In 2006, when Beyoncé released her video anthology for the deluxe version of B’day, I remember thinking to myself, “Every major label pop artist powerhouse with money needs to do this until it becomes normal.”
I didn’t scrutinize the videos. I watched from start to finish — withholding judgment — immersing myself in the experience of a full-length visual story told through the music of an album and an artist’s eyes.
The CD was dying. It was the rise of iTunes and Limewire. The fangirl experience of sitting by your boombox, flipping through the album booklet, shaking, engulfing yourself in the piece of art you just bought was on its way to extinction.
I saw an album booklet come to life for the first time when I watched Beyoncé’s B’day anthology. It was a beacon of hope, even though I had downloaded it illegally, and it wasn’t available to purchase on iTunes.
B’day was a big deal for me, because at the time, I was coming to terms with the fact that I preferred music videos over movies, and that’s just who I am. I feel more from watching a three-minute pop music video than I do a two-hour long movie. Maybe you’re the same.
Seven years later. December, 13th 2013. I sent out the text message: “Did you WATCH Beyoncé’s NEW album yet?”
Dreams do come true…
With the biggest pop surprise of the year, Beyoncé effortlessly shunned the spotlight from many of her contemporary competitors.
All that it took was a little advertisement broadcasted to her 8 million Instagram followers.
No promotion, no cheesy co-sign, no talk shows, no advertisement during a big award show. Nothing. All she did was upload an Instagram video with the simple headline “Surprise…”
With this gesture, you know this visual album is for the people who appreciate Beyoncé. You can criticize the production, the lyrics, the visuals. But your opinion doesn’t matter.
Nothing’s being sold. There’s no label-masterminded chart goal. Clearly, this is a liberating art project.
Beyoncé is a flawed human, like many who want to speak up and let us into their world.
“Pretty Hurts” begins with her staring in the mirror with a Twiggy cut. Within a few seconds, we see her wearing a beauty queen sash that reads “MISS 3rd WARD” with her legs open. Our world is World War 3 and a psych ward. She is our poster girl for now.
She’s playing the character the world knows her as.
Beyoncé — the beauty queen.
Beyoncé — the most beautiful woman in the world.
Beyoncé — the perfect girl with the perfect body.
Beyoncé — the only black girl, some white guys would fuck.
Beyoncé — the object.
The opening clip has a few devastating shots that confront the media’s hellish obsession with the perfect image she’s associated with — and the one young women will always look up to.
She’s seen guzzling pills, purging, pre-plastic surgery lines all over her face. Giving you a honest, true, voyeuristic look at the harmful things people will do to their body to achieve perfection. But it also lets you into the pressure she feels being a sex icon.
Smiling, a silver-foxed Harvey Keitel asks her: “What is your aspiration in life?”
The video stutters, the story stutters, my mind stutters. She jumps into a pool of water as Miss 3rd Ward is figuring out what to say. She finally answers:
“Well, my aspiration in life would be to be happy…”
Now the angry prom queen from Hole’s Live Through This cover poses as her and smashes all her trophies. Possibly symbolic to a similar real life breakdown Bey could have had with her grammies one night, collapsing from the overwhelming pressure and feelings that one person couldn’t even imagine come with being a superstar.
Pretty hurts, indeed.
After white noise, a TV plays a clip of her as a child, blowing a kiss saying “I love you Houston”…
It’s eerie and conflicted.
“Ghost” opens with her against a clean white backdrop, flashing hunter eyes. It’s beautiful, similar to the harsh minimalism and simplicity of FKA Twigs’ “Water Me.” Could even be a subtle homage?
She talks quickly, but gets right to the point: “All these record labels boring!/ All these people working a 9-5 just to stay alive! The 9-5 just to stay alive!”
Wearing a white body suit, ribcages and breasts visible – she is a ghost moving her body side to side. This could open the discussion: Does Beyoncé want to disappear? Are “civilians” mere ghosts? Is everything meaningless? Even Beyoncé gets bored to death.
Jonas Åkerlund’s “Haunted” is probably the most important visual in the whole piece.
Beyoncé is the girl in black walking slyly into a mansion. A man lights a cigarette, we learn she is under surveillance. The security cam shots have the same beauty as Kate Moss’s iconic Vogue shoot that Nick Knight did as a commentary on the death of privacy in 1995. If only they knew back then…
In Beyoncé’s nightmare mansion, she encounters a plethora of scary, erotically paranoid images. Girls in Beetlejuice outfits with black hair covering their faces, Eva Green giving an elderly man a lap dance, a young boy (or girl) sticking their tongue out, covered in bubble bath. A gang of boys in Juggalo make up spliced between scenes of her gyrating atop a bed in lingerie.
The punk juxtaposition of arousing images and terrifying images seem to comment on our perpetual fear of pornography and women who have the power to sexualize themselves. We’re always haunted by the dangers of sexual imagery.
I immediately reflect on all the times I’ve seen things I’ve never wanted to see — just from browsing the internet — and how I’ll always be haunted by these images. It’s an unfiltered world. I can see them now. I have goosebumps. I feel sick. These feeds are surprising and untrustworthy, and at some point, you’ll be haunted by something too.
“I know if I’m onto you, you must be onto me…”
Lurking? Anyone? I mean, how can you not be paranoid in this world? Every day, you’re creeping on someone on social media and every day, someone is creeping on you. This is just how it works, and the paranoia is not going to go away. It’s just going to stay.
