Full disclosure: I'm already a big Beyoncé fan. Waking up last Friday to see that Beyoncé had released a new album felt a little bit like an early Christmas gift. No promotion, no warning; Bey had basically put the album in my stocking with a wink and a nod. At that, I'd have been pleased even if the album was just okay.
But it's not. It's better than okay; it's pretty incredible. I wanted to give it some time before I tried to review it because I knew I was riding so high off of the shock element... and the fact that her new album was finally here. But even after the surprise elements fade away, I haven't been able to turn this record off. The only other albums this year that have been like that for me have been Janelle Monae's The Electric Lady and Jay Z's Magna Carta... Holy Grail — so Bey is in good company.
The 14 song, 17 track visual album has already shattered significant records in its first week. Even though the album hadn't actually been out for a full seven days, her "first-week" sales in the U.S. hit 618,550 — more than any of her prior records. (Her last album, 4, sold 310,000 in its first week). Worldwide, in 6 days, Beyoncé broke one million records, an unheard of accomplishment in the world where downloading music for free is so easy.
Numbers aside, the album is good (and, honestly, worth the $16.99 price tag). It helps that it is also accompanied by 17 stunning videos, but even on its own, the album can stand its ground. It's clear that Beyoncé tried to deliver a highly personal record, touching on everything currently relevant in her love, including motherhood, love, relationships, loss, and feminism. While song and video for "Pretty Hurts" touch on the pressure of society's beauty standards, eating disorders, and an achievable desire to be perfect, "XO" is a fun, light-hearted ode to her fans and her husband, Jay Z. As "Blue" sings the praises of her daughter, Blue Ivy, "Heaven" grounds us in a song about the gut-wrenching reality of what it's like to lose someone we love.
The videos, too, are visually stunning, creative, and playful. "Blow" toys with blacklights and a retro-inspired roller skating rink; "Superpower" features Beyoncé as a gritty superhero joined by Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams (yep, of Destiny's Child); "Haunted" takes us to Beyoncé in some kind of "American Horror Story"-inspired mansion complete with creepy twins; and "Drunk in Love" features Bey frolicking on the beach with (who else?) Jay.
Beyoncé also collaborates with several people on her album. Behind the scenes, producer credits include Pharrell (he makes an apparaence in the "Superpower" video, too), Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, J-Roc, while songwriters include Sia, Frank Ocean, and Miguel. Then, of course, there are the song collaborations. Jay Z appears in "Drunk In Love"; Blue Ivy (their daughter!) has a small, adorable speaking part in "Blue"; Frank Ocean is on "Superpower"; Drake is featured on the song and video for "Mine"; and Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is sampled on "***Flawless."
Sometimes star power like that can fall flat; here, I think added to the album's overall impact. It feels cohesive and intentional, right down to the order of the tracks. Given that Beyoncé herself has a writing credit on every track and had a hand in creating/developing the ideas for each video, I'm not entirely surprised. Who else would crush us with a song like "Heaven" (rumored to be about her miscarriage) only to try to lift us right back up with a song about Blue Ivy? Similarly, the trophies from "Pretty Hurts" make appearances in most of the videos that come thereafter; the end of the "Yoncé" video features a paparazzo saying, "Welcome to Paris," while the next video, "Partition," was filmed in Paris at the cabaret club Crazy Horse.
I don't just love Beyoncé; I think it's her best work yet. And let's end this with a gif from Anderson Cooper.
Gif credit Huffington Post.