For those just tuning in, this is A Thing We Do Here on Radio.com, in which two twenty-something editors — Jillian Mapes and Jeremy D. Larson — put down their iPads and log off Tumblr for as long as they can stand it, for a chat about a musical topic crucial to their generation. This time, it’s Beyoncé’s new self-titled album. This chat took place just 12 hours after the album was released, over the course of several hours. Here’s what transpired between these Two Millennials over Instant Messenger:
Jill Mapes: It’s Bey Day.
Jeremy D. Larson: And everybody’s celebrating.
Jill: OK, before we get into the listening portion of all this, I do wanna say that I bought the album on iTunes. I don’t do that. If I purchase music, I buy the vinyl, but mostly I get stuff from the publicist/label or use my Spotify premium. Bey was smart. She did not give fans a chance to get sick of her.
Jeremy: The last time I bought an album from iTunes was when Frank Ocean also released his album out of nowhere In 2012.
Jill: And you did that because it was all of sudden and you needed to hear it now. You had no preparation.
Jeremy: Two of the funniest parts about this record is 1) That old talent show announcer saying “Beyonse” and 2) When she says “Probably won’t make no money off this. Oh well.” You sold 80,000 copies of this record in three hours. [edit: hahahaha]
Jill: There is some stuff here, though, that is eye-roll-y when you think about it in the context of Beyoncé. The idea that she won’t sell, the idea that she’s unable to do whatever the hell she wants because a label is policing her…
Jeremy: The eye-roll-y stuff recalls the Beyoncé doc from last year, about her perception of herself, and what she shows to the public
Jill: It does.
Jeremy: That doc — which was pretty deflating to actually watch — sort of discounts the whole Beyoncé wearing the “Third Ward” sash in the “Pretty Hurts” video. Bey we know where you grew up. And it wasn’t the “Third Ward.”
Jill: I don’t think it comes from a place that’s seeking sympathy or even empathy. She’s trying to empathize with her audience and their Real Issues, be it standards of beauty or “working 9 to 5 to survive.”
Jeremy: But more on that as we go through this record! Which I really like!
Jill: OK, so let’s get into this listen.
Jill: Oh my goodness, this.
Jeremy: Well I can already call this the best album that opens with Harvey Kietel talking.
Jill: You know I Take Beyoncé Very Seriously, and after the teaser of “Grown Woman” and “Bow Down,” I was VERY excited to hear “Pretty Hurts.”
Jeremy: Why’s that?
Jill: So much of this album is overtly sexual—but on Bey’s own terms, which is very powerful of course.
Jeremy: “Pretty Hurts” is sexual in a very non-overt way.
Jill: See, I don’t think it’s sexual. My point is, here is a female empowerment song that is not about men. Look, I love “Single Ladies.” But that acknowledges a man’s role so much. “Pretty Hurts” inherently involves the male gaze, but it deals explicitly with issues only a woman could understand.
Jeremy: To which I will say: I do not exactly relate to this song in many ways.
Jill: Haha. Exactly.
Jeremy: But I will say it does hurt being as pretty as I am. I don’t just show up to work looking as good as I do.
Jill: You rub vaseline on your teeth, yeah?
Jeremy: No I’m like Lauren Bacall: I make everyone rub vaseline on their eyes when they look at me so I have a “glow.” Jokes aside: Isn’t this an odd song to kick-off the album? This totally seems like a song that she would bury in the album, you know? I kind of like that she leads with this chest-beating diva anthem.
Jeremy: Like leading off with a power ballad.
Jill: It’s bold as s*** lyrically, but musically, it’s not all that risky. It’s very 4. What if she led with one of those trap beats?
Jeremy: Yeah, when I first heard this. I was thinking “fan service” all the way, but enjoyed it enough for what it’s worth, and love the little “ahh ah ah” line. That’s addictive.
Jill: Felt like Bey was getting this out of the way first. Like, ‘this is Important,’ but now here’s a bunch of songs about how bangin’ her sex life is.
