Category Archives: Reviews & Commentaries

“BEYONCÉ”: Music is Often a Marvellous Way

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.

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Because Pretty Hurts. No, Really, It Hurts

The title of the song that I’m going to analyse today is “Pretty Hurts”. “Pretty Hurts” is a ballad written by Sia, which features on Beyonce’s fifth album, BEYONCE. The topic of the songs is basically what the title says: pretty hurts. Overall, the lyrics describe the society in which we live in the context of beauty pageants: the struggle to be considered beautiful, even if we hurt and fake ourselves in the process. I thought it would be a good idea sharing it here because beauty plays an important role in self-acceptance and self-esteem. I hope it inspires you.

I’m going to scan the lyrics verse by verse:

“Pretty Hurts”
 
(Uh huh huh)
(Uh huh huh)
(Uh huh huh)
 
[Verse 1:]
Mama said, “You’re a pretty girl.
What’s in your head, it doesn’t matter
Brush your hair, fix your teeth.
What you wear is all that matters.”
 
This verse basically talks about how some girls are raised to have a perfect clean image, linked to appearance and beauty. It also indicates briefly the pressure to be physically perfect above any other thing, even intelligence. And even if hearing this sounds absurd, there is a great number of people who think that wearing designer and smart clothes is more important than being wise and being a good person.
 
[Pre-Hook:]
Just another stage, pageant the pain away
This time I’m gonna take the crown
Without falling down, down, down
 
The situation of the song is a beauty pageant. Personally, I dislike those competitions, and I wouldn’t even dream of participating in one. If I ever have a daughter, even if she is flawless, I won’t sign up her to one. Beauty pageants are way too exigent and superficial. It is not even about feeling beautiful; it is about achieving an artificial and idealised appearance of beauty. And I’m a person who beliefs that beauty is subjective. Very subjective. Plus, the struggle to be on a beauty pageant (unnecessary dieting, over exercising, eating disorders, kilos and kilos of makeup, cosmetic surgery, etc) is something I wouldn’t want anyone I love to go through. And less myself.
 
[Hook:]
Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever’s worst
Perfection is a disease of a nation, pretty hurts, pretty hurts
Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever’s worst
We try to fix something but you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery
 
This is probably one of the best written hooks in the story. It is so accurate and relatable. Perfection is really the disease of a nation; some people do ANYTHING to be “beautiful” and  “perfect”. Even hurt themselves. And it is sad. In addition, the last two lines talk about cosmetic surgery. And I agree with them. I’m not a fan of cosmetic surgery, but I don’t  hate people who carry it out. I just don’t like it, because I believe in loving who I am naturally. I don’t even wear makeup daily. I’m not flawless and I don’t have the best body weight; but I feel beautiful on my own way. When comes to that, my soul is happy. And I just wish other people would feel the same way about themselves.
 
(Uh huh huh)
 
[Verse 2:]
Blonder hair, flat chest
TV says, “Bigger is better.”
South beach, sugar free
Vogue says, “Thinner is better.”
 
This verse describes the general idea of beauty amongst media. And the truth is, you can never win when comes to media. Either you are too fat, or too thin. Either your boobs are too big, or too small. Either you are too tall, or too short. It is an infinite battle, which is why I’m not in it. I couldn’t care less about what media considers “beautiful”. And don’t even let me started on the fashion world. Vogue magazine for example. Vogue uses thin models, or photoshops models/celebrities to look thinner, in their covers and photo shoots. Or another example, catwalks. Models in catwalks are generally very thin and tall, you can even notice their hip bones, and collar bones. And I’m not against thin people; but I think that other sort of body shapes should be used more often. Because we are now in a society in which, unless you are size 6 or 8, you are considered fat. And it is sickening what a lot of young girls do to have a thigh gap, collarbones or hipbones, just because that is what girls in magazines and catwalks have. And this wouldn’t be a problem, if it didn’t lead to eating disorders so easily.
 
[Pre-Hook:]
Just another stage, pageant the pain away
This time I’m gonna take the crown
Without falling down, down, down
 
I already analysed this.
 
[Hook:]
Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever’s worst
Perfection is a disease of a nation, pretty hurts, pretty hurts (pretty hurts)
Pretty hurts (pretty hurts), we shine the light on whatever’s worst
We try to fix something but you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery
 
I already analysed this.
 
