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December 2013

Beyoncé’s New Self-Titled Album Is A Manifesto of Black Womanhood and Freedom

Beyoncé is a remarkable singer, artist, dancer, artistic visionary, Black woman, feminist (I’d say womanist, really), wife, mother, human being. I write this sentence and like…I can hear the haters (that I call miserys; the opposites of stans) screaming their heads off and thinking of horrible things to tweet to me and thinking of less talented artists to compare to her or more talented ones to compare, as if that erases her and I just…don’t care. I still stand by the first sentence.

After watching an incredible episode of Scandal—the winter finale of my favorite show—I received word via Twitter that Beyoncé released a new album via iTunes and practically out of the blue. Even her most loyal fans—ones in the #BeyHive who follow her career more intensely than I do as a fan—didn’t seem to know that this was going to occur. The buzz on Twitter was electric and passionate. My whole timeline—or most of it anyway—seemed to be enthralled and surprised.

I went to iTunes and listened to the previews and watched the previews of the videos. She had me at ‘hello.’ I bought the album immediately. And though I haven’t always been a stan for her entire career, none of her albums so far have immediately pulled me in the way that this one has, though I enjoy her other albums very much. Something is different here. Something huge.

This album, also called BEYONCÉ, is a manifesto of Black womanhood and freedom. It sounds free. It feels free. It’s like…it has wings. It floats. It’s light. It’s thoughtful. It’s humorous. It’s reflective. It’s introspective. It’s sensual. It’s sexual. It’s incredibly fucking sexual and I ain’t mad at her. The thing is, it’s not only sexual. This will be hard for her critics to understand because to many people, a Black woman’s celebration of her own body, emotions, thoughts, ideas, choices, decisions and perspectives can only be sexual (and even so, sexuality is not inherently degrading solely because a Black woman has agency; It is misogynoir to think so).

Of course as this album is new, it will take time for me to really formulate my thoughts on each song and each video as there are 14 songs and 17 music videos (plus one video of credits). It’s an extensive creative work and the marketing plan of no marketing and distractions (i.e. her Vegan diet, her current tour) was brilliant and even better than her own husband’s approach for Magna Carta Holy Grail.

This album celebrates multiple facets of Black womanhood and while it won’t be a portrait that speaks to “every” Black woman’s notion of womanhood, it is quite a full portrait and one that I think is a creative and emotional revolution from her admittedly great previous work. I think…this album might be better than Dangerously In Love, which is considered the best of her solo career. The jury may still be out but I think it’s going to end up being the conclusion by the fans. We’ll see.

I mean…Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's voice is on the album! I nearly fell out of my chair. This exquisite Black feminist scholar is someone Bey listens to, the same Bey that White feminists are adamant about insulting and marginalizing even as they applaud the racist, culturally appropriative and insensitive actions of White women as automatically “feminist.” Their need to police who is feminist or not, even when a person rejects feminism in life (i.e. Margaret Thatcher) or a person’s being and work is LARGER than White feminism could ever dare to encapsulate (i.e. Madiba) is a White supremacist sickness that is antithetical to fighting oppression.

The themes present on the album BEYONCÉ—from eating disorders to Eurocentric beauty norms to the male gaze, to claiming and owning sexual pleasure without shame, to self-esteem, to feeling insecurity in romantic friendships, to truly loving motherhood, to friendship, to fighting the State, to comfort in theism during grief, to joy in sexuality, fun and friendship in marriage, to finding empowerment in performing her sexuality by choice for her partner, to some very positive allusions to and respect of sex work to several diasporic cultural connections—makes the album is so full. It feels…complete. Like a great novel.

And sure, there’s things to critique. For example, I don’t like Jay-Z’s reference to Ike/Tina and a particularly abusive moment in their relationship. I think the reference is to speak of their ride or die nature of being a power couple, but even Tina spoke of that abuse in documentaries that such references need delicacy before made. Further, since Tina is a big inspiration to Beyoncé, that part of “Drunk In Love” made me uncomfortable. The rest of the song slays; it’s so hood and I love it. Even the dances she did on the beach, not choreographed, but just some shit you do at the club rocked.

So far, of all of the songs, “Haunted” is my favorite; song and video. I love the aesthetics. “No Angel” and “Blue” reveal beautiful textured images of Black and brown people, and it felt very connected, not voyeuristic to me. The former reminds me of where I grew up and was raised. “Partition” and “Rocket” are very sensual, sexual and empowered. She names her pleasure and without shame. She finds strength and reveals passionate vulnerability in her desires. “XO” and “Heaven” show two sides of the beauty of non-romantic relationships; joy in togetherness and pain of loss. Two sides of the same coin.

Vocally it is good. She does not flex all of her vocal capabilities in every song, but does the right thing for each song. Her voice is excellent as always and there’s a confidence and a chill about it. She doesn’t have to prove a thing and it comes through in the songs. Lyrically it is not overly complex and her songs usually aren’t, but it’s beautiful or sensual or melancholy, depending on the song. Aesthetics? BRILLIANT. Genius. Watching all of the videos felt like watching an amazing film about Black womanhood from a variety of angles. Musically? Wonderful. I truly enjoy the tracks and the production.

I am so glad that I was online when the album dropped (heh, because of Scandal; was that purposeful Bey?) so that I could talk about it with people on Twitter. I really enjoy it thus far. I feel…proud of her. She really does not give a fuck about boundaries and challenges them (as the politics of respectability will NEVER be womanism/Black feminism) within the work and let’s you know she’s challenging them with Adichie on the album, for example. All of the hot air and hatred in the world couldn’t silence this work, this art, this manifesto. 

Beyoncé is a real life fixer in the way that “Olivia Pope” is on TV. After an entire year of White woman after White woman shitting on Black women’s style, culture, experiences and lives while demanding silence or praise from us, she reminded us what greatness in the public eye looks like and what music that celebrates facets of who many of us are sounds and feels like. She also seems to really come into her own womanhood without apology, without fear, without shame. She’s winning. And so are Black women who understand that we can be nuanced beings and do not have to live down to White feminism or the world’s rigid boxes for us but can live up to our own standards and spread our wings too. We don’t have the same lives, experiences or even privilege at times, but we share some experiences as Black women that nobody else seeks to understand or can. We can spread our wings too.

Of all of the cool Tumblr posts that I saw regarding the album release, I like this one the most: 

"Beyoncé just dropped the soundtrack Black women gonna take over the world to and I’m a-ok with this." - kenobi-wan-obi

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