution
Girls run the world. But who runs the girls? For most of the past 10 years, the answer has been Beyoncé Knowles. In the Estrogen Era - a period in which women seized pop music's center stage - Beyoncé has been the prima donna, the diva of divas: the girl with the funkiest songs, the flashiest Bob Fosse-meets-hip-hop dance moves and, as Kanye West memorably declared, the Greatest Video of All Time.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement to make: Pop music has found its Alpha and Omega. Please ritualistically burn any remaining offerings from Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and whatever other false idols may be spinning on your iPod. There is only one true warrior-priestess worthy of your pitiful calls of devotion, only one with an album of pure pop excellence that will surely stand above all other female pop records for the remainder of 2011, if not longer, and that album is Beyoncé‘s 4.
Beyoncé's fourth album is a continuation of the split persona of 2008's patchy I Am.... Opening with a clutch of 80s-influenced ballads – the minimal "I Miss You" the highlight – it creeps uptempo, peaking with the incredible "Countdown", Beyoncé near rapping over ecstatic horn blasts, steel drums and a Boyz II Men sample. Elsewhere, "I Care" showcases a much rawer vocal over screeching guitars, while "End of Time" channels Off the Wall-era Jackson.
Settling down can be a dangerous gambit for a pop star. When Usher married his stylist and released 2008’s Here I Stand, a collection of tunes about newfound love and spending nights in watching movies and eating Chinese food, he was greeted with his first major critical flop. Pursuing themes of marriage and monogamy landed the singer woefully out of step with the randy pulse of much of contemporary pop music.
When you’re Beyoncé Knowles, machining the sheets of throbbing summer singles—muscular anthems that merge thick modern R&B, hip-hop-inflected beats and enough female-empowerment lyric hooks to run the gamut of “Crazy In Love” to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”—comes easy. So easy and so jaw-droppingly good for what it is, 4 comes as almost a shock to the system. With a couple twisting guitar lines, a descending line of organ, a few sparse piano chords and a cascading vocal that sweeps into an ethereal top of the range flicker, then drops down into an almost guttural dirt’n’church witness, “1 (Plus) 1” is a stark track that pulls more from the blues and spoken word than anything to do with contemporary radio.
If you’ve been patiently anticipating the release of Beyoncé’s newest album, 4, then you’ve no doubt come across a fair amount of grousing, grumbling, and complaints. When she wasn’t busy re-appropriating Major Lazer, she was ripping off Italian choreographers at the Billboard Music Awards and charting lower than Destiny’s Child alumna Kelly Rowland. The commercial performance of “Girls (Who Run the World)” might’ve been dismal enough to depress even the sunniest poptimist, but one failed single — satisfying, though lazy as mixtape material — is hardly reason enough to condemn to the glue factory a workhorse who has, to date, enjoyed 15 years of success in a cruel, cutthroat industry.
One of the year's best music videos was directed by Jay-Z and cost about zero dollars to make. The camera phone clip shows Beyoncé rehearsing her new album's opening eternal-love ballad, "1+1", backstage at "American Idol". There she is: eyes shut, standing in front of a mirror, singing her guts out while family and friends look on in quiet awe. The video has a similar impromptu charm to the many intimate, one-shot performance clips popularized by Vincent Moon's "Take Away Show", its appeal compounded by the shock of seeing such a notoriously manicured superstar without embellishment.
Beyoncé has a new album out but you know that already—she’s Beyoncé. Stars come and go, but Beyoncé is positioned to remain popular for the rest of her life. As hard she’s worked to get where she is and as effortlessly as she seems like she’ll stay there, she’s still an artist with an audience and decisions to make about how to manage it.
If show business were high school (and isn’t it, really?), Beyoncé would be a front-runner for valedictorian. She’s a class act on and off the charts, a can-do girl who shares her gifts with everyone while ?keeping her beyond-fabulous life — the Obamas on speed dial, Jay-Z at the dinner table — largely to herself. Over the course of her three previous records, she’s matured from Destiny’s Child-hood into a formidable solo hitmaker with two of pop music’s most transcendent chart-toppers, ”Crazy in Love” and ”Single Ladies,” tucked in the pocket of her Deréon jeans.
Memo to Jay-Z: Beyoncé is probably about to start poking pinholes in your condoms. Because unless she's playing catchup with Adele and not quite comprehending the numerology behind her LP titles, Beyoncé has started referring to her albums by birth order, and she's definitely building up to something. The predominately intimate, ballad-heavy 4 sees her fertile and ready; I wouldn't be surprised if, someday down the line, she described this set as the one closest to her heart.
Beyoncé reportedly delivered over 70 songs to Columbia for her fourth solo studio album. The dozen that made the cut, combined with their sequencing, make it plain that straightforward crossover-dance singles and cohesion were not priorities. Taking it in at once is mystifying, even when little attention is paid to the lyrics. The opening “1+1,” a sparse and placid vocal showcase, fades in with a somber guitar line, throws up occasional and brief spikes in energy, and slowly recedes.
Albums like Sasha Fierce, in which an artist willingly separates her various impulses into two or more distinct discs/“characters”, are rarely convincing. Either one turns out way more stimulating than the other, or both feel limp without the diversity and range of emotion a typical album would allow. If 4 is any indication, Beyoncé would mostly be willing to concede that point even if she’ll never say it out loud.
Beyoncé has maintained a certain distance from her fans. She's largely avoided social media and adopted the Sasha Fierce persona as an excuse to act aggro onstage. On 4, she's still missing a real sense of vulnerability but steps out from behind the club jams with beautifully nuanced mid-tempo production. Slow-burning opener 1+1 is an instant classic, melding soul orchestration and a looping guitar line that allow her to wring maximum emotion from her ambitious phrasing.
Last month, Beyoncé Knowles made one of her frequent appearances in the lists compiled by Forbes magazine, this one being The Best Paid Celebrities Under 30. She had earned, Forbes claimed, $35m in the last year. The magazine felt obliged to add a footnote. She had only earned so little, it advised any readers perhaps worried about her ability to scrape by on $35m, because she hadn't released any records or toured.
Beyonce ‘pumped’ to be headlining Glastonbury Festival.
Beyoncé Knowles, former lead-singer of Destiny’s Child and solo superstar in her own right, appears to be on something of a career high in the UK at the moment. The buzz around her has definitely grown since her crowd-slaying performance at the Glastonbury Festival; it’s amazing how enthralling it can be to watch someone strut around the stage without even attempting to pretend to sing whilst their own voice plays blatantly in the background. In fairness, the bits which she did sing live (the verses, mainly) were just as impressive and she used her formidable stage presence to work the crowd like the seasoned pro that she is.
On the “American Idol” finale last month, Beyoncé introduced her muscular, arresting ballad “1+1” in the sort of performance that is seared on the brains of 8-year-old girls who aspire to be singers. There she was, bathed in red light, almost swallowed by smoke, pushing the song out as if through a birth canal, a moment too good for that modest stage. Soon after, shaky rehearsal footage shot in her dressing room by her husband, Jay-Z, made the rounds on the Internet.
Queen B’s powerhouse balladry remains untouchable when she really opens up. Matthew Horton 2011 The number 4 means something to Beyoncé: it's the date of her birth, the date of her wedding; there are even four key changes in the final, teetering chorus of Love on Top to ram the point home. That the title was apparently crowd sourced from fans attuned to Beyoncé’s yen for numerology smacks of post-justification, but one fact pokes through – 4 is definitely her fourth album.