A Digital Look at a Digital Drop

Introduction:

It’s been five years since Beyoncé: The Visual Album dropped. This is an attempt to commemorate the album with some of my dear friends through documenting (archiving) how we felt then and what we think about this body of work today as creatives, educators, academics, and writers. One of the most interesting aspects of this era is how Beyoncé embraced feminism–– as you scroll down, don’t shy away from clicking on the gifs and pics–– they link to PDFs on Black Feminism, sexuality, and a news clipping or two. What we witnessed five years ago was an unabashed display of Beyoncé’s autonomy. Not only in her execution but also in her content. She gave us this album when she wanted to, and said what she wanted to say, because she's a grown woman that can do whatever she wants. 
 
Digital archives are important, not only for our nostalgia ––which is self-indulgent but for our memory, which isn’t forever. Here’s to another five years of finding new ways to communicate and imagine how we express ourselves creatively. 
- Najma

Beyoncé: Self-Titled

In Retrospect

“Know where you was when that digital popped. I stopped the world, world stop”








“I was at home–– stressed, depressed, a mess when suddenly the timeline was a frenzy because Beyoncé dropped.  I was broke and was using all the bootleg sites to watch the videos. I hear the songs... and wallahi billahi it changed the course of my life. Sis really bopped me through that period of my life and instilled in me  drive and work ethic. Within a couple of weeks big things were happening so really I owe my poetry career to one Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.”

- Writer, Dalia Elhassan




“I was on Tumblr and suddenly my whole dash was filled with jumbled letters and declarations of ‘I’m screaming.’ Apparently Beyoncé just dropped an album, and I didn’t even care. At that time, I wasn’t into Beyoncé— and music in general. I grew up in a religious household, so music wasn’t allowed. I didn’t stan Beyoncé at the time, or care that much but the hype was so overwhelming that I had to check out the album, the music videos, and documentary. That was a life altering decision. That album made me realize how blessed I am to witness Beyoncé’s greatness in person. She’s probably the greatest artist of all time, and reflecting on the self-titled album five years after, reveals the personal impact the album had on me. I was still making sense of my relationship with sexuality, my body, and desire. The way Beyoncé embraced her sexuality and body was inspiring. I think it was during that time, when I had ‘Drunk in Love’ on replay, that I began to accept that I am a sexual being and there’s nothing shameful about sexual desire. I’m still unpacking sexuality and desire in my life, but I can credit Beyoncé for pushing me to reckon with my repressed sexuality and shame towards desire and intimacy.”

- Scholar, Zainab






“I didn’t have the language or the space to stand proud in my sexual autonomy when I was 18. I grew up believing that sex, and pleasure, as a cis, darkskinned woman was something that wasn’t mine to hold. Self-titled was and still is the album that my spirit needed to navigate the rough path to embracing my own queer identity. Self-titled, for a lot of black women set the precedent for taking the reigns of their own sexual agency in new ways that we were normally taught to suppress.

My favorite memory of self-titled was when I saw Joan Smalls lick Beyoncé’s titty and 18 year old Clarissa broke into a sweat. In that moment I knew I was a gay.”

- Writer, Clarissa Brooks





“’Blow’ was the first song where I heard a Black woman explicitly state her sexual desires through a self-centered lens. Throughout the song, Beyoncé seduces her partner into the pleasure of eating her out, and playfully hints at sustained clitoral stimulation. She playfully embraces her sexuality and womanhood, and encourages the BeyHive to take ownership of their sexual fulfillment.

We’re no longer catering to our partners à la Destiny’s Child Days, but instead arching our backs in orgasmic ecstasy. We sacrifice too much to receive terrible head. The song was inspired by Janet Jackson and Prince. Both were icons raised in the church, and through their musical evolution, they found joy in the erotics. Beyoncé showcased her multi-faceted depth as a Black woman who enjoys good head.” 

- Writer, Taylor Crumpton



The Blurbs:

Pretty Hurts

“Bey has built a brand on really pushing women to be their most beautiful and confident. With the help of Sia’s pengame, she really attempts to point the mirror back at herself and examine what is going on with herself.

In the music video, she takes you through an artistic journey. The reality of working really hard but still not winning the prize. At the end of the day, you are all you need and that is all that matters. Fuck a trophy.”

- Malcolm Musoni



Haunted

“’Haunted’ is Bey’s most sultry song. In the video that accompanies it, she dons a vampire red lip in direct contrast to a silvery blue shadow which only amplifies the visual and sonic eeriness of this song. “I know if I’m on to you, you must be on to me” she smoothly sings. The song starts slow, picks up momentum, and you’re invited to the chase. She’s always aware she’s being watched. Because she too, has a watchful eye. If she’s on to her lover, the person, or the audience ––whomever she’s trying to seduce, must be on to her tricks as well. 

