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Album Review: Beyoncé

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Beyonce

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Beyoncé dropped a bomb last month when she quietly released one mammoth of a music project on iTunes. The collection of 14 new songs and 17 videos is self-titled and quickly soared to number 1 on iTunes, shattering any previous record. With no promotion or advertising, Beyoncé relied solely on relevance and reputation to move this album. It worked.

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Her relevance is only reinforced by endless dialogue on her new material. Along with speculation about what really prompted the pop icon to defy conventional album promotion, the album has been touted a new age feminist manifesto of sorts.

Here are some of the tracks that stand out:

Pretty Hurts, a hard ballad unpacking the ugly competitive realities women face to achieve “perfection.”

Blow, a dance song with a classic disco feel accompanied by a neon-colored skating rink inspired video. Perhaps up for debate, but it’s pretty clear that this song is about oral sex.

Rocket, an unofficial tribute to a 90’s R&B style, attributable to the likes of D’Angelo.

Drunk in Love features Jay-Z in a dirty slow grind hip hop track that probably quantifies their relationship as best as we’ll ever understand it. It’s loose, gritty, and dark with a deep and broad baseline only dropping in on the hook.

Partition takes us on a fantasy-filled journey in a car ride to a club, but they never make it because they’re unable to control an unhinged lust for each other and after asking the driver to “roll up the partition please,” they have graphically detailed sex in the back of the car.

Perhaps her most explicit compilation, we hear a Beyoncé that is completely liberated, freely and aggressively exploring sexual and political themes.

On an episode of The Sing-Off Ben Folds once said, “An audience can learn who an artist has become at the same moment the artist discovers it.”

Perhaps this statement is true for Beyoncé. She certainly seems to debut a more sensual and more adult version of herself.

Flawless, perhaps the flagship song of the album, features a sample of a TED Talk given by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in which she boldly defines contemporary feminism. A snippet of this song was released this summer under the title “Bow Down.”

It has been this contemporary definition of feminism, delivered over a hypnotic baseline that has inspired a new dialogue about feminism. Most of the conversation has been debate over whether the material qualifies as feminist. Considering the explicit sexual themes, it seems to some that Beyoncé is simply contributing to the exploitation of women that is all too common in music. The power she demonstrates in her music seems to be rooted in sexual prowess and appearance, not in something more substantive like political power or education, though those themes are explored in a few tracks, namely Ghost and Superpower. However, Beyoncé seems to exhibit a style of expression that simply mirrors the self-aggrandizing, misogynistic style of other artists. The only difference is that it is expressed from a woman’s perspective, a perspective free from a hetero-normative lens. The sexuality isn’t expressed for the enjoyment of men, but for the enlightenment of other women. Perhaps it is that equality of expression that qualifies as feminist.

But, does any of the debate really matter? After all, she is a Grown Woman- she can do whatever she wants.

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