Release Date: Dec 13, 2013
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Adult Alternative
Review Summary: hold on to mewhen beyoncé unexpectedly releases a "personal album" in a year filled with questionable stabs at confessional records, what does it mean? when said album is an "immersive experience" comprising seventeen music videos, what does it mean? does it mean that she has succumbed to the myopic self-centeredness of unthinkably huge celebrity that her strange, solipsistic HBO special hinted at? does it mean that the so-called "immersive album" is going to be the future of popular music? does it mean that beyoncé is taking the spotlight away from independent artists who have been spontaneously releasing music onto soundcloud and bandcamp for years?nah! it means that beyoncé released a record that feels truly personal and vulnerable. it means that beyoncé collaborated with a large cadre of directors to create a body of work that is visually stunning and emotionally resonant. beyoncé is really fucking good, and while that's not "all that matters" -- that statement is nearly always a gross oversimplification -- it is what makes constantly returning to this curious album enjoyable and rewarding.
Should Beyoncé choose to settle in the world of Adult Contemporary one day, she'll have most of the legwork already done. She's spent the time since 4, an album that playfully extolled the virtues of marriage, crafting a role for herself in that sphere with the ambitious grace of a good politician. Imagine the fun she had requesting the big hair and bigger fur to help President Obama ring in his second term, or in gussying herself up like Marie Antoinette to promote an international arena tour called The Mrs.
In an era of popstars in which being a sexual edification is as much the goal as a #1 single, it’s a bit funny how Beyoncé (sort-of) secretly cuts her first Really Good Album, and then when it appears out of nowhere it immediately displays the contrast between a rich girl plying her wares down by the hacky sack corner at a local community college and a grown woman wrapping a blindfold around the eyes of a man who’s seen the world. Miley Cyrus spent most of 2013 trying to prove that listening to a bunch of 2 Chainz and Juicy J singles meant she understood what sex is, or how to portray it as a popstar. In just over an hour, Beyoncé renders that year—along with many a poptart before her—bad foreplay.
In a time where a corporate tech company like Samsung buys a million copies of your husband Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail before it hits retail and your family friend Kanye West literally builds a mountain every night in a different city for every show on his Yeezus tour, how does Beyoncé up the wow factor? By unexpectedly releasing a self-titled album, without any promotion, filled with 14 tracks and 17 videos on a Friday morning and almost going platinum over the weekend. It’s obvious that “new rules” is the Carter family mantra. Beyoncé, who for her last four albums has adhered to the monotonous promotional plot, knocked down everything she knew and put her own star power to the test when she boldly but quietly released BEYONCÉ.
Until the surprise release of this eponymous fifth album it seemed that Beyoncé’s only major solo release this year would be Life Is But A Dream, a fly-on-the-wall documentary shown on HBO back in February. Promising an intimate glimpse into the life of the star, the film was instead a precision-tooled presentation of Beyoncé as an “every woman”. Sure, it said, she may be a superstar who is playing the Super Bowl and rubbing shoulders with President Obama but, deep down, she is as prone to insecurities and emotional traumas as anyone else.
Beyoncé one-upped the music world last week by proving that you can not only keep an entire album's existence secret (let alone its content), but you can also make 17 different videos while you gallivant across the world on tour. And while there isn't a chart-smashing Single Ladies or Baby Boy in the mix, the resulting 14 tracks (plus 17 videos) make her most complete album to date. In a lot of ways, Beyoncé is an R&B traditionalist.
It’s a vintage year indeed that’s bookended by out-of-the-blue releases from pop’s Queen Bs, David Bowie and Beyonce. What’s even more surprising, though, is that at a level of fame and wealth where many would just coast to now-inevitable adulation, Beyonce Knowles-Carter is genuinely changing the game, or at least her game. It’s not the ‘visual album’ release (something people have toyed with since the days of VHS).
The story thus far: on December 13th, Beyoncé stealth drops her fifth studio album to iTunes, catching traditional and social media off-guard, sending Stans and haters alike into a dizzy, and forcing everyone to ponder what the heck is the meaning behind a "visual album. " Are not all albums "visual," allowing listeners to emotionally experience and aurally absorb? Yet here we are, pondering Beyoncé's multimedia effort — 14 songs and 17 full-length videos — and kicking around the significance of this shrewdly calculated promotional move. Beyoncé is pretty much the last pop diva standing, when you think about it — a holdover from a simpler time where artists largely didn't have to worry about having their album leaked in advance.
This morning, the UK awoke to the news that Beyoncé's fifth had dropped overnight. It materialised on iTunes without fanfare or preamble, not unlike the return of David Bowie via his single, Where Are We Now, in January. Everyone believed, though, that The Dame was ailing, allowing Bowie to plot in total secrecy. With Queen Be, clues littered the floor, like designer clothes at a styling: a couple of sort-of singles doubling as adverts, that could not exist in a vacuum; the fact that Be5 should really have come out months ago.