Jeremy: This song had me dancing on the train this morning.
Jeremy: Yeah in that tiny little shoulder bopping, back-and-forth kind of way. I had this dream that when I hopped on the A-train this morning like everybody would be listening to Beyoncé and I would lock eyes with a stranger and we would just “get it”. That wasn’t the case.
Jill: I also expected everyone else to be having a Bey moment on the train. Nope. The second half of this song reminds me of an edgier “Sweet Dreams.”
Jeremy: It reminds me of Madonna’s Erotica.
Jill: I will say, unlike JT, Bey did a song with two distinct parts that still feels cohesive somehow.
Jeremy: I know that Noah “40” Shebib only did production on one song, the Drake song, but this kind of felt like it was biting a bit of that vibe. I think the shadowy, sex in dark rooms behind velvet curtains, has a huge influence on this album.
Jill: Sex to quiet the voices in my head kind of thing, I got a little bit of.
Jeremy: This song is the first instance that made me think that just 2 years ago were were like talking about how new R&B is making waves and bam it’s now on a Beyoncé album.
Jill: I think 4 had a little taste of that, though. She showed that she was interested in making R&B music that isn’t necessarily intended for Urban radio.
~Drunk In Love~
Jill: The first time I heard Drunk In Love, I knew it was the song everyone would be focusing on.
Jeremy: Well with Bound 2 still kind of fresh on everyone’s mind, I think there’s definitely a parallel. The video for this is really cute, which is also a good parallel, because they’re just kind of mugging and laughing on a beach somewhere.
Jill: Yeah, I definitely, but ‘Ye has always been explicit. The last time Bey forced us to specifically confront her sex life with Jay was ‘1+1,’ which all about ‘make love to me.’
Jeremy: Yeah and now it’s ‘grindin’ on that wood. And other far less delicate lines from Jay-Z, who drops both references to Mike Tyson and Ike Turner in his verse.
Jill: and he’s taking about her body parts as his breakfast of champions. His verse is terrible.
Jeremy: He talks about cake again. Again!
Jill: The beginning is clunky as hell. Why doesn’t she stop him? That’s true love.
Jeremy: Yeah love is blind and deaf.
Jill: I wanted Jay to step off. This entire release, I mean… he could have taken pointers from the way Bey released this. The only thing I like about his verse is his ‘On Sight’ shout-out.
Jeremy: Oh I think this release has been planned since MCHG has been around, I think he knew. That’s the thing, she’s Beyoncé. She can just put an 14 songs and videos on iTunes and then post a picture of vegan cupcakes on Instagram like “What new album?” *blow kiss emoji*
Jill: *cupcake emoji*
Jill: Can we please talk about ‘Blow’ though? I am so excited, I can’t contain myself. ‘Blow’ does what ‘Birthday’ did for me on ‘Prism’, except this album is much better than Katy’s. MJ grooves and vocals recalling Donna Summer’s ‘Love to Love You Baby’ and Kelis’ Milkshake’ lyrics x10.
Jeremy: That’s a real accurate formula for this song. All the moans on ‘Love to Love You Baby’ are really good precedents for this album.
Jill: This song is literally everything I love about pop music.
Jeremy: You like songs that use candy as genitalia metaphors? Lolipop? Milkshake? Oreo? Lay off my snacks, pop stars!
Jill: Kinda creep me out, but everything else works. I will still eat skittles. I cannot touch oreos at the moment, THANKS KELLZ.
Jeremy: This is another two-part song, huh. Almost a little JT reference with “I… can’t… wait”
Jill: This is how you do a two-part song.
Jeremy: The French talk-down is a bit much.
Jill: The video accents it really well, too. Reminded me a little of Bey’s Austin Powers role, which I’m sure influences her on the daily.
Jeremy: But other than that, I like this a lot. Lot’s of ladies texting their men “Turn that cherry out *cherry emoji*” tonight.
Jill: That line provoked an actual image in my mind, which is sort of what Bey was saying in the press release about how she registers experiences.
