So, for those who don't know, this is the year that I became a full-fledged, card carrying member of the Beyhive. Everything Beyonce has done this year has made me admire and support her more than I ever have. In the past, Beyonce was always one of my favorite singers because she brought a diva attitude that none of her contemporaries ever could. If there is one thing I love most in the world...it is a pop singer who gives the image of a manufactured, unstoppable top bitch.
Even when she was singing songs like Halo, it always felt calculated and like Bey was just hitting all of the right bases to have a diverse album era. This is not a put-down. I think that it is important for an artist in the music industry to be strategic with their career because it is just that...a career. And when she released the first single off of "4," the Diplo sampled and produced "Run The World," it didn't look like much had changed. The rumors were that she had found a trend to exploit (baile-funk and Philly-style underground dance music) and it felt like we were poised for another Beyonce invasion.
Things didn't exactly work out that way did it, though? Not only has she yet to have a high-charting hit from this album era despite stunning videos and breathtaking performances...but the entire tone of the project is different than a usual Beyonce campaign. Unclear single choices (just today I have heard that Countdown is going for radio adds, after an initial report of Party for the 3rd single and then a switch to Love On Top after her triumphant VMAs performance/pregnancy announcement) and lack of promotion (Bey is known for being endlessly in the public's face with performances, interviews, and product promotion during her album eras...this era you can count on your fingers the amount of times she has appeared) seem to have left the album to flop. That's not to say that it has sold badly...it is one of the year's top sellers, even if it has underperformed for her standards.
No doubt her unexpected pregnancy has something to do with this. Could there have been a worse time to get that oft-rumored pregnancy finally rolling than during the album that needs the most help, girl?! Yes, I was ecstatic and shaking and crying and rolling on the floor when I saw that she was pregnant at the VMAs. But my cynical mind of course flew right to the understanding that from here on out, she would not be shooting any more videos, doing any more Billboard/Glastonbury level performances, or going on tour. I would no longer be getting my album era experience...and I am selfish enough to hold this against her!
However, upon further review...I am starting to think that not only is this album is one of her best musical accomplishments (in my opinion, matched only by the flawless hit factory that BDay was), but the album era is also one of her greatest personal achievements. The ballads are extremely personal, especially the deluxe edition's "Dance For You" and her non-single "1+1." The mid-tempos are sweet and love-soaked, such as "Lay Up Under Me" and "Party." And let's not forget the exuberantly amorous "Love On Top" and "End of Time." Listening to the entire album can almost feel like you are interloping on someone's private relationship.
And then the pregnancy and the increasingly visible adoration between Jay-Z and herself...well...have we ever seen her look so sincerely happy? She seems even more comfortable in her own skin...and not in the previous exhibition-for-sales type of way. And despite her lack of promotion...somehow it seems like she has never been so dedicated to her fans and her craft.
At her now legendary Glastonbury set, she told the crowd before her showstopping "Halo" peformance: "I will always give you 100% of myself." And the reason the 4 era and Beyonce herself has been so successful this year (for me, at least) is because she has finally done just that. We aren't just seeing Sasha Fierce anymore. We aren't just getting the studio-muted Beyonce-lite.
With the 4 era...we finally have 100% of Beyonce.