On December 13, 2013, out of nowhere, suddenly the world was blessed with a brand new self-titled original nuanced album from Beyonce. She had released albums before, four of them, and they were all great pop records produced under the management of her father, Matthew Knowles. At some point after the release of the third album, Beyonce took a professional hiatus fired her dad manager, the man who had been managing her for her entire life and career, with little explanation.
She released 4 in 2011 – it was an R&B record, pop vibes, and included her feminist anthem “Run the World (Girls).” It felt like our Beyonce, who we’d all known since she was a child in the girl group Destiny’s Child. Suddenly she was taking risks. She said it herself.
I said I’m going to take a risk and I’m going to bring R&B music back and I’m going to add bridges to songs and chord changes. I’m going to sing about love and do the opposite of what I thought I was going to do. I’m not going to try to be cool, forget being cool. I’m going to be honest. I’m going to be sad. I’m going to be passionate. I’m going to be vulnerable. I’m going to sing from my heart.
Everything she had ever learned from her father – what to hide as a woman in order to become successful – was no longer her recipe for success. We had enough of the polished proper Beyonce and she wanted us to see her as strong, vulnerable, unpredictable.
4 did fine, it got positive reviews from critics, it debuted at number one on the billboard 200 and sold over three hundred thousand copies in its first week. But it still didn’t feel that open. We were still looking at the polished veneer of a well-trained woman.
And then, December 13, 2013 happened. Beyonce the album dropped, suddenly – no build up, no media blitz, no HR or marketing push, no music videos, radio singles, or vague album art. Just… an album appeared online and we all had access to it. And it was…. a revelation.
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Beyonce gave us a new star, a woman in charge of her own career, a woman without fear of talking about sex and love and betrayal and her husband. Her voice was less polished than before, her writing visceral and explicit. She was no longer using suggestive but still dad-approved language like “lately I feel the funk coming over me I don’t know what’s gotten into me the rhythm’s got me feelin’ so crazy babe” (Naughty Girl, Dangerously In Love, 2003). She moved on to the slightly less daddable lyrics, “I’mma show you how I stroke (stroke it) Bringing work up on top of me I’mma let let you be the boss of me I know everything you want Give me that daddy long stroke” (Blow, Beyonce, 2013).
Small step, but it demonstrates an artistic growth, a woman we all knew and loved finally exploring and displaying her sexuality in an adult, controlled, consensual way. She may have been asking us to say her name say her name” (Destiny’s Child, The Writing’s On the Wall, 1999) but it wasn’t until she released an entire album called Beyonce that we began to understand the cultural impact this woman would have.