Jill: Her voice sounds a little strained that high, #realtalk
Jeremy: Yeah interesting choice to sing in her head voice for that hook, which is totally unsingable for like 90% of the Beyhive. This is definitely an outlier on the album so far. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything like this song before. Which makes it really interesting to me
Oh this was produced by Chairlift!
Jill: The vocals do differentiate it from her catalogue.
Jeremy: That would explain some things — that’s really neat.
Jill: I agree that it’s unlike anything I’ve heard, besides the opening beat. It starts a little like ‘Girls (Run the World),’ just slowed down on that beat.
Jeremy: Yeah this sounds almost like a nod to the more moody pop stars like Lykke Li or Florence. Something not very body-focused about this song.
Jill: This feels a little Weeknd-y to me.
Jeremy: Which is totally different from the next track.
Jill: Yesss. I love this track. Only Beyoncé could rebrand herself with just one song. She’s suggesting we ditch Bey and go with ‘Yonce. Peeped that name-plate necklace in the videos, too.
Jeremy: “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker.” Even my germs are fire.
Jill: Again, it evoked a visual. That’s good writing, even if the line makes me cringe.
Jeremy: This is totally just “Drop it like it’s Hot”, though Which I am not mad at! The-Dream helped write this one, and man that little synth siren is maybe my favorite little club moment on the album.
Jill: God bless The-Dream.
Jeremy: “He Monica Lewinski’d on my gown” How did we get to 2013 without verbing Monica Lewinsky. And how in the world was it Beyoncé!
God she’s kind of showing Nicki Minaj that she’s got what she’s got, too This song is my second fav on the album. Also, Justin Timberlake co-wrote this too, and that octave harmony over Bey’s voice is classic JT 20/20 Experience.
Jill: JT co-wrote this?!
Jeremy: This, “Blow” and “Rocket”.
Jill: Oh man, that makes so much sense.
Jill: He should have done writing like this on his own album(s) this year. Writing this good, I should say.
Jeremy: I think he was, but—and this is a testament to Beyoncé and not necessarily a diss to JT—Beyoncé knows better how to deliver these half-time druggy ballads that he wrote. Imagine Beyoncé singing “Mirrors”!
Jill: On my first listen through, ‘Partition,’ I have to say, I imagined her going through the backseat sexing she describes. And that’s the thing about Beyoncé circa 2013 that differentiates her from other pop stars: I believe everything she sings. I think it is her life, and not a character someone else wrote for her. She has characters WITHIN herself, like Sasha Fierce. But Sasha IS her. Maybe I give her too much credit, or other pop stars not enough.
Jeremy: There is a, uh, more pronounced verisimilitude with Beyoncé. But I don’t know if I can pinpoint why exactly that is. Something to think about!
Jill: For me, kind of bleeds into a song like ‘Jealous.’ Without the references to freakum dresses and little details, anyone could sing this song.
But Beyoncé sings this song, and it has those personal touches, and you know it’s about her relationship with Jay.
Jeremy: Remember that Gawker article that went through all the clichés and aphorisms on Prism? There’s precious few [edit. at least less] of those on this album. And even for a song that is pretty #basic as ‘Jealous”, there’s a sense that there’s a certain ridiculous that Beyoncé gets jealous. Or that Jay Z might get jealous. Jealousy is of course a well-worn topic, especially in R&B, but I think when we know who exactly she’s talking about, that makes it really sweet.
Jill: Yeah, it does. That’s a little how I’ve felt about Beyoncé’s true love songs over the last two albums. I like them more because I like Jay and Bey as an entity. I want to root for them. The question is, do they use that fact against us as leverage?
Jeremy: I just think Beyoncé can walk the walk. She’s got so much talent, her voice, her songwriting, her personality.
Jeremy: The centerpiece of this album imo, “Rocket”, is just this nonpareil piece of songwriting in 2013. D’Angleo just like sending her a text that’s like *thumbs up emoji*
Jill: Man, this song made me crazy happy. Thank you, Beyoncé, for writing a song about how adults do adult things. This is Grown Woman Pop&B.
