‘Beyoncé’ Turns Five
There are a precious few releases like Beyoncé — whose cultural impact has been so seismic that its true measure is still revealing itself on its fifth anniversary.
On December 13, 2013, Beyoncé Knowles’ fifth studio album — a 60+ minute conceptual “video album”— dropped from the sky and immediately sucked all the oxygen out of both media and social media. It broke the Internet before that was a thing and everything else that had been in our queues felt puny or dated.
It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold more than 800,000 copies in 3 days, with no marketing budget, no radio promo, no late-night TV performances. Just the power of the artist and the sheer force of her artistry.
Fourteen tracks, 17 videos and zero advance notice, the eponymously titled “visual album” has an otherworldly quality, both timeless and of-the-moment, with a central theme — acknowledging beauty in imperfection — specific to you, the listener, and universal. The unadorned album cover was all flex — her name would suffice.
The album’s hits, like “Drunk in Love,” “Flawless” and “Pretty Hurts,” unveiled a new sound for the singer: emotional R&B deconstructed and filtered through a shimmery electronic soundscape. The names of album contributors was like a Who’s Who of Grammy nominees: Timbaland, Sia, The-Dream, Frank Ocean and Justin Timberlake.
But its connective tissue is thematic — truthfulness — with the world, with each other and with oneself. It lays bare the artist’s search for it, how each of us is in his or her own way imperfect, as it relates self-reflection. And, in its intent, the artist’s songs honor the dignity in introspection and fallibility.
In the music industry, which prides itself on its commoditization of gossip, folks were blindsided, too. That so many people along the production chain kept such a valuable secret is a testament to the artist.
Beyoncé simultaneously perfected the surprise drop concept and dropped the mic onto all that would come after.
Five albums into an enormously successful career, and it felt as if she was just getting warmed up.
Apparently, she was.
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