Nearly 2 years ago, singer-performer Beyoncé Knowles released her 5th studio album, “BEYONCÉ”. This release shocked the world of music fans, since there was no previous alert about it, such as a lead single or promotion, and a very few number of people knew it was coming. However, “BEYONCÉ” surprised her fans in a positive way, due to the new approach Knowles took. She didn’t just put a bunch of songs together: she shared a personal story through both lyrics and videos. And people liked her approach. “BEYONCÉ” sold 828, 773 copies during its first three days available exclusively in digital format via Itunes. A total commercial success, and more taking into account the risk the singer took when releasing an album out of the blue and hardly promoting it afterwards.
Leaving figures aside, let’s talk about art. A lot of people have described “BEYONCÉ” as Knowles most artistic work ever. Through a series of sort videos in YouTube, the artist herself explained she had a lot of control and power over what she wanted to express through her music and videos. For this project, creativity and freedom meant a lot to Knowles, which is reflected on the wide range of themes the album covered. From sex to feminism, the artist managed to make heard her view in various topics while she shared parts of her personal life, including motherhood and marriage.
Songs such as “Drunk In Love”, “Rocket”, “Blow” and “Partition” have very explicit lyrics and connotations, through which Knowles expresses her sexuality and desire for sex with a loving partner. This kind of topics are normally taboo, and singing about them without experiencing backlash is quite difficult if you are a celebrity and society considers you a role model for the young population. However, Knowles is 32 years old, and after various years in the music industry, she believed she had done her part and it was time for her to feel liberated. In spite of her words, her sexually explicit songs and videos attracted a lot of negative criticism, and this would have been awful it didn’t have started a conversation on feminism and sexualisation.
It is not unusual for male singers to sing explicit lyrics or to appear in sexual videos half naked, and society doesn’t seem to bother enough with that behaviour, because “boys are going to be boys”. However, as soon as a female singer curses or shows a little bit of skin in a video, she is deemed as “trashy with no self-respect”. The double standards in society are real, and Knowles didn’t hesitate in showing this with her song “***Flawless”, which contained an extract of a speech on gender equality by the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
An additional important topic the artist sang about is insecurities, through songs such as “Mine”, “Pretty Hurts” and “Jealous”. Beauty, motherhood and marriage were ideas expressed in a fragile way, opposed to the general idea that these three things bring just happiness. With her opening track, “Pretty Hurts”, Knowles drew attention to the drawbacks of beauty pageants and the pressure for perfection in society nowadays: with “Mine”, she made listeners know motherhood made her feel different and down at times; and with “Jealous”, she expressed her concern about losing the love of her life. As Beyoncé has had pressures to have a perfect appearance due to her artistic career since a young age, she is married, and she was mother just a year before releasing the album, it is obvious the songs are directly linked to her own experiences, and even if she didn’t write them by herself, she put them in the album for a reason.
Despite these negative views on love and motherhood, other songs in the album such as “XO” and “Blue” show a different side of these two topics: happiness. “XO” has a positive vibe and beat that makes you feel instantly cheerful and festive. Even if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend to whom dedicate the lyrics, the song makes you celebrate love in all its ways. Alternatively, “Blue” starts off with a harmonic piano melody, accompanied later by the soft voice of Knowles singing calmly and sweetly. You can just feel how grateful the singer is about her daughter and how she sees her as peace in her life.
Another aspects of the album to talk about, other than the songs, are the videos, because they are very artistic too. Knowles said she wanted to create an “immersive experience” in her music for her fans, which is why she made the album visual. Every song in the album has a video which gives a better picture of what the artist wants to express through images, movements and colours. For example, the video for the song “***Flawless” is in black and white, and except for the part of the gender equality speech, the movements and facial expressions of the singer are aggressive, quick and tough, giving a sense of authority and strength to the whole concept of feminism, which is what Knowles is trying to express. The visual format of the song “Rocket” is also in black and white, but this time, everything is pictured in slow motion and with suggestive moments, what transmits a sense of calmness to viewers, making sexual liberation easier, which is the aim of the track.
In contrary, the video for “XO” is full of life and colours: it was recorded in an amusement park, which is usually a place of happiness and affection between families, friends or lovers. And the track in itself is about those two ideas. “Blue” was also illustrated in a colourful way, as it was shot in a tropical paradise, but the views of the sea offer a pacific approach to love between a mother and a daughter that found peace in a more solitary and less noisy environment. Conversely, “Blow” has a very colour rich video too, though it is more energetic and vivid than the other two, with neon lights and jazzy outfits. The scene is recorded in a roller skating rink, and as the song has influence from the disco genre, so does the video. It feels like a throwback to the decade the 80s.
A wide use of different dance techniques are present in the videos of the album, which are another form of artistic expression. For instance, “Grown Woman” combines a serious of African movements which link directly to the African sound of the song and the African background of the singer, while “Heaven” includes a woman dancing gracefully in a church to show the pain due to bereavement: this has been widely attributed to the artist’s miscarriage, but it is not clear, as Knowles rarely expresses very sensitive topics in a straightforward way.
Alternatively, in other videos such as “Ghost” and “Mine”, shapes and fabrics accompany the movements of the artist and her dancers. Knowles has always been an artist that shows her dancing skills through her videos and performances, so it couldn’t be different for this album. Moreover, her dancing often combines sexual movements, which can be shown in the video titled “Yoncé”, which is the audio that acts as intro in the song “Partition”. “Yonce” has a different style to other videos in the audio, as it was shot in the streets of Brooklyn and doesn’t show an actual story. This is similar to the videos for “No Angel” and “Superpower”.
Lastly, it is needed to comment on the videos for “Haunted” and “Partition”. On the one hand, filmed in a mansion, the visual format of “Haunted” makes honour to its title with evocative and gothic symbolism and outfits. It also contains sexual movements, linked directly to the theme of the song, which is a sexual desire. On the other hand, “Partition” was filmed in a cabaret club, and it is the video that most shows Knowles’s sexuality. The female sexual nature is unlocked with this visual, and sex is presented as a game of two. The connection between those two videos is not only erotic: it is provocative too, which is an aspect of Knowles personality, often portrayed in her past videos and songs.
On conclusion: artistically, “BEYONCÉ” set high standards in the music industry when comes to freedom of expression, as it is known deem a feminist icon for the liberation of women in areas like beauty, sexuality and love. Moreover, the album isn’t just explicit and provocative: with powerful and meaningful lyrics, followed by calm and heart breaking melodies, it touches sensitive topics such as the loss of a loved one and low self-esteem. Even if Knowles had the help of various songwriters and producers with this album, it can be easily seen how her songs and videos portray her thoughts and personal story. And at the end of the day, that’s something most artists aim for, because music is often a marvellous way of letting out ideas and experiences.