[Bridge:]
Ain’t got no doctor or pill that can take the pain away
The pain’s inside and nobody frees you from your body
It’s the soul, it’s the soul that needs surgery
It’s my soul that needs surgery
Plastic smiles and denial can only take you so far
Then you break when the fake facade leaves you in the dark
You left with shattered mirrors and the shards of a beautiful past
 
More emphasis on the drawbacks of cosmetic surgery. If you don’t like yourself, it doesn’t matter how much cosmetic surgery you get; you will never love yourself. You will always find something negative to point out. And if you don’t control yourself, it can become a sort of addiction. Self-acceptance doesn’t rely on the physical appearance; it relies on your mind and your soul. It is better to change your ideas and thoughts, than faking your body. At the end of the day, your values will be the ones who will determine your life. Not your physical appearance.
 
[Hook:]
Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever’s worst (pretty hurts)
Perfection is a disease of a nation, pretty hurts, pretty hurts
Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever’s worst
We try to fix something but you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery
 
I already analysed this.
 
[Outro:]
When you’re alone all by yourself (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
And you’re lying in your bed (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
Reflection stares right into you (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
Are you happy with yourself? (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
 
You stripped away the masquerade (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
The illusion has been shed (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
Are you happy with yourself? (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
Are you happy with yourself? (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
 
Yes
Uh huh huh
 
“Are you happy with yourself?” This is the question that I make myself everyday when I wake up. When I look in the mirror, sometimes I really hate my physical appearance. I’m like “ugh I need to cover this with make up” or “ugh I’m so fat and disgusting”. But after a while, I realise that this is me, and it is who I am always going to be. Yeah, I can lose weight and be healthier, which is what I want. But my face is my face. Forever. I can go out during the whole day, meet others looking perfect and acting perfect. But at the end of the day, I go back home and all I have is me. Makeup is just a temporal cover. An “illusion”. It is nice to wear it, and I like to wear it for special occasions. But I rather use it to “define my own natural beauty” than to “create a fake beauty on myself”.  

This is the analysis of the song “Pretty Hurts”. I honestly believe everyone needs to listen to this song, because you can feel instantly connected to it. I’m not a very insecure person when comes to my physical appearance; my self-esteem is high there. But I obviously have doubts and feel bad now and then. And this song helps me to cheer up.  And to make the right decisions.

I can also analyse the video for this song, “Pretty Hurts”. Here is the link, so you can see it:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXXQLa-5n5w

However, even if the video is a must see, there is no more analysis to add, that the one I haven’t added yet during the lyrics analysis. Well, maybe there is.

The video shows the beauty pageants world, from the hand of Beyonce. Beyonce herself has participated in beauty pageants during her childhood, so she probably understands what she is singing about. I would like to point some important scenes: the one in which the guy is measuring Beyonce’s waist, the one in which a very thin girl is eating a cotton wool, the one in which Beyonce evokes bulimia, the one in which Beyonce throws down the pyramid of beauty pageant awards, and the one in which the man asks Beyonce which is her aspiration in life.

These are my favourite scenes, because they are powerful. Just a few images, but powerful.  How you need a perfectly measured waist to be even considered an option to participate in the beauty pageant; how some participants end up using horrible techniques to not gain weight, or even lose more; how the pressure and the desire to win is so big, that you even end up with eating disorders; and when you realise that an award based on your beauty is not the equivalent to happiness.

On conclusion, “perfection is the disease” should be like a kinda of new anthem. Because pretty hurts. No, really, it hurts.

Analysing songs and talking about inspirational issues,

Emilie H. Featherington 🙂

(This post is subject to correction of grammar and punctuation)

My Gold Writers: The Brontë Sisters

I’m going to talk about three of my favourite writers.

Known as “the eldest Brontë sisters that survived to adulthood” Charlotte, Emily and Anne were three important writers of the XIX century in the English Literature. This article dives into their lives and their works, alone or together. Also includes a discussion about which of them was the best writer, and a reflection of the book of poems they did in common.

BRIEF BIOGRAPHY

Charlotte was the eldest of the three sisters, born in 1816. Then was Emily, born in 1818 and finally Anne, born in 1820. They were from Thornton, but they grew up in Haworth, all this located in Yorkshire.

