Beyoncé is Beyonce's self-titled fifth studio album that was released on December 13, 2013 by Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records.
The album was developed as a "visual album" and the tracks are accompanied by non-linear short films that illustrate the musical concepts conceived during the album's production.
- Pretty Hurts 4:17
- Haunted (contains hidden track "Ghost") 6:09
- Drunk In Love (featuring Jay-Z) 5:23
- Blow 5:09
- No Angel 3:48
- Partition (contains hidden track "Yoncé") 5:19
- Jealous 3:04
- Rocket 6:31
- Mine (featuring Drake) 6:18
- XO 3:35
- Flawless (featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; contains hidden track "Bow Down") 4:10
- Superpower 4:36
- Heaven 3:50
- Blue (featuring Blue Ivy) 4:26
Following the release of her fourth studio album "4", Beyoncé gave birth to her first child, Blue Ivy on January 7, 2012.
Just four months after giving birth, she pursued a three-night residency at Revel Atlantic City's Ovation Hall, entitled Revel Presents: Beyoncé Live. The choice to hold concerts so soon was purposeful; Beyoncé intended to demonstrate to mothers that they need not halt their careers despite having had children.
Most of the summer following the residency was spent in The Hamptons, New York, where she took time out from the public to spend time with her daughter and begin sessions for her next album.
Beyonce resumed work in early 2013, performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at President Barack Obama's second inauguration and headlining the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show, where there were expectations she would debut new music, although these rumors never materialized.
She also released a self-directed autobiographical documentary in February, entitled, "Life Is But a Dream."
In March 2013, a two-part hip hop track entitled "Bow Down/I Been On" was released onto Beyoncé's SoundCloud account.
"Bow Down" (produced by Hit-Boy) was written after Beyoncé woke up one morning with a chant stuck in her head, feeling angry and defensive; this was melded with a Timbaland-produced second half "I Been On" that makes prominent use of a pitch-distorted vocal as a homage to the Houston hip hop scene.
Michael Cragg of The Guardian described the song as "brilliantly odd", commending its loud, abrasive production while Pitchfork's Lindsay Zoladz noted the song's assertiveness and believed it served as an introduction of what was to come.
"Bow Down/I Been On" was perceived as a significant departure from Beyoncé's existing catalogue, particularly for its aggressive nature. The song's atmosphere and its controversial "Bow down, bitches" refrain drew a mixed reaction from those who questioned whether the lyric was aimed at women or merely a moment of braggadocio.
Beyoncé clarified after the album's release, where elements of "Bow Down" appear on the track "Flawless", that the song and its refrain were intended as a statement of female empowerment.
Neither Beyoncé or her representatives commented on the release of "Bow Down/I Been On", and many journalists questioned the nature of its release in the context of the release of her upcoming album.
Further confusion was created when portions of Beyonce's other tracks "Grown Woman" and "Standing on the Sun" were used for television advertising campaigns, with a similar lack of explanation as to their purpose.
Through much of 2013, the media intermittently reported that the album was delayed or scrapped, with one story alleging Beyoncé had scrapped fifty songs in favor of starting again.
In July 2013, a spokesperson for Beyoncé denied speculation that her album had been delayed, stating there was no official release date to begin with and that when a date is set, it would be announced via an official press release.
There was considerable confusion among music journalists and fans as Beyoncé engaged in extensive touring, while not discussing the album or its release.
Production & Recording
The recording sessions began in the summer of 2012 in The Hamptons, New York, where Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z were living.
She invited producers and songwriters to accompany them including Sia, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and The-Dream.
Beyoncé described the atmosphere as unconventional, saying: "We had dinners with the producers every day, like a family... it was like a camp. Weekends off. You could go and jump in the pool and ride bikes... the ocean and grass and sunshine... it was really a safe place."
Beyonce would spend the majority of her day with her newborn daughter, taking some hours out to record music. The album's opening track "Pretty Hurts" (co-written by Sia) was completed during these sessions.
The project was suspended until 2013 and relocated to Jungle City and Oven Studios in New York City, where most of the album was recorded.