Jeremy: What I’m trying to say is that I forget about Jay Z, I forget about all the minutia and her celebritae, and I just fall into this song (and many songs on here) because she is so full of talent.
Jill: You have that luxury, but I think because I am invested in Beyoncé as a person because I consider myself a fan, I am not able to.
Jeremy: “We’re so much more than pointless fixtures/ Instagram pictures” <– Line of the album.
Jill: Is this a response to ‘Ye’s disses on their Instagramming habits?
Jeremy: Maybe! I also think maybe it’s just like if Bey posts an Instagram of, say, vegan cupcakes, people build a narrative out of that. And to try to tell a story about how there’s a real love behind that. It seems harder to do.
Jill: If people think Beyoncé is a vegan cupcake picture on Instagram or those #mywork snaps on her Tumblr or whatever dumb digital interaction, this album squashes that. But I think Bey acknowledging people trying to make narratives out of her digital habits is telling, because before maybe this year Beyoncé was pretty nonexistent digitally. She still curates things SO much. I can feel that she plans that out, she doesn’t just tweet about what she’s listening to at the gym.
Jeremy: I wish she did tweet about what she was listening to at the gym.
Jill: Me too. I bet it’s much more interesting than what I listen to at the gym. Which is, um, old Beyoncé.
Jeremy: I listen to a lot of Pantera
Jeremy: I don’t like Drake here, and, again, that’s not a Drake diss.
Jill: Well, at least Drake is actually on this album that I feel like musically, does acknowledge his presence in pop music.
Jeremy: Yeah like picking him for Beyoncé’s kickball team. I don’t like his “Get in the pit and try to love someone” megaphone thing right now.
Jill: His chanting tries to make the song about him. It always bout you, Aubrey. This ain’t about you.
Jeremy: Yeah I mean its Beyoncé saying “We should get married!” So far Beyoncé just stands so far above all the guests on this album.
Jill: Well, some complement nicely, like Frank. But Drake’s verse barely correlates. His portion could be something on NWTS.
Jill: Which was the rumored first single.
Jeremy: Best choice. I man if you’re not going to include “Grown Woman” on the album, then I think this is the logical next choice.
Jill: Not surprised, it’s one of the shortest, but I wish it was “Blow.”
Jeremy: I love the stress on her voice on this, the little scratch in her throat.
Jill: It’s anthemic by design. The chorus wouldn’t feel like a sing-along if she hadn’t, you know, put people singing along on it. I think Coldplay does this kind of thing better, frankly. Only thing I can’t live without is: “you love me like XO”.
Jeremy: Funny you say that, because this is written by Ryan Tedder, of One Republic.
Jill: When I heard Tedder was involved with this album, admittedly I was worried. He writes BIG pop anthems… that anyone could sing. That’s what this song is to me — it’s not special because someone else could make it a hit.
Jeremy: Yeah it doesn’t have much character. Even though Bey performs the hell out of it.
Jill: It’s nice, nothing special. Look, it goes to No. 1, I’ll scream along to it, fine. I don’t think it’s a No. 1, though.
Jill: FINALLY, we get a taste of what Bey released earlier in the year. I believed in “Bow Down” from the start. She needed to show her claws.
Jeremy: Rap game Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Jill: God, that part.
Jeremy: Femsplaining, right? Nah I kid, I kid.
Jill: I am so happy that exists on a pop album.
Jill: First time I heard it, I shed a tear — no joke. I could get on my big ole bandwagon here, but thank god Beyoncé is holding down the feminist fort.
Jeremy: If someone googles “Define Feminism”, I wouldn’t mind this song to coming up.
Jill: My goal for 2014 is to memorize that monologue and repeat it after I’ve had a couple beers.
Jeremy: Meh. I like this song, but I’m not sure of its place on the album yet.
Jill: Two things: 1) The part on “Partition” where she says, radio says speed it up. The album up until this point, I have not felt that way.
