Everything Is Beyoncé
It’s no secret that I love Beyoncé.
She is an artist in the truest sense of the word. So when Everything Is Love dropped, I knew I had to write about it. But before we can even begin to tackle that beautiful meal of an album, we need to eat our appetizers. Beyoncé didn’t transform into Beyoncé the Rapper overnight. She’s been building toward this moment since 1998. Let's take a Beyoncé deep-dive.
1998-2002: Destiny’s Child
Beyoncé's star shined brightest as she took lead singer position in one of the best-selling girls' groups of all time (though of course her dad, as the group's manager, may or may not have helped in that regard; I’ll let the courts settle that).
This is the era in which Beyoncé began to try her hand at the vocal arrangements we see even through her newest album. In the credits of The Writing's on the Wall, we see Beyoncé is given writing and vocal arrangementcredits, laying the groundwork for her next era.
2003-2008: The Pivot
In this time, she pivots to expand her market from a primarily Black consumer base to a more global perspective. She recorded en español with her second solo album, B’Day, released as an entire EP in Spanish, Irreemplazable. She stopped touring exclusively on the Chitlin' Circuit in cities with large Black populations, and went overseas. She moved from R&B to pop. She began really embracing MTV awards shows and playing their game, releasing radio hits for the mainstream and fun dances everyone can do.
Careerwise, Beyoncé took on a stronger role in leadership and creative vision, as she got more writing credits, more directing under her belt, more control of her image. At the same time, she begins roping off her private life. Yes, she still prayed before concerts, but her fans no longer got to witness all the prayers (except this prayer to “Father-Mother God”). There are no more gospel songs on her secular albums. You have to search for the Spirit in the lyrics, because she’s going to go tour in Muslim-majority countries too. She continues to diversify her income with clothing, perfumes, and film production.
Sonically, Beyoncé starts to soften her gospel sound and melismas, the runs she would do that seemed to never end, and gives us more of a Millennial Diana Ross, though in her live performances she was still as sonically bombastic as ever, showing up like her voice was ready for a fight and Mama Tina said knock y’all out.
2008-2011: Pop Star
Beyoncé does a victory lap. She went from the 713 to being an Oscar nominee. She had earned more Grammys than there are days in the week. She was a pop star. She had graced the covers of Vogue and Sports Illustrated. Her goals met, she went on another world tour and then took a year off to get inspiration. She used her position to take very loud political stands, singing Etta James's "At Last" while the first Black President of the United States and his wife danced at the Inauguration Ball. She directed a documentary, The Year of 4, which led to a full HBO film, Life Is But A Dream. In 2010 Beyoncé launched Parkwood Entertainment to produce her music, videos, and television projects, seeking to create her own media empire rather than helping someone else build theirs.
2011-2015: Feminist Beyoncé
In 2011, Beyoncé fired her father, taking full creative and managerial control of her brand during what appeared to be the pinnacle of her career. She published an article in The Shriver Report about gender pay inequity and spoke about her love of power and her ambitions with Vogue in 2013: “Power’s not given to you. You have to take it.”
She used Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminist” TED talk in her self-titled visual album, released without warning in the dead of night on December 13, 2013. She broke all the rules and records while bringing back a “Blacker” sound. Beyoncé came out at just the right time with a pre-trap sound, and she brought out her Beyoncé the Rapper persona with Nicki Minaj on tour and on the remix of “Flawless.” I earnestly began praying that God would force her to make a rap album.
She also sang at President Obama’s second inauguration and was nominated for two Emmys for her Super Bowl performance. She was the third woman ever to headline the Super Bowl halftime show, which at this point had become regular everyday stuff for Queen B.
2016-Present: Womanist Beyoncé
In Lemonade, Beyoncé made the choice as her own manager and executive producer to tell her story from her own perspective. She was going to show the world what she sees as a Black woman, a descendant of slaves, and she did it on a plantation. She brings the Mothers of the Movement on the journey with her. She marches for Trayvon Martin, she pays bail for Black activists that get arrested without seeking the press, and she makes Tiffany Haddish sign an NDA so she’ll stop sharing her business. She reminds people that her friends–her sisters–kept her and got her through her husband’s nonsense. She raises a daughter with natural Black hair who gets into bidding wars with Tyler Perry for fine art in her spare time. She tells that world that she’s Black and proud during her second Super Bowl halftime show appearance, where Coldplay served as her opening act.
Musically she goes everywhere, because Black women have been in it all: rock, gospel, rap, country, blues, hip-hop, R&B, everything. She pivots away from the rest of the world, looking Black women in the eye and saying, “I stayed with mine, but you don’t need to stay with yours if he ain't doing right by you, sis.” She still shows off her body, because she likes to; she still dances, because she loves to dance. She uses the word “nigga” liberally to let y’all know the specific community she is addressing. This isn’t for the rest of the world: Bey is making an album with her husband. and she’s addressing it to her people.
Now. Let’s talk about the new album.
According to iTunes, I’ve listened to Everything Is Love 56 times (that doesn’t even count the Tidal plays). At the end of it I kept returning to the same questions: What’s next for Beyoncé? How many more visual albums can she come up with? Is she going to return to the normal single/video/album cover announcement/album release date announcement/album release strategy everyone in the music industry has been using since music videos came out? What is Beyoncé’s seventh solo album going to sound like? Will we finally get a part 2 of Telefone/Video Phone? Is Blue Ivy going to be a featured rapper on a track? Now that she has executive produced an artist as big as Jay Z, will she produce other artists' albums?
Beyoncé is a 36-year-old mother of three. Her career spans decades. By all metrics she should be winding down, but if the history of her career demonstrates anything, then it demonstrates Beyoncé’s incredible ability to keep coming back. She manages to keep giving her base what it needs to keep her career moving forward. Just when it appears she’s done with film, she announces she’s doing The Lion King. Just when it looks like she’s done with TV, Parkwood secures two spots on Grown-ish for her protégés. Just when it seems Beyoncé is taking time off, she drops a surprise album or releases a new documentary or reminds us of how superior her live performances are at Beychella.
So after Lemonade and 4:44, Everything Is Love rounds out the trilogy of the pain Jay Z caused his family, and it’s important to look at what this album means for Beyoncé as an artist, a businesswoman, and a brand.
The album presents the marriage that was burned in the fires of Lemonade as revived and better than ever, like a reborn phoenix–and it was designed to do that.
But if Everything Is Love meant to humanize the enigmatic duo, in many ways it reveals how much of a mystery they truly are. For instance, I was upset about getting turned down for a job last week, but Beyoncé got a rejection letter from the Coliseum. On the album, we get two of the wealthiest people in music showing off themselves as successful icons of their respective fields, cussing, smoking, drinking, and flirting while dropping their kid off at school and just living their life. It was designed to do this as well.
This album presents the Carters as both just like the rest of us, dealing with marital strife and everyday life, yet also so far above us that their problems seem foreign to us–and it was designed to do this. Beyoncé is in full control.
Writing about the new album, Nicholas Hautman of US Weekly said, “It's clear from the very first listen that Beyoncé outshines her husband on much of the record, which really should have been marketed as 'Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z' rather than 'Beyoncé and Jay-Z' (or 'the Carters,' in this case).”
Like a new Supreme (shout-out to American Horror Story fans), as Beyoncé grows in power, her husband’s power declines. If this album was named accurately it would be called Everything is Beyoncé (and Jay Z is Here, Too).