Crunk & Bey: Why Beyoncé’s “Surprise” Album Isn’t All That New But Still Damn Good
It took me two weeks of listening to Beyoncé’s “Netflix album” (I’ll explain that term later) to decode her vision. While several critics and Twitter philosophers have wasted character quotas trying to decipher the possible anti-feminist or TMI-turn up merits of Beyoncé’s surprise album, we should have all actually seen it coming.
When Beyoncé leaked “Bow Down (I Been On)” to mixed results way back in March, rumors began swirling that Queen Bey had lost her impregnable swag and was on the fast track to dropping a then-untitled flop for her fifth studio effort, which had no release date in sight or an official single of Mrs. Knowles-Carter caliber.
The song, with it’s chopped-n-screwed sonics, cocky content and H-Town ’hood aesthetics, was a far cry from the type of music fans and Bey Hive haters had become accustomed to from the Grammy winner. In fact, fellow R&B diva Keyshia Cole voiced her displeasure almost immediately via Twitter by venting:
“Can’t stand when people all self righteous when it’s convenient it makes them look good. Lmao! But can still talk sh-t when convenient 2 FOH.”
But none of that mattered because Beyoncé was about to change the game, whether you (or Keyshia Cole) liked it or not and “Bow Down” was just the precursor. Now what I mean by that is for everyone who hated on the track (yet secretly mumbled the chorus to themselves in the shower) would eventually (approximately nine months later to be exact) be blessed with an entire album chockfull of what I’ve affectionately dubbed Crunk & Bey music.
We all remember the short-lived Crunk & B movement, which crowned Ciara its First Lady in 2004. Well, leave it to Beyoncé to dethrone the princess and become the reigning queen of Crunk & Bey.
Despite the absence of “Bow Down” on its track list, Beyoncé the album falls right in line with the early tester single. Bey delivers hip-hop bravado and boldly crass lyrics over a turnt up sound bed. And. We. Love. Every. Minute. Of. It. Because it’s part bedroom seduction, part ratchet raucousness, part personal manifesto but all Beyoncé, a grown a**woman, mother, wife, sister, aunt, human being who is 100% comfortable in her own skin.
It’s a major flaw of lingering detractors of Beyoncé—both the artist and album—to deny her the right to evolve. After years of remaining ultra private (We didn’t even know when she got married so why are we surprised she dropped a surprise album?) and being chided for being an industry-manufactured shell of pop goodness, Beyoncé pulled back the curtain to reveal that yes, she has down and dirty sex (“Drunk in Love”). Yes, she has a potty mouth with an oral fixation (“Partition”). And yes, she is everything you said she couldn’t be and more (“Pretty Hurts”).
Oftentimes when artists drop self-titled albums it’s either a sign of complete creative laziness or a shallow attempt at creating his/her defining body of work. In the case of Beyoncé (both the artist and the album), it couldn’t be more fitting. This is Bey in all her glory, uncompromised, unflinching and unafraid.
Unfortunately, despite my praise for the project I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that while dropping an entire album along with 17 videos in the middle of the night with no marketing whatsoever is a major power move it’s not that original. In the music world? Yes, but in the world of streaming television? No. Remember, Netflix did it first.
The success of shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, which were both released as an entire season all at once, set the blueprint (no pun intended) for Beyoncé’s latest release. Consumers are already used to binge watching hit shows, so why not a “visual album?” Her roll of the dice worked with social media exploding the night and days following the album’s secret release, catapulting Bey to the yet another No. 1 album.
In an age where established artists are floundering on the charts, projects always leak and casual fans gravitate more towards radio singles than albums, the move was genius—even if it wasn’t her own. While there are still ways to get around securing an album without paying for it, an artist officially leaking a project in its entirety via iTunes forced the consumers hand to buy it all now or run the risk of being the uncool kid on the block without that new Bey. The bonus videos only sweetened the pot.
Singles be damned, with visuals for every song the field is wide open for Beyoncé to promote more than just an album with a few videos but an experience that must be consumed as a whole. Now that’s crunk, Bey. #NewRules