In an interview for Vogue in January 2013, Jason Gay described Beyoncé's attention to detail as "obsessive" when observing her studio, noting the vision boards she created for inspiration, which contained potential song titles, old album covers and pictures of performances.
In mid-2013, a relatively unknown artist named Boots, signed a publishing deal with Jay-Z's Roc Nation.
In an interview for Pitchfork after the album's release, Boots was coy when answering questions about how Beyoncé discovered his demo or of his work previous to the project, only confirming his signing.
In June 2013, they met in person for the first time and Boots presented Beyoncé with material he felt would resonate with her. However, Beyoncé was more interested in his experimental material, and he reluctantly played her his song "Haunted" on his cellphone.
Beyonce refused to ignore its potential. At a later meeting, he played her a stream of consciousness rap called "Ghost", which he wrote after an exasperating meeting with a potential record label.
Boots began by composing a melody that reminded him of a hypnotic state, then layering guitar arpeggios to resemble the work of English electronic musician Aphex Twin.
Subsequently, "Ghost" became the first half of "Haunted"; he later described Beyoncé as the "only visionary in the room" for her ability to find potential in scraps of songs. Following these sessions, Boots would go on to work on eighty percent of the album.
While recording in New York City, the previously released "Bow Down" was incorporated into a track that became "Flawless".
During its composition, Beyoncé chose to interpolate a portion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk "We Should All Be Feminists" into it as she identified with her interpretations of feminism.
Organic approaches were taken when writing and recording "Drunk in Love" and "Partition".
When working with Detail and Timbaland on a beat that became "Drunk in Love", she was inspired by what she described as pure enjoyment, as both she and Jay-Z free-styled their verses for the track in the studio.
Similarly, the bassline of "Partition", which Beyoncé found reminiscent of hip hop music during her early romance with Jay-Z, influenced her to accompany the track with sexual lyrics.
Beyonce took to a microphone without pen and paper and rapped the first verse, finding herself initially embarrassed by the explicitness of the lyrics.
When composing "Partition" (a rap known as "Yoncé") was used as the opening of the track, the beat of which was built by Justin Timberlake banging on buckets in the studio.
Only four songs were not recorded entirely in New York studios: "Superpower" and "Heaven", which were partially recorded in California, as well as "No Angel" which was composed in London and "XO" in Berlin and Sydney.
Although the demo of "XO" was recorded when Beyoncé had contracted a sinus infection, the vocals were never re-recorded as she felt their imperfections fit more appropriately.
In October, the album began taking shape and "Standing on the Sun" and "Grown Woman" were removed (songs which had been previewed in 2013 on television advertisements) from Beyoncé to fit in with its minimalist approach.
During Thanksgiving week, the vocals on the album were edited and producers were notified to submit their final cuts. Beyoncé spent less time on vocal production than she had done with her previous projects, instead focusing on perfecting the album's music.
The album was mastered at Sterling Sound in New York City. In total, 80 songs were recorded for the album.
"Beyoncé" is a fourteen track set with seventeen short films: a video for each audio track, two extra videos to accompany the two-part tracks "Haunted" and "Partition", as well as a bonus video for "Grown Woman", which lacks an equivalent audio counterpart.
Departing from the traditional R&B leanings of its predecessor, "4," Beyoncé's songs are predominantly alternative R&B.
Musically, the album may be located in the post-dubstep era, fusing electronic music with R&B and soul.
The album's dark, moody production is more textured than previous releases and songs are characterized by heavy bass and loud hi-hats, as well as prominent synthesizers.
A quality of restraint features among most songs "with subdued pulses, ambient effects and throbbing grooves that sneak up on you, threatening to explode but only occasionally transforming."
The album adopts unconventional song structure and as Evan Rytlewski of The A.V. Club notes, many songs "[emphasize] moody, shifting beats and drawn-out vibe sessions" and are left to slowly unfurl; this is particularly prominent on "Haunted" and "Partition" which function as two-part suites.
The dream-like state created on "Haunted" is ushered in with a stream of consciousness rap entitled "Ghost" which transitions from "smoky ethereality to off-kilter club beat" amid a shifting bassline and ghostly keyboards.
