Let’s address the elephant in the room – the f word. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, insanely attractive, multi-million selling wife of Jay Z, is a feminist. Not just the trendy sort you see in Starbucks, telling her friend about the new Victoria’s Secret bra she just brought so she could blog about burning it whilst secretly tweeting @GazGeordieShore like, totally, ironically under the table, but the honest kind. The kind that will contradict herself because it’s okay to not have all the answers, the one who shaves her underarms because she wants to, the kind who wouldn’t judge another women for behaving how she feels is right. Sure, she’s made her fortune from an industry where the amount of clothing you have on seemed to directly correlate to your success, and probably makes more in a day at a scantily clad photo-shoot that you or I would in 4 years at an office. But don't judge her for it. For years she's existed in a bubble of impossible celebrity, pressurised into dolling herself up and singing safe pop songs, making enormous hits that whilst brilliant, haven’t always felt a complete concept, like they'd come from the heart. But when your business model works, why would you risk upsetting people? Why tell the truth when a beautiful lie makes you more money?
Well, as Beyoncé so obliquely puts it on Haunted, because ‘All the shit I hear is boring/All the shit I do is boring’. Whilst we think B might be being a tad hard on herself, her argument has some merit. And when you're in a position to essentially buy yourself creative freedom, why wouldn't you?
As a piece of well-timed pop culture, ‘Beyoncé’ dismisses stereotypes left right and centre. Celebrity couples do have their fair share of problems (Jealous). Some days she is sick of being the pretty, empowered person we see on stage and wishes her personality counted for more than her manicure does (Pretty Hurts). And perhaps the biggest revelation of all – it is possible to be a mother and still class yourself as a highly sexual being. It simply wouldn't be a Beyoncé record if there wasn't sex at every turn, and this record doesn’t disappoint, from the ‘Let me sit this, aaaaaaaaaaass on you’ softcore porn RnB croon that opens Rocket, to the innuendo laden Blow (‘can you eat my skittles’) to the dark sultry grind of Partition that sees ‘Yonce writhing over a pulsing beat, hiding her modesty from her taxi car driver so he doesn’t have to witness her ‘on her knees’. There’s even a nice little homage to her husband on Drunk In Love recorded 10 years after the now classic single Crazy In Love that brought them together and detailing their rendezvous in various rooms of their (probably very large) house. Romantic eh?
It’s not a record built for the sexually squeamish, and many parents will probably now feel uncomfortable letting their young daughters sing along to this in their bedrooms. Some would even go as far as to call this level of coquettishishness a demeaning own goal for a woman who claims to be an independent lady, but what sets Beyoncé apart from say, Rihanna, is that you come away from her music feeling empowered, rather than spoken for or held up to impossible standards. It's a clever, clever trick for an artist on such a pedestal that it would be easy to believe that she has nothing to say about your life.
But she does. 'Beyoncé' covers many facets of being a 21st century woman, famous or not. For every rampant baddass sex-club track there is simple, confessional magic that manifests itself in the horrors of miscarriage (Heaven), the joys of Motherhood (Blue, complete with sample from the famous baby herself) and slow burning highlight, Mine. Upon first listen, the Drake featuring track is merely another RnB hookup of star-crossed lovers, but on closer examination it shows itself to acknowledge the cracks in the picture perfect existence of RnB’s First couple ('Been having conversations about breakups and separations/I'm not feeling like myself since the baby/Are we gonna even make it?’). With Beyoncé slowies of the past being somewhat of an hit and miss affair, it’s heartening to see that she feels comfortable in being this honest.
The pièce de résistance, however, is Flawless. For every girl who grew up admiring Beyoncé for her role as fearless leader of Destinys’ Child, this is her lyrical mission statement that screams ‘OF COURSE I a feminist, you stupid idiot!) from every beat. From the critic-killing intro that used to be Bow Down (‘I took some time to live my life/but don’t think I’m just his little wife’) to the call and response structure of the chorus (a classic RnB trick), not to mention it’s spoken word interlude by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that quite literally gives the dictionary definition of a feminist, Beyoncé has created a direct youtube referral to anyone who trolls her social media claiming that she doesn’t care about women. And not just that she cares about women of ethnic minority – a basic theory reading of Superpower’s video has more than a few equality rally undertones, adding punch to the power-pop pudding.
The brilliance of ‘Beyoncé’ is in the lyrics, but the tunes aren’t half bad either – subtle and forward thinking without ever sounding faddy, honest with compromising her position, and frivolous whilst managing to demonstrate that she is much, much more intelligent than the music industry would have you believe. It’s certainly no accident that it’s a self titled record – never has Beyoncé sounded so at ease, so in charge of her powers, and so understanding of her own unique position as someone who can affect musical change. 2013 might have been the year of the Miley Cyrus’s twerk, but I wouldn’t forget about the original Queen of Bootyliciousness just yet.