The video ends with her walking out the mansion, as if she is waking up from the nightmare.
“Drunk In Love” is beautiful, like a classic black and white Bruce Weber shoot come to life — only shot by Hype Williams. She dances fiercely on a tropical beach, shamelessly talking about being hungover and forgetful, in love and wanting to have sex with her husband. Jay-Z comes on the screen, raps causally, and you just smile, as if these are the private honeymoon videos we never got to see. It’s like a Carter family get-together, even though you aren’t Blue Ivy.
“Blow,” the H-town roller rink anthem ode to oral sex, is explicit. It’s neon and colorful, yet it showcases Beyoncé as dominant. She is a woman in control, proud of her sexuality, unafraid to share with the world that she likes to get her pussy eaten. Comparing her vagina to a pack of Skittles: “Can you eat my skittles? It’s the sweetest in the middle. Pink is the flavor!”
It’s transparent, but if transparency in pop offends or shocks you in 2013, pop isn’t the problem. It’s you.
@LILINTERNET, a cult icon in his own right, directed “No Angel,” which feels like a soundtracked documentary about gritty Houston. It’s powerful and moving, showcasing Bey’s roots. A scene of her with her hair hanging out the window shows us that this where she feels free and comfortable, away from the paparazzi, close to nostalgic memories.
“YONCE” is Bey in the trap. A hyper-sexual rap against Brooklyn walls, surrounded by beautiful models (including Chanel Iman) with grills. It’s demanding and hard.
“PARTITION” is heavy. An exploration in one of her hardcore limousine fantasies, it starts out with her sitting at a table eating breakfast — clearly letting us know a sex dream is about to begin.
“He Monica Lewinsky’d all over my gown!”
That’s all she had to say. Boom. Game over. Bad gal who? The gasp-worthy “controversial” reference, the simplicity, the role of her as a burlesque stripper in the video.
No sex is being sold here, sex is being told…
“I just want to be the girl you like…”
Absolutely no regrets, no apologies. What a fucking rockstar. Bow down!
“Jealous” shows Beyoncé left out, upset that she smelled different perfume on her man that keeps ditching out on her dinners. Who knows what the fuck this means? Maybe Beyoncé’s alter ego Yonce has a whole different life without Jay-Z and Blue Ivy, and she is letting out her struggles with envy.
A normal clip of her playing pool at a bar and drinking with normal people seems to be a fantasy.
When she’s noticed by fans in the street, we get a chilling look at what fame is like.
“Sometimes I want to walk in your shoes, do the type of the things I’ll never do…”
She is getting stares she doesn’t want, feeling insecure. She wants to run away. The most confusing part is the end, when she hugs a guy that just doesn’t look like Jay-Z.
Anyone can be apathetic and think “I don’t care about famous people ’cause they are so privileged and rich,” but empathy is key. Especially when she is giving us so much of herself. We have to give back somehow, and hope she can feel that we’re trying to understand her pain.
Wait? What? How do we know if this is true to her life or not? Well, that’s the point.
Beyoncé has an unachievable enigma as a pop artist: never a coked-out tabloid story, no scandalous private pictures to identify her with. Her art of showing, not telling, on the visual album projects that power of mystery to a whole new level. It’s superstardom.
Ironically, “Rocket” feels like the behind-the-scenes of Beyoncé’s Vanity Fair cover shoot. But if you listen close enough, she’s poking fun at your reaction to glam.
“Yes, mass appeal. Don’t take your eyes, don’t take your eyes off it…”
The Drake collab “Mine” opens with Beyoncé in a Virgin Mary get up with a white statue underneath her. It must be about genderless, imageless love. This is most apparent when two people covered with shirts on their head are kissing each-other, one shirt saying “You’re” the other shirt saying “Mine.”
“Stop making a big deal out of the little things, let’s get carried away…”
The beautiful authenticity of a tame Terry Richardson’s “XO” is refreshingly genuine, like a Kodak moment stretched out over the length of an entire song. Everyone is smiling, having a ball, being young, being fun, loving life. Her fans are right there with her. It’s a great moment.
“***Flawless” is anthemic, angry and liberating. An ode to the power and rage behind the empire Beyoncé has built for herself, and at this point you should just be at her feet:
“Bow down bitches, bow down bitches…”
She moshes in slo-mo with her crew while a speech about the sexist expectations young girls are told to live up to in the entertainment industry is broadcasted. Ending and beginning with a clip of her when she was younger, it seems like Beyoncé has been abused by the system, but instead of being a victim, she’s lashing out with feminist flames. It sounds like the demeanor and mind of every powerful woman you know.
The political aspect to “SuperPower” shows Beyoncé, the girl behind the burqa. It seems to be a dystopian clip, provoking thoughts about black politics, the government, and those in control. Frank Ocean’s face is not shown, but his voice is heard. It is unsettlingly perfect as usual.
“Heaven” is as confusing as the clip for “Jealous.” It could be about a lesbian lover or best friend who died, and she’s mourning and reflecting on the fun they had together in a church…
“Heaven couldn’t wait for you.”
The girl was good enough to go to heaven.
No shoes on, in a tropical paradise. Beyoncé lets us into the beauty of motherhood and the spiritual experience of having a child. “Blue” shows us how giving birth has changed her life positively.
The sounds of Blue Ivy mumbling adds sentiment. The song is a beautiful close to the album.
“Hold onto me, Blue…”
2014 – BRING ON THE VISUAL ALBUMS!