Deconstructing Beyonce’s Surprise Visual Album

Only one artist can make the entire world stop the way Beyonce can.
On Thursday night, without much ado, Queen Bey unleashed a visionary collection, 14 new tracks and 17 videos, otherwise known as a “visual album,” the first of its kind. In an unprecedented move by industry standards, the entire album became instantly available for $16 on iTunes, which dedicated its five-panel rotating carousal entirely to Beyonce.

The highly-anticipated new album is heaven sent after the critical and (in Britney Spears’ case) commercial flops by today’s top female stars. But it’s a mistake to say Beyonce’s latest work was delivered without hype. After launching her imperial phase with her career-defining Super Bowl performance, Ms. Knowles has been relatively on the down low, if you will, but her face is still on a Pepsi billboard I see when I walk to work everyday, her daughter is still a prized paparazzi gem, oh and she was on the top-grossing Mrs. Carter world tour.

So it’s not like this visual album came out of nowhere, it just didn’t come out of the traditional model. Beyonce is truly groundbreaking in the way that she executes not only her talent but its presentation. The fact that every one of her new songs has an accompanying video is nothing new for the woman whose second solo album B’Day took on the same feat. This time, however, the new videos are only available as 30-second snippets on free video streaming channels, Vevo and YouTube beware. You gotta buy them on iTunes to see the rest. She’s smartly placing a premium on her packaged body of work, the musical and the visual. Beyonce’s prolific nature, however, does not seem to stem out of greed. Unlike Rihanna, she takes her time between each full-length endeavor. Her music videos are not a promotional vehicle, they are part of the destination.

In the era when most stars have adopted the industry model of desperately churning out singles, while accepting the fast-fading impact of a full-length album, Beyonce refuses to play by the rules as dictated by the record labels, iTunes or publicity teams. She realizes that we live in the time of Netflix, not MTV. We binge on our media. And she’s surprisingly the first artist to also realize that having millions of fans on Facebook means you don’t have to waste your time to pose for the cover of SPIN. So, Spotify better add video capabilities fast. Only Beyonce can release an album nowadays without bothering to Tweet about it.

Pretty Hurts – directed by Melina Matsoukas (“We Found Love”)

“Perfection is the disease of a nation,” is easy to say, if you are Beyonce. Queen Bee sings about a female’s struggle with self-worth and body dismorphia. The video is about a bulimic beauty queen — think “Drop Dead Gorgeous” directed by Lana de Rey. The beauty queen’s aspiration is to be happy. Because she cries, cries, cries with her lonely heart. Also, the line “your soul is what needs the surgery.” You hear that, Heidi Montag!

Ghost – directed by Pierre Debusschere

I guess this is what Jay-Z means when he says his wife is now gangsta. Beyonce sings about people working “9 to 5 just to stay alive.” How she doesn’t trust the record labels. The video is abstract and a little uncomfortable. But the true work of beauty here is watching naked Beyonce, presumably, inside a giant white sheath. Like a ghost! “Probably won’t make no money off this,” she says at the end of the bizarre video. “Oh well.”

Haunted – directed by Jonas Akerlund (“Paparazzi”)

It starts like “Paparazzi” but in ends up being Madonna’s “Justify My Love.” Regardless it’s going to truly haunt Lady Gaga and Madonna for ages. Beyonce struts around a haunted kinky/freaky sex hotel where every room is occupied by a character from American Horror Story. She then puts a spell because she’s an evil dominatrix queen. Oh, Grace Jones is in one of those rooms naked too.

Drunk in Love – directed by Hype Williams (“Gold Digger”)

This is probably the closest Beyonce will come to releasing a sex tape. She writhes on the beach as she raps about “grinding that wood,” comparing a dick to a surfboard. Apparently Beyonce and Jay-Z have a very healthy and satisfying sexual relationship. “If I do say so myself,” Jay-Z raps towards the end. Yup, it’s a Jay-Z collaboration.

