The video clip above, directed by controversial photographer and director Terry Richardson, was posted on the Internet literally five days ago and it’s already at two-and-a-half million views. That’s the kind of power Beyonce Knowles has. She puts something on the Internet and you watch it a couple million times because Beyonce.
It’s December 18th, and before six days ago, we had no idea that “XO” along with the thirteen other songs that makes up the self-titled album even existed. But yet in a day when everything leaks online earlier than it’s anticipated release date, Beyonce put out an inarguable piece of art last Thursday night at midnight and the world seemingly flipped out. Nearly a million digital albums sold globally and we’re collectively floored by this irregular success. Sure, there are theories about social platforms, and FOMA and people wanting to be the first to participate in a zeitgeist moment, but still…a million albums in a week in 2013, a year in which the record industry is not just dead. It’s buried.
Just to give you some perspective on this level of success: Katy Perry and Lady Gaga both sold around 250,000 copies of their respective albums in the first week of release, and this was with millions of dollars of promotion preceding it. Ms. Knowles, on the other hand, succeeded by doing just the opposite. No hype. No gold plated eighteen wheeler. No flying dress.
As a lukewarm Beyonce fan beforehand, I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire this woman now and here’s why.
1. Beyonce has always remained true to her vision, to her self. Whatever you feel about said vision, she has never done anything provocative or shocking to attract eyeballs, or ears. It’s always been her being her and that’s refreshing in an age of twerking, tongue hanging, Jeff Koons baiting and desperate attention getting.
2. Ultimately Beyonce is a feminist, one that believes in true empowerment. Not in employing sexuality as a means of gaining respect. Not that that has ever been effective.
3. It would be easy to rely on her husband and his accomplishments, but Beyonce not only works to make art of her own…in this instance, she’s even outdone Jay-Z. The rapper, who a few months back released an album titled Magna Carta Holy Grail, could only do so after Samsung spent a truckload of cash for ensuring the rights to give away the first million copies. No corporate handout here.
4. I’ve been thinking a lot about Katy Perry’s “Roar” because I think it’s one of the best songs of the year. I mean, it epitomizes pop with it’s aspirational chorus, accessible motivation appropriated from familiar lyrical reference points like “Eye of the Tiger” and “We Are The Champions,” the sugar coated instrumentation, and Perry’s tumultuous divorce giving it an added resonance. But here’s the thing. Katy Perry, while competent and likable and hard-working, will sing about whatever you want her to sing about. Experimenting with lesbianism? Sure. Conjuring teenage boy lust with a whipped cream shooting bra? Sure. But whatever she sings, the core philosophy is only a sentiment of whatever’s popular. Pit “Roar” up against Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts” or “Flawless” and you’ll notice that Perry’s song has the flaccid yet inspiring potency of a scripted Nike commercial. Which is effective for a short while, but the substance fades. Say what you will about Beyonce on a practical level, she’s always been an idealist and that’s palpable.
5. How often do we ostracize women for asserting too much of their power? Look at Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, for an example of the scrutiny we subject powerful women to. Imagine this exponentially so when they’re married or paired with a man of such influence that he can sell leather boxing shorts for $2,500 at Barney’s and no one bats an eyelash. Beyonce, on the other hand, refuses to be overshadowed and overpowered. Her husband, as I mentioned, released an album THIS YEAR commissioned by Samsung for $5 million with months of hype in advance (there was even an app). Yet Beyonce, who even ironically called her tour the “Ms. Carter” tour as if she needed him to sell out arenas worldwide, releases an album with no advance notice at all. It came out of nowhere and outsold her any other marquee release this year. Talk about an independent woman. I know this entry sounds redundant, but I think it’s worth repeating that sometimes people indentify Jay-Z as Beyonce’s husband.
6. Beyonce is a controlling narcissist. How can she not be? Look at how amazing she is…But this level of confidence, self-awareness and power is awe-inspiring. But the thing is—and caveat: I do not know Ms. Knowles personally—from a public perception standpoint, she seems like a nice person. It’s possible that she’s an impossibly terrible person on an individual basis, but her branding platform could ostensibly be “always be smiling.” This is refreshing in light of our celebrities misbehaving, acting pretentiously highbrow, or fronting an aura of distance and detachment. Beyonce wants you to believe that she is so into you, as a fan, that she will even stop during a concert in front of thousands to take a picture with a fan. Now what’s your excuse for acting like a jerk? Too busy? Nah. You’re not Beyonce-busy.
7. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard the age old dilemma that women can’t have it all. Frankly, I find the most effective way of perpetuating self-sabotage. Yet, Beyonce who is married and has a child, works impossibly hard and does seemingly have it all. Now I’m sure you’ll say, but Beyonce is a gazillionaire who has an army—probably literally—of nannies and assistants to help her out. True. But we’re also not working as hard as she is, so maybe on a comparative scale, she has the help in proportion to how busy she is. Yes, it’s true that we have a far way to go for there to be an equal playing field for both men and women in the working world, and that traditionally, we expect women to be the one to sacrifice everything for family…but I can’t help but think that Beyonce is partially responsible for changing that perception.
8. Most artists want to release an album in November or early December so they can make it on to the Best of the Year- lists. Beyonce came out two weeks before the end of the year, when magazines have already gone to print and blogs have already posted their best ofs because they want to say what was best first. Can you imagine that level of I don’t give a s*** what the critics have to say? And on top of this, from a critical standpoint, this is her strongest album yet. And again, as someone who has never responded to one of her records this passionately, I think it’s easily a contender for one of the best albums of the year. But Bey-Bey does not need you to anoint her work “best of” to know that it’s a best of. It’s my blessing to you all that in the New Year, you can look to this woman for the example she’s setting, or if you have issue with the ultimate execution, at least acknowledge the example she wants to set. Right now, it’s Beyonce’s world and we’re living in it and I’m okay with that. Besides, the alternative could be living in Miley’s world.