What does it mean to be a woman, especially a woman of color, in America in the year 2013? We’re writing about that difficult, important, and rewarding question in myriad articles, discussing it across a multitude of social platforms, and seeing it debated in political forums both mainstream and microcosmic. It seems at best silly and at worst impossible for an album of pop music to attempt to parse out the answers to these questions, but that’s exactly the length of Beyoncé’s ambitious reach with her complicated, fascinating self-titled surprise album. That Beyoncé even begins to manage to answer that question is impressive.
Regardless of what the music sounds like on Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth LP, the album’s intended significance is hard to overestimate. Considering the unorthodox release, which includes music videos for every song and lack of a standard pre-release marketing push, the album is historic, especially considering that, at least initially, it worked, and the sales are booming as they’ve never boomed previously. Of course, her last six months of touring the world have been marketing; they were just marketing the entity Beyoncé and helped create an atmosphere that was hungry for an album.
Released with nary a marketing campaign, Beyoncé's self-titled new album exploded on the scene two weeks before Christmas, debuting on iTunes and immediately selling over 600,000 copies in its first week—no small feat in 2013. Sure, Bey's always been a big seller—but for perhaps the first time ever, her album seemed intended to be taken as a cohesive whole, rather than as a vehicle for world-dominating singles. .
Surprise! After a year spent touring her Mrs Carter show, promoting Pepsi, H&M and L’Oreal, and reuniting Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé released her fifth solo album on December 13, 2013. No one saw the self-titled ‘visual’ LP coming and with good reason. You have to look back to Cliff Richard's Private Collection: 1979–1988 to find a record that was released so late in the calendar year and still manage to hit Number 1 on the UK Top 40.
In his introduction to our list of the 25 Best Albums of 2013, Slant's Ted Scheinman heralded the LP's resilience despite persistent reports of its demise: “If album-as-format is dead,” he reasoned, “it's enjoying one hell of an afterlife.” Thirty-six hours later, Beyoncé bolstered his point with, if not one of the year's best albums, certainly one of its most notable. Ms. Knowles explained via Facebook that she wanted to create an “immersive experience” by shooting music videos for all of the songs on her fifth album, Beyoncé, and releasing them simultaneously.
"Can you lick my Skittles?" is the new "Hurry up with my damn croissants." Beyoncé has delivered countless surprises in her 15 years on top of the music world, but she's never dropped a bombshell like this. The Queen Bey woke the world in the midnight hour with a surprise "visual album" – 14 new songs, 17 videos, dropped via iTunes with no warning. The whole project is a celebration of the Beyoncé Philosophy, which basically boils down to the fact that Beyoncé can do anything the hell she wants to.
[Originally published December 16, 2012] opinion byPETER TABAKIS The year ends as it began, with surprise and celebration. Back in January, David Bowie and Justin Timberlake stunned fans twice over by declaring their long hiatuses had ended, and that new albums would arrive in a matter of weeks. Thus an unlikely duo ushered in 2013’s most exhilarating trend.
Jay Z and Kanye West skirted the music industry’s long-game rollout campaigns this year with albums that sped up the usual months-long marketing drumroll, but even their accelerated release strategies seem downright conservative in light of Beyoncé’s surprise fifth album. Late on a Thursday night in mid-December—after most of the music world had already finished the post-mortem on the year—the singer’s self-titled album arrived on iTunes without so much as a lick of pre-press: no big Billboard announcement; no radio singles; no multi-million dollar cross-marketing campaign with Target; no trickle of leaks revealing the album’s title, cover art, tracklist, and Frank Ocean collaboration—just an en-masse drop of 14 entirely unheard songs, each accompanied by a mighty expensive music video. That Beyoncé was able to keep a project of this scale completely under wraps is one of the most impressive tricks of her career, but the real feat is the album itself, a candid, confrontational work that dares to cut against the singer’s carefully cultivated goddess image to reveal the opinionated, imperfect woman underneath.
The first 346 days of Beyoncé's 2013 were eventful enough. She headlined the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show, joined by Destiny's Child partners Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. The trio released "Nuclear," an excellent song disregarded for not being an anthem. A documentary, Life Is But a Dream, aired on HBO.
Let’s just get this out of the way: the unexpected, unpromoted, record-breaking release of Beyoncé will end up being the least interesting part of the album’s story. Before Beyoncé’s midnight surprise, the year had already been marked by a handful of albums that were released with less fanfare than usual, by everyone from My Bloody Valentine to Jay Z, and despite declining sales throughout the industry, Beyoncé is a global icon with over 100 million records sold worldwide. What will persist when discussing Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth album, however, is how damn good it is: in a year of major rap, R&B, and pop releases, Beyoncé outclasses them all.
Just like that, with no fanfare and no promo, the biggest star on the planet drops a new album, leaving music critics scrambling to update their end of year lists. Beyoncé Knowles doesn't do things like other superstars. For example, it's easy to forget just how delightfully weird a universally loved song like 'Single Ladies' actually is; the video too, stark and stylised like the song itself, mean and huge, making the rest of pop look brittle-boned in comparison.
Beyoncé is flawless so no one else has to be. That’s the theme of her superb fifth studio album, “Beyoncé” (Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia), which arrives as a feat of both music and promotion. Its songs are steamy and sleek, full of erotic exploits and sultry vocals; every so often, for variety, they turn vulnerable, compassionate or pro-feminist.