"Partition" begins with "Yoncé", a slick rap set over a simple Middle Eastern rhythm. The song is divided by a brief interlude of camera clicks and the whirring of a car window, before launching into a second-half that melds synthesizer pulses with finger snaps to create a Southern hip hop bassline.
Over this, the song follows a candid narrative that describes sex in the back of a limousine when travelling to a nightclub.
Several critics noted the album's extensive exploration of sexuality.
Having been a singer since the age of nine, Beyoncé felt "stifled" by the perception she was a role model for young children, and now into her thirties, she believed she had "earned the right to [...] express any and every side of [her]self."
Addressing the album's sexual content specifically, Beyoncé said: "I don't at all have any shame about being sexual and I'm not embarrassed about it and I don't feel like I have to protect that side of me."
Several critics described Beyoncé's sex songs as a celebration of monogamous love.
"Drunk in Love" is a duet with her husband Jay-Z, and features lyrics heavily laden with double entendres that explore lust within their sexual relationship.
It fuses intermittent trap beats with heavy bass, skittering synthesizers and drums, and Arabic-scale vocal arpeggios. Beyoncé's vocals are diverse, including a melodramatic chorus sung in her upper register and a half-rapped second verse.
"Blow" veers from a thumping jazz beat created with sparse piano chords and guitars to a "swinging electro-funk groove" with elements of neo-disco. Its erotic, tongue-in-cheek lyrics include a running cunnilingus metaphor of "licking Skittles" in its chorus.
The slow-jam "Rocket" is a homage to D'Angelo's soul-infused "Untitled (How Does It Feel)."
Described by Entertainment Weekly's Nick Catucci as a "slippery, six-and-a-half-minute funk excursion", Beyoncé adopts a slow, harmonious vocal as she instructs her love interest to watch her perform a striptease.
Much like Beyonce's previous albums, the record is feminist, with greater exploration of gender issues and conflated with "an unwavering look at black female sexual agency."
Soraya McDonald of The Washington Post viewed Beyoncé as significant to black feminism as it celebrates black female sexuality in mainstream music and in the context of hip hop, where it is typically only shown through the male perspective.
The album's most explicit commentary on gender is the three-part "Flawless". It opens with the earlier released "Bow Down", before seguing into an excerpt of a speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the socialization of girls.
The final part uses a staccato, trap beat as Beyoncé reflects on her own feminist attitudes, encouraging self-acceptance among women and criticizing misogynist sentiments.
Other songs on the album allude to darker themes of fear and personal insecurities.
Beyoncé noted that the album displayed "sides of [her] that only a few people had seen", adding that "all of us want happiness... sometimes you have to take the insecurities to get to the secure place. And all of those things I feel happy to express."
Caitlin White of The 405 believed the songs as "hold forth on the most important issues in a woman's life by delving into [the singer's] personal experience with them."
"Jealous" addresses fidelity and features lyrics in which the protagonist experiences "promises, suspicion and potential revenge." It contains an "uncanny mix of tones and styles", most prominently a morose bassline replete with electronic yelps.
"Mine" (a futuristic R&B song with jazz elements) is self-reflective with lyrics that reference marital strife and difficulties with postnatal depression.
The neo soul song "Pretty Hurts" is a self-empowerment anthem that decries society's obsession with harmful and unattainable standards of beauty. The song uses audio snippets of beauty pageants which Beyoncé contested in to frame the song in the context of her childhood.
Beyoncé's vocal production is diverse; several songs are half-rapped and half-sung with particular use of falsetto and head voice.
The Telegraph's Neil McCormick notes that while Beyonce uses her expansive vocal range, unlike her previous releases, she restrains from belting and vocal runs as to increase tension in the music.
"No Angel" (a chillwave song with influences of minimalist hip hop music) is noted for its use of the falsetto vocal register with a delivery that is "threatening to fray".
The doo wop-inspired duet with Frank Ocean "Superpower" is sung in the lower register of both singers, while employing girl group harmonies similar to Beyoncé's work in Destiny's Child.
