While most of us were recovering from a grueling finals week, Beyoncé was proving to the world for the thousandth time that she is, in fact, Queen Bey.
The 32-year-old icon released her best kept secret – her self-titled visual album – on Dec. 12 and proceeded to sell more than 1 million copies in less than a week. The album includes 14 tracks and 17 music videos, a body of work that is arguably her best yet.
The video component of the album brings her work to life – through 17 videos she is a captivating performer, capable of drawing eyes to her work in ways more complex and artistic than just showing us her body (though she does that as well).
If this album has a concept, it is to explore a woman's role (specifically Beyoncé's role) in a society that is always telling her she is not good enough the way she is. The first track "Pretty Hurts" shows Beyoncé dealing with the phoniness of beauty pageantry, complete with bulimia, excessive makeup and competition between girls based purely on physical appearance.
Despite Beyoncé's obvious beauty and killer body, it is her supreme confidence in her intelligence, artistic ability and yes, sexuality, that make us so obsessed with her.
The artistic spectrum of these videos span the horror movie that is "Haunted" to the subliminal "Mine," featuring Drake. All together, they create an image of what Beyoncé's life is like – entirely different from ours and yet infinitely accessible.
The seemingly easy and yet intense complexity of this work separate Beyoncé from other contemporary artists. In "Rocket," for example, she explores her body for most of the video in a way that is almost similar to Miley Cyrus's recently released "Adore You." Yet where Miley wants to disturb us with her sexuality, Beyoncé wants to entice us, to play with our obsessive admiration for her in a way that is sometimes more disturbing.
Furthermore, she doesn't let her status as Jay-Z's wife demean her own status as a woman. In "Flawless" she sings, "I took some time to live my life, but don't think I'm just his little wife." This line is symbolic for the album as a whole; there are men in her videos – including Jay-Z, Frank Ocean and Drake – but it is always clear who runs the show.
And yet, "Beyoncé" is easier to stomach than, let's say, Kanye's "Yeezus." Her confidence comes across not as supremely annoying arrogance, but as truth. Beyoncé's accessibility during videos like "XO," where she looks like she's having the time of her life at an amusement park, set her apart. She may not be normal, but she is human, after all.
The settings of her videos add to this feeling of relatability – "Blue" features an underprivileged tropical city, while other videos take place in mostly black communities with camera shots of residents in them. Part of the visual experience of this album is that is seems somewhat autobiographical and incredibly real.
"Beyoncé" as a whole brings listeners a great sense of satisfaction – there is a story here. At times, the music serves more like a soundtrack to a movie than a purely musical endeavor. Lately, it seems most music videos lack that narrative, trading pictures of the story for pictures of the artist.
Beyoncé brings both to the musical table where she reigns supreme, enthroned as one of the most highly favored pop icons in music history. She seems able to do no wrong, and as she sings in "Flawless" – we must bow down.