The queen is back. Beyonce Knowles released an album last Friday – which has sold more than 828,000 copies so far.
Feminism and self-promotion: Beyonce at the Super Bowl in February 2013. image: dpa
Overnight, Beyonce Knowles released an album – without interviews, without promotion. The industry makes the product and we, the listeners, produce the hype for free. "Beyonce" sold 828,000 copies in the first three days.
It’s not just an album, it’s a soap opera, compiled of 17 videos featuring clips from the life of Queen Bey, the one and only superstar. Where Rihanna scavenges Tumblr pages for ideas for videos and Justin Bieber has to assure the world of his existence via selfie, Beyonce has her court artists immortalize her in a series of life portraits.
Fashion photographer Terry Richardson stages Queen Bey in Polaroid colors at an amusement park, Jonas Åkerlund gives her a hoodie in which she appears in front of a line of armored police officers. And director Hype Williams presents Beyonce in her signature role as the unattainable diva next door. Thus, "Beyonce" bundles forms of desire that reach into subcultural niches. A left-wing media collective illustrated its declaration of soli with the strike at Amazon through a street-fighting scene from the video for "Superpower."
Beyonce, "Beyonce" (Columbia/Sony).
And the queer feminist circle of friends rejoiced on Facebook over the sample of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Beyonce’s track "Flawless," in which Adichie criticizes girls still being preached marriage as the fulfillment of their own lives.
Beyonce has learned the awareness of the niche from Lady Gaga, who has declared the deviation from the norm to be the ideal. Except that for Beyonce, this works within her flawlessness. "Perfection is a disease," she sings on "Pretty Hurts," while standing in front of a wall of trophies. Cut to. Beyonce with a beauty pageant crown. Beyonce bent over a toilet: being pretty is painful.
Only Beyonce’s makeup doesn’t smudge even when tears are streaming down her face, and her teeth are still dazzlingly white even after throwing up. Even completely destroyed, Beyonce remains the "Independent Woman," the queen who doesn’t need a beauty pageant.
Is this now feminism or self-promotion? Or both? In "Drunk in Love" Beyonce coos with her husband Jay-Z on the beach, who compares himself in his guest verse with Ike, the beating husband of Tina Turner. Yet Beyonce remains in control, not her husband. She is "Boss Bitch", the woman who takes power within a male structure without changing the structures.
The art product Beyonce lives through these contradictions. But they only come to light when you leave the most beguiling surface behind: the music. Beyonce Knowles has always had great singles, but now she has become an album artist. "Pretty Hurts" is an R&B ballad with an anthemic chorus, and on "Haunted" she flirts with dubstep, where the vulgarity of the drop is dissolved in fine-dust elegance. But the highlight is "Superpower," her duet with Frank Ocean.
Over a minimalist beat of voice snippets and finger snaps, Beyonce’s voice soars higher and higher, while Ocean gives her soft-voiced counterpart. "Yes, we can," Beyonce sings, and it’s wrong. It’s not "we" who can. Only Beyonce can do it, our Queen Bey. It’s rare to be lied to so beautifully.