The love song "XO" uses several vocal techniques to evoke a celebration of love and life, including echo and several hooks.
Its ascending chorus lines use call and response, as well as backing vocals of a sing-along crowd, as Beyoncé sings of how her "darkest nights" are enlightened by her lover's face.
The album's closing tracks are midtempo ballads "Heaven" and "Blue".
"Heaven" is an emotive, piano-led hymn with gospel elements while "Blue" is built on a piano melody over which Beyoncé sings of the love for her daughter, using her full vocal range.
"Beyonce" debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with three-day sales of 617,2013 digital copies, making it Beyonce's fifth consecutive number-one album and becoming the first female artist have her first five studio albums debut on the top of the Billboard 200.
It also gave Beyonce the largest debut sales week for a female artist in 2013 and the highest debut sales of her solo career.
It also gave her the three largest sales weeks by any female artist, becoming the only female to sell 300,000 copies within a week in 2013 & became the first person in the 2010s to score 300,000 copies in each of its first three weeks.
As of November 2016, "Beyoncé" has sold 2.4 million copies in the United States and has been certified double platinum by the RIAA.
"Beyoncé" received widespread acclaim from music critics.
Critics generally commended it as thematically and musically bold, as well as emphasizing its visual aspect and surprise release; many said it was her magnum opus.
At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received a high score of 85, based on 34 reviews.
The album's exploration of sexuality was particularly well received by reviewers.
The New York Times' chief critic Jon Pareles described the tracks as "steamy and sleek, full of erotic exploits and sultry vocals" noting that "every so often, for variety, they turn vulnerable, compassionate or pro-feminist."
Caitlin White, writing for The 405, characterized Beyoncé as a feminist text. She noted that the tracks demonstrate her desire to retain complete sexual agency, while also forgoing the expectations of pop songcraft by placing female pleasure at the forefront unquestioningly.
Robert Christgau admired the album's "sex sequence" of songs, where for "over seven well-differentiated tracks", Beyoncé "performs the unlikely feat of conveying an open-ended eroticism that varies because [she] knows eroticism does, for each of us in our individual responses as well as for her".
PopMatters' David Amidon similarly praised the album's honest, highly sexual nature, observing it was "her first attempt at bridging an audience, making music that makes the men want to hear what she has to say and the women feel like they can say it to men as well."
Other reviews recognized that the album eschewed contemporary R&B in favor of more experimental compositions.
Pitchfork writer Carrie Battan wrote that Beyoncé was "exploring sounds and ideas at the grittier margins of popular music" and rejecting "traditional pop structures in favor of atmosphere".
Spin's Anupa Mistry felt it was "more textured than its predecessors in both sound and content", and applauded Beyonce's transition to a maturer sound of "big-hook message pop, multi-directional, mood-shifting suites and delicately resonant R&B ballads".
Noting the lack of "guaranteed hits", NME believed that the "low-key, moody production throws the spotlight on the words and the images brought to play" and described it as her most experimental work to date.
Rolling Stone's pop critic Rob Sheffield found Beyoncé's boldness among its best attributes, believing the album is at its "strongest when it goes for full-grown electro soul with an artsy boho edge."
Mikael Wood of Los Angeles Times highlighted a desire to push creative boundaries among the tracks and admired "how the music similarly blends the intimate and the extravagant."
Entertainment Weekly writer Nick Catucci concluded that the album was characterized by "clashing impulses—between strength and escape, megapop and fresh sounds, big messages and resonant lyrics."
Praise was also reserved for Beyoncé's vocal performance.
The Telegraph's Neil McCormick declared Beyoncé as "one of the most technically gifted vocalists in pop" favoring her "gospel power, hip-hop flow and [huge] range". He was particularly complementary of the vocal restraint displayed across the tracks that was absent from previous releases.
Kitty Empire of The Observer noted the diverseness of her vocals on the album's up-tempo songs and found the singer ranging between "squeaky sexed-up falsettos, hood rat rapping, wordless ecstasies and effortless swoops".
Clash regarded her voice most effective on the album's ballads, where they commented on how diversely her vocals conveyed feelings of love and described her "power and control [as] breathtaking."