But that is how I felt when I heard “Superpower.”
Jeremy: I love the doo-wop production, unique, textured, etc, just feels out of place.
Jill: 2) I am not saying this because it’s the only thing I know about cappella music — because it’s not — but the background vocals sound SO Glee.
Jeremy: I’ve never seen a single episode of Glee.
Jill: The doo-wop a cappella thing…Kind of their signature vocal effect.
Jeremy: Yeah, I guess I’m glad I don’t have that in my brain. I guess I can have The Spaniels’ “Goodnight Sweetheart” as my touchpoint here.
Jill: much better, truly. Feel like Bey’s trying to go to church here. I like how simmering and soulful it is, but I agree it’s a little off.
Jeremy: Speaking of church…
Jill: You know, I may be biased, because ‘1+1’ is my favorite Beyoncé song after ‘Get Me Bodied’ and ‘Countdown,’ but I love hearing her sing stripped down with a piano.
Jeremy: Yeah, I love the sound of this. The song itself is kind of whatever for me, “Heaven couldn’t wait for you” is back to eye-roll-y for me.
Jill: I hear you on the lyrics. But she makes it her own. That trembly voice thing she does when the emotion is seemingly overwhelming her…
Jeremy: But there’s a lot of disconnects I have when listening to Beyoncé that I have to either ignore or get over.
Jill: What do you mean by that?
Jeremy: Like, if I’m looking at this from a more critical standpoint, I just think this song is a tossed-off ballad with pat lyrics that have been done time and time again. Or also sometimes you know I don’t personally identify with lyrics about self-empowerment since the bulk of my life I’ve sort have been building a house made of self-deprecation and sarcasm. So some as the more earnest moments get stacked and stacked and stacked I kind of lose interest. That’s just my makeup, though. Er, emotional and psychological makeup.
Jill: But can recognize that it’s important for her to say the empowerment stuff?
Jeremy: Of course.But there will always be a disconnect. Empathetically speaking and socially speaking, of course, yes, 100%.
Jill: Audience has to exclude someone to include someone. Pop music forgets that.
Jeremy: I feel excluded often, and I just kind of deal with that and blame no one and move on.
Jill: You’re not the core demographic of pop music, you realize.
Jill: I like that Bey definitely doesn’t mind excluding some folks with a number of songs here.
Jeremy: Which I totally love. To me, this is a Woman’s Album.
Jill: Albums that are made like they’re not meant for everyone tend to connect more genuinely than those that are made using focus groups.
Jeremy: And the many, many roles of a women that she takes charge of. Young girl at the beauty pageant, falling drunk in love, wanting to get married, a bare ballad for someone you love, and lastly a lullaby for her daughter. That, to me, is so beautiful, and heartwarming.
Jill: It’s the most honest art she’s ever made.
Jeremy: Even it it feels like such a mawkish story on paper, it comes off as vibrant and modern and, yeah, real honest. Okay hypothetical: How old would your daughter have to be before you gave this album to her?
Jill: Like starting college, honestly. My mom would be embarrassed hearing this, though—blushing and all.
Jeremy: Give this as a stocking stuffer with a bag of skittles.
Jill: …ON THAT NOTE. Wait, can I just say I think Beyoncé is the Michael Jackson of our generation.
Jill: And that’s why when you brought up a two millennials on this album, I was so down.
Jeremy: I think in terms of talent/songwriting/performance yeah. I think Beyoncé is more personal than MJ ever was. Overtly, that is.
Jill: You mean MJ didn’t sing about cooking naked in his penthouse?
Jeremy: That could be what “Man in the Mirror” is about, idk.
Jill: Look, I don’t want to even get into why MJ wasn’t all that revealing in his music, but I will say, our culture as a whole has trended toward TMI tendencies in the time since Jackson’s height. Bey is an icon that reflects this.
Jill: I mic drop on that note.
Jeremy: I’ll sweep the stage, meet you outside for a drink.