The video ends as quickly as it begins, the thrill is snuffed out as abruptly as the fire in the last scene; it’s lusty and seductive but it doesn’t last. The chase is fun, the lustiness holds your attention for a while, and it’s because in that moment, seduction is an end in itself. Once the fire is gone, so is the magic and the mystery.”

- Najma Sharif





Ghost

‘All the shit I hear is boring, all this shit I do is boring’ 

“‘Ghost’ is the first half of the track ‘Haunted.’ This stream of consciousness is backed by a whirring, airy beat with consistent thump. Our Queen let’s us know just how bored she is. “What you will know of me is the shadow of the arrow that has hit its target,” says Clarice Lispector in Agua Viva, and in that line she encapsulates what Beyoncé accomplished with the visual album and this song. As an artist, she is exacting and unafraid. She’s bored of industry standards and expectations placed on her both as an artist and a Black woman. Beyoncé climbs up the walls and ascends into her legacy.

This track is a shrug, she truly doesn’t give a fuck about how you consume art and how you work. She wants to reimagine both things for herself as an artist. Five years later, we see how this album impacted artists: surprise album releases, visual albums, more videos, putting all of their thoughts both political and personal into their music and creative expression, etc.etc.

It’s almost laughable to think about now... She didn’t think she’d make any money off this?”

- Najma Sharif


Blow


“‘Blow’ is Beyoncé’s most sexual song. It’s not up for debate, there's no argument to be had, it's just a fact. While self-titled seemed to be the album where everyone acted like Beyoncé—the all of a sudden Puritan— had spoke about sex for the first time, I’m here to point out, in case some are still confused *cough* Partition fans—who confuse the video with lyrical content — *cough* that ‘Blow’ was unquestionably her most explicit song yet. Even though Pharrell’s staple four count was missing, Pharrell’s touch was instantly recognizable, (I enjoyed his contribution enough to not want to listen to his featured verse on the deluxe edition).

Beyoncé sings about her lover (uncle Jay to us) performing the sacred act of cunnilingus. “Can you taste my skittles, it’s the sweetest in the middle.” Pineapple myths aside, Beyoncé really goes on for over five minutes about receiving head. A whole five minutes. Now, I ask, WHERE are the Lena Dunham, Susan B. Anthony stans to rally around what I see as the most important feminist song of the 21st century? Isn’t this, along with the pussy hats, the apex of what I believe their whole schtick is about?? Do better.

I’m also reminded of her live performance at the VMAs, the iconic transition that went viral right before the next show aired, (reminding me she’ll probably never grace that shit show again) and Laverne Cox getting her whole entire fucking life to “TURN THAT CHERRY OUT.”  

Point being, ‘Blow’ is my personal favourite song off self-titled (Who doesn't love Pharrell production and the topic at hand? I have to stan). It’s her most sexiest and it just. feels. good.”

- Shereen Abyan


Mine

“I think if she wasn’t the wife of Jay Z, Drake would have definitely gotten a tattoo of Bey somewhere on his body. That’s the kind of lightskin foolishness Aubrey Drake Graham loves to indulge in. Many people instantly recognized this song for its brilliance. I love how ‘Mine’ is an intense love story. When it's performed during live shows, it’s this epic song coupled with heavy choreography, but upon release, it wasn’t as intense. We were left to draw conclusions about whether or not the marital issues discussed were really true. Bey’s statements of marital turmoil are hard to digest when you juxtapose it against that scene from her 2013 documentary, Life is But a Dream, where she talks to the camera about how she hopes she and her husband remain close as they bring a daughter into this world.


Babies, in their first years, believe everything you tell them and want possession of everything in their orbit. “It’s mine” they so often yell. That’s really what Bey and Drake were doing to me. Proclaiming ownership of each other, and ignoring the pain and hurt that comes along the way. Because at the end of the day, you’re mine and I’m yours.”

- Malcolm Musoni





















Partition


“‘Partition’ is one of the sexiest but also one of the saddest songs on the album. She’s lamenting wanting to be the girl her man likes––the one able to keep his attention. You want to shake your ass but you also want to hug her. Much noise has been made about Bey’s usage of songwriters but ‘Partition’ is a song that’s inspired by a true story. For Hov’s birthday, she took him to this burlesque club, Crazy Horse, in Paris. That same day he proposed to her and she saw the dancers dancing and thought it was sexy and wanted to do something like that for him. That’s what you have in the video and in the song, her trying to be this woman for someone who cannot seem to keep his eyes focused on the constant beauty that is right in front of him.”