Blow – directed by Hype Williams

Have you ever heard that old adage about giving a good blowjob by picturing that your partner’s penis is a lollipop? Well, Beyonce now wants her partner to go down on her by licking her Skittles. And yes, it’s everything Kylie Minogue/Fergie/Nicki Minaj could ever dream of meets everything amazing about an Olivia Newton John revival. Halfway through, Bey goes from kinky to raunchy insinuating that the partner return the favor and tear her cherry out. The dancing here is exceptional: she does a great tick tock and then dances on roller skates. The French dance brothers she’s collaborated with in the past make an appearance, as so does Solange, but they don’t hop on roller skates.

No Angel – directed by @LILINTERNET (Azealia Banks’ seapunk music producer)

Beyonce heads to Brooklyn and stages a luxury car show outside Jay-Z’s old projects. (Update: apparently it was shot in Houston, so whatever. Second update: now we’re getting reports that it was filmed in a suburb of Melbourne, so…)

Yonce – directed by Ricky Saiz

If Sasha Fierce is Beyonce’s diva glam alter ego, then Yonce is her psyche’s “more urban” alter ego. In Paris, she hangs out with some bad ass fashion models Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls, and Chanel Iman as she raps about her hood ways. One of the models fiercely licks Beyonce’s breast.

Partition – directed by Jake Nava (“Crazy in Love,” “Single Ladies”)

Beyonce’s version of a striptease is a sexy revamp of Moulin Rouge with the line, “he Monica Lewisky’d all over my gown.” Could be considered the more sophisticated version of “Naughty Girl.” The video features several visual cues at a menage a trois, with Bey mixing fantasy and sex so well she kind of turns into a beast.

Jealous – directed by Beyonce, Francesco Carrozzini, Todd Tourso

The song that starts with the painfully honest declaration, “I’m jealous” gets twisted around to “don’t be jealous” when Beyonce realizes two can play the game. No one knows what Jay-Z was up to all night but we do know how Beyonce spent her time while he’s gone: making music videos.

Rocket – directed by Ed Burke, Bill Kirstein

“Let me sit this aaaaaaaaaaaass on you.” This is a babymaker, Beyonce’s very own Victoria’s Secret commercial features the singer getting wet in slo-mo with drops of water scurrying all over her lady lumps.

Mine – directed by Pierre Debusschere

The song is another “it’s hard being Mrs. Carter” track. The video starts with tableau featuring Beyonce in ancient garbs surrounded by modern dancers. The song gets hyphy for the Drake chorus, showing dancers busting a move on the beach. The video features Debusschere’s signature image overlays to depict Beyonce’s relationship as the greatest Greek tragedy of our time. Sorry, Kanye.

XO – directed by Terry Richardson

Remember when Beyonce went to Coney Island and it was all over the news. She was there to film this music video. At first, I cringed at the thought of Richardson directing this, but pretty soon into the video I realized that he was just a person needed to hold up the camera. This song is Beyonce’s “Teenage Dream” and the video matches its youthful, uplifting, love-filled energy.

***Flawless – directed by Jake Nava

The song is an extended take on “Bow Down,” the Beyonce track that surfaced earlier this year with lyrics everyone interpreted as a Mean Girl move at fellow women. But it’s actually about feminism!  Leave it up to Beyonce to school us on what it means to be a feminist by featuring the words of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. She then repeats the line, “I woke up like this. I’m flawless.” For the video, Beyonce heads to a South African mosh pit. This is the second time after “Pretty Hurts” that Queen Bey uses archival home footage of her days as a young aspiring star.

Superpower – directed by Jonas Akerlund

“We thought the world would evolve without us,” Beyonce sings. No, we need you, B! Imagine a world where M.I.A. has recruited the Pussycat Dolls to take the streets and fight for… love? Kelly, Michelle and Pharrell join Beyonce’s terrorist cell as they get ready to storm the troops. Frank Ocean is featured here but does not appear in the video.

Heaven – directed by Beyonce, Todd Tourso

Bey sings to a lost friend, “heaven couldn’t wait for you.” You’ll probably get goosebumps.

Blue – directed by Beyonce, Ed Burke, Bill Kirstein

Beyonce takes Blue Ivy to a small coastal village in Latin America to enjoy each other’s company, embrace the simple things in life and make her daughter’s debut music video.

Grown Woman – directed by Jake Nava

The video, now the third to feature home footage, has Beyonce and Kelly recreating their 90s look and choreography, trying to make it big. It then goes way stylized, going for a digital tribal feel.

 

Oscar Raymundo
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