They had two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, but both died during their childhood. Also a brother called Branwell, well-known due to his dissipated life. Their mother, Mary, died of an illness one year after giving birth to Anne. Their aunt Elizabeth and their father Patrick, an Anglican clergyman, raised them.

The three sisters went to different schools and moreover, they were also taught at home. With their brother, they were often left alone. However, these moments they used them to create and write stories; they started from an early age.

After their education finished, Anne, Charlotte and Emily worked as teachers and governesses. In 1842, Emily and Charlotte went to Brussels to develop their French knowledge, but the death of their aunt made them return to home for her funeral. Emily stayed, while Charlotte went back to the Belgian capital, as an English teacher. Nonetheless in 1845 she was back home with her sisters.

They all died during their middle adulthood, due to tuberculosis: Emily in 1848 at the age of 30 years, Anne in 1849 at the age of 29 and Charlotte in 1855 at the age of 39 years.

INFLUENCES, STYLE AND VALUES 

Charlotte Brontë: denunciation of board schools

Charlotte always blamed Cowan Bridge -the board school she went to as her older sisters- for the death of Mary and Elizabeth. They both died of tuberculosis that they caught in the school.

Charlotte said: the board school had a poor medical care, they served food in bad conditions, there was a lack of heat and comfortable clothing, and that the teachers were too severe, as their punishments. However, this is controversial, because some recent researchers disagree, saying that the food, clothing, heating, medical care, discipline, etc. at Cowan Bridge was not considered bad for religious schools of the time.

Charlotte experience in Cowan Bridge was her inspiration when describing and creating Lowood School in her famous book Jane Eyre.

Emily Brontë: writer as a hobby

Emily Brontë only wrote one novel, Wuthering Heights. Her single book was controversial from the start of its release.

Its originality, subject, narrative style and passion raised made the book intriguing to readers. Although certain critics condemned it like “atrocious” due to the confrontation with all conventions, sales were magnificent for a novel from an unknown author and with these ideas.

Something to point out from Emily Brontë was her shy personality outside the family circle. Another important fact about her is that, above all, she loved the wild landscape of the grasslands around Haworth, something reflected in Wuthering Heights.

In addition, Emily used to write only for her own satisfaction; she didn’t have any desire for recognition.

Anne Brontë: overshadowed by her sisters

Anne Brontë wasn’t as successful as her sisters Charlotte and Emily, yet she was also an incredible author.

Her works were most of them based on her experiences as a governess and on her brother’s (Brandwell) decline due to alcohol and drugs. Moreover, they demonstrated her idea about books; they should provide moral education, a sense of moral duty. This is better recorded in her book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Anne’s book Agnes Grey seems to be a semi-autobiographical novel of her. In addition, it followed a line of <<a heroine, abandoned and left alone, that resists not only by her almost supernatural talents, but mainly due to the power drawn from her temperament>>, like most authors describe it.

The influence of gothic novels from authors like Ann Radcliffe and Walter Scott is noticeable in her works.

IMPORTANT  WORKS 

Here goes a brief summary of the argument and some notes of the most important book from each Brontë Sister.

Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre (1847)

This novel goes through the life of the orphan Jane Eyre, from her childhood to her adulthood; from how she struggled with her aunt and cousins to when she finally marriages her beloved man.

This is considered one of the most successful works of eldest Brontë sister who survived to adulthood.

Charlotte introduced various themes on her book: morality, religion, social class, gender relationships, love and passion, feminism, atonement and forgiveness, and finally the search for home and family. All this, gives the reader issues to think about.


Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights (1848)


 This story centres on the fervent and tragic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, and how these hard feelings tear down both of them, and the people around.

This was the only novel published by Emily Brontë. However, it’s rumoured that she wrote a second one, although it has never been proved. In addition, two years later, her sister Charlotte edited and re-published Wuthering Heights under by herself.

Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)

This book narrates how Gilbert Markham fell’s in love with Helen Graham, the mysterious tenant of Wildfell Hall. Helen’s story is also shared; mainly the misery she experienced in her marriage with the drunken Arthur Huntingdon.