- Malcolm Musoni














Jealous


“Self-titled is a huge huge body of work that to this day, Bey still finds reference in her performances. Sometimes she’ll add songs to medleys or use them for interludes. One of the songs widely ignored by her and her critics, is ‘Jealous.’ To my knowledge she has only performed it once, and that was during the 2014 VMAs.


‘Jealous’ is really one of the first times we have seen Bey plotting real actual revenge. Not on some ‘Ring the Alarm’ shit–– but on some vengeful “I’m in the wrong” shit. She wants her lover, presumably Jay, to feel her pain. She so desperately wants to elicit a reaction from him.

As the song crescendos, you can’t help but feel her desperation. She keeps threatening to do these things but comes back in the chorus saying, ‘If you’re keeping your promise, I’m keeping mine.’ Nothing but an empty threat. By the bridge, she’s admitting her desire to hurt her lover, falling back on the line we all use when our backs are against the wall: ‘I’m just human.’”

- Malcolm Musoni
















No Angel



“One song that stuck out to me in particular was ‘No Angel.’ It has long been known the Knowles family hails from Houston. For many, Houston’s profile ends at a cozy beach town in Texas. To many music aficionados and black natives, Houston represents the foundation of sonic innovations in the hip-hop genre— namely chop and screw. This legacy is not lost on Beyoncé when she features several of the largest artists to come out of the scene, particularly Slim Thug, Scarface, and Bun B.

The most striking part of the song was the juxtaposition of the lyrics with the imagery. Beyoncé sings about being No Angel, presumably at a romantic partner, as the video cascades through the hood of Houston’s topography. This can be interpreted as a rejection of the respectability politics and mainstream polishing that have long plagued Beyoncé’s career. Such a conclusion makes sense considering this was one of her first projects under Parkwood Entertainment— her own production label.

However, Beyoncé insisting that she’s No Angel doesn’t necessarily strip the cookie-cutter image she’s been beholden to, it simply reminds everyone of her duality, much like her place of origin. As a child of Houston and descendant of Louisiana and Alabama, Beyoncé is a full-fledged product of the South.

The South endures a constant pathology, a decontextualization and a binary that reflects very few day-to-day realities and the pride of classic American hospitality as much as it carries the classed burden of American chattel slavery. It is the site of immense resistance and protest as it is the nucleus of voter suppression. American heroism and American villainism unshakeably fused to produce a stunningly confusing landscape for those outside peaking in. To say the least, the South is not given the breadth of nuance it deserves.

Isn’t that similar to Beyoncé? The most hypervisible entertainer of our time? Who speaks through action and not caption or interviews. Reviled and idolized with the same tenacity. Her every move micro-analyzed to no end. And whenever there is a conversation to be had about the failures of the industry, she is the primary scapegoat, much like her home region that is routinely blamed for our choppy political terrain. Perhaps ‘No Angel’ is simply but not so simply a declaration that she is her roots and they are her, in the best and most contradictory ways.”

- Yohanna B.





Rocket


“’LET ME SIT THIS ASSSSSSSSSSS ON YA’ is competing for the top spot of best song openings ever (if you’ve ever sung this in unison with a group of niggas before you would know). The D’angelo jumped out with this one. Co-written by his son, in the Great Black Musical Rhythm and Blues Tradition, Miguel and Bey went realllll neo-soul moon and Jill Scott rising on this one. (Justin also lended a helping hand but we don't stan, we don’t recognize). Now this song is hot, and while I once held it on par with ‘Blow,’ I now realize the innuendos were too stifled by the metaphors about mountains and ‘rivers flow and flow’ to truly be sexy with its chest. However, where lyrical content falls short, Mrs. Carter makes sure the videos exceed, and her in lingerie? What my dreams are made of, quite frankly.”

- Shereen Abyan






Superpower


The song is cute. However the video? She’s serving Revolution.”

- Shereen Abyan


Flawless

“Ah. ‘Flawless‘ The track that catapulted latest donkey of the day African Feminist, that would rather just be a storyteller, Chimamanda Adichie, into the arms of liberal America. The track that had white women in disarray for nine months because Bey’s Official Feminist Proclamation by way of Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists speech sample. This is the track that inspired the onslaught of think pieces dissecting whether Bey was really a feminist because she didn’t physically end patriarchy.

In all honesty, I do not bump this on the regular. The voice note annoys me and there isn’t a version that exists without it. But trust and believe I naturally know every word. It’s my duty as a self-professed Beyoncé Scholar and after approximately 3 shots, becomes MY SAWNG anyway.”

- Shereen Abyan