“Beyoncé" by Beyoncé was released directly to iTunes on Friday with none of the usual bluster of publicity and radio pre-play. The album immediately topped the iTunes charts in 90 countries. There were over 1.2m tweets in 12 hours and of course media outlets across the world picked up the story and reviews have overwhelming been positive. To quote, the prolific fashion blogger, Tavi Gevinson,
Her fifth studio album, this “visual album
” has a video for every song. In an announcement promo she explains the album's new format: “I see music. It’s more than just what I hear. When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion. A memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams, my fantasies and they are all connected to the music. And I think it’s one of the reasons I wanted to do a visual album. I wanted people to hear the songs with the story that’s in my head.”
In fact, Beyoncé in one fell swoop has changed the rules of the game. What’s really clever is she has innovated a new way for audiences to engage with the album format rather than just a single. Sure, the music video is no new thing but releasing them simultaneously is. We all crave the new and by releasing the whole album at once rather than as a succession of singles; like our favourite DVD boxset we must buy it all and devour at once! In this respect Beyonce has done everyone in the music industry a massive favour. Expect everyone in 2014 to be making a “visual album”.
Having total control of your creative output has long been a battleground between artist and their music label. But by cutting out the middlemen and bypassing the usual publicity bandwagon, radio pre-play and making her “surprise”
album announcement on Instagram
to her 8,173,218 followers, Beyoncé makes a huge power shift away from the traditional music industry model. She is in control of her own brand identity and output. Power for me is what makes Beyoncé a role model for women. Music maybe her passion and her motivation but controlling her creative output makes her not only the Actor in the play but the Director and when historically the power has been with the male executives behind the scenes this starts to redress the balance.
But a feminist icon? It depends, as ever, on what your definition of feminism is. There’s been furore this year over the blurring of the pop and porn line in pop videos. In particular, Miley with her wrecking ball, tongue and twerking tactics or Rihanna’s approach take “Pour it Up” for example, that sums up much used strip-club aesthetic, a scantily-clad Rihanna singing about money and men whilst giving the audience a ‘private dance’ and pole dancers in the background. Anne-Louise Kershaw
, makes the point succinctly in her commentary for the Independent: “I do not advocate censorship in creative terms but I am all for raising awareness of the damaging effects of the pornified sexuality seen in these videos; sexuality based entirely on male dominance and female subjugation. While porn has branded sexuality, selling it back to women in the guise of empowerment, the reality of it is far from sexy, and is it fast becoming mainstream. When Lennox was working her masculinity back in the 1980s she was genuinely stepping outside of the box – not simply writhing neatly within it. But no boundaries are being pushed in the Cyrus/Rihanna videos. A million twerks away from deviance, what we see is women toeing the line.” Whilst Beyoncé is not beyond criticism in this respect, her skill has come from being able to create a bridge between sexuality and feminism. She, like her counterparts, has a strip club video “Partition”
, but she’s dancing for the pleasure of her husband. She also adroitly re-worked a song originally entitled “Bow Down (Bitches)” that was leaked earlier in the year, to include a sample from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TedX talk "We should all be feminists"
and re-named it “Flawless”
. I think this awareness along with her past achievements celebrating in women’s independence in song means we should respect and uphold this woman who shows that women can have it all. It may not be outside the traditional conventions of western society e.g. to be happily married with children and in control of your own very financially successful career but hell, that’s what a lot of us are trying to achieve anyway right?
As Miki Kendall
writes in The Guardian, “ It's clear that like a lot of black American women, the mainstream middle class white feminist narratives with which we are so familiar aren't necessarily compatible with Beyoncé's view of herself. This album makes it clear that her feminism isn't academic; isn't about waves, or labels. It simply is a part of her as much as anything else in her life. She's pro-woman without being anti-man, and she wants the world to know that you can be feminist on a personal level without sacrificing emotions, friendships or fun. Is it a message that will appeal to everyone? No. But then, no one expects any other feminist message to be unilaterally accepted, do they?”