This was Anne’s second published novel, after Agnes Grey that caught little attention. Despite Charlotte and Emily didn’t agree with her decision of making public this work- due to the <<realistic portrayal>> that represented-, the youngest Brontë  sister decided to bring it out , because in that way, she could warn others about the drawbacks of drunkenness.


WHICH WAS THE BEST WRITER FROM THE SISTERS? 

The debate about which was the best Brontë sister has always been very controversial. While Anne has never actually been considered in it, the readers of Charlotte and / or Emily always have different views about this discussion.

Here we have two different opinions:

“Emily’s work is much more deep and complex (than Charlotte ones); she explores the limits of human nature in so many levels… The characters in Wuthering Heights are so passionate, destructive and original… Always in the edge, but still human…”


 “I have to say that I enjoyed both ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Jane Eyre’, and sadly I have only read each book once…. but I will have to go with ‘Jane Eyre’ as my favourite at the moment. Maybe with more readings my preference will change, but now I’m loving Charlotte.”

When talking about this debate, people always mention Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights when comparing.

Charlotte’s wonderful book, Jane Eyre is mainly liked due to the happy ending of the principal characters after all the bad things they went through in their lives.  Emily’s dismal but passionate book Wuthering Heights is praised due to the intense and ardent love that the characters have, and the deep thoughts that are inserted in the work.

COMMON WORK: “BEST POEMS OF THE BRONTË SISTERS”

The Brontë Sisters, apart from having their own works, they wrote together a book of poetry. It is composed of sixty one poems, from which nineteen are from Charlotte; twenty one from Anne; and other twenty one from Emily.

The idea of publishing this work was from Charlotte, and Anne supported her from the start. In contrary, Emily wasn’t very enthusiastic about it, but finally she was convinced by her sisters.

They found a publisher and under their pseudonymous names, they published their common work.

Unfortunately, the book attracted hardly any attention. Only three copies were sold, so the sisters decided to return to work on their own books.

Now, the years have past, and the Brontë Sisters despised work is started to be appreciated more and more. Here we have a modern review, from an anonymous reader.

“Charlotte Brontë had said “The bringing of our little book was hard work. As was to be expected, neither we nor our poems were at all wanted.” When I read the poetry I found it so puzzling why so. The Bells’ poetry is absolutely marvellous. And those of who don’t know, this collection is the occasion for the adoption of their pen names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. 


“Anne’s poems (keeping up with the prose styles) comparing with Emily is composed more carefully and less dramatic like “A Reminiscence” while Emily’s are more impassioned, evocating the sense feelings and landscape like in “Remembrance”. Out of all I find Emily’s poetry are the best. One stanza in “The teacher’s Monologue” gives the homesickness Charlotte (and perhaps her sisters as well) felt for Haworth. 


“Sweet dreams of home my heat may fill

that home where I am known and loved”


The collection gives you a better insight to the Brontë sisters’. Though they are mostly emotional, and heartfelt with a sense of loneliness and solitude they are also sad and melancholy but not miserable in anyway what so ever. My favourite is Emily Brontë’s “The Caged Bird”.”

CONCLUSION

The Bronte Sisters were beyond doubt, exceptional. Being a female writer in the XIX Century was something difficult, which explains why they published their works under male names. On top, they had the courage to make known their ideas about important issues of the time such as gender, love, social status, religion, education etc; they went against all the standards of the epoch.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne were three talented sisters whose works were possibly criticised in their publishing moments, but nowadays are unquestionably considered gold novels of the English Literature.

REFERENCES

“The Brontë  family” online article from Wikipedia website.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bront%C3%AB

“Best Brontë sister” online forum from Last.fm website.

Link:  http://www.last.fm/group/I+Actually+Read+Books/forum/35140/_/580023

“The Brontë sisters” online article in the BBC channel website.

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/Brontë _sisters.html

“Best Poems of The Brontë Sisters” online review in the Good Reads website.

Link:   http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13225.Best_Poems_of_the_Bront_Sisters

“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” book.  Author: Acton Bell (Anne Brontë ).

“Wuthering Heights (charlotte’s edition)” book. Author: Emily Brontë .

“Jane Eyre” book. Author: Currer Bell.

Writing an informative article about something I’m interested in,

Emilie H. Featherington