tracing the beyvolution from 'dangerously in love' to 'formation'
Dangerously in Love
With Beyoncé launching The Formation World Tour in Miami later this month, rumors are swirling that she could be preparing to drop her sixth album. After all, she took us by surprise again shortly before February's Super Bowl by releasing "Formation" and its politically-charged video entirely without warning. To get you up to speed for possible imminent new Beyoncé, here's a look back at her five albums so far.
Dangerously in Love (2003)
Few doubted that Beyoncé's debut album would make her a solo star, but no one could have predicted she'd lead off with an instant classic like "Crazy in Love." Dangerously in Love's other big singles are nearly as infectious: she recruits Sean Paul for the sizzling dancehall jam "Baby Boy" and samples Donna Summer's "Love You to Love You Baby" on the slinky come-hither of "Naughty Girl." Elsewhere, the 21-year-old Bey sets out her stall with plenty of sex ("Do you want to get messy? I dare you to undress me," she purrs on "Hip Hop Star"), a brief flirtation with astrology (she rhymes "Sagittarius" with "Aquarius" on the Missy-assisted "Signs") and some well-meaning sentimentality in the closing stretch. She and Luther Vandross revisit the classic Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway slowie "The Closer I Get to You," and Beyoncé ends the album with Daddy, a Motown-influenced ballad dedicated to Papa Knowles.
Recorded in just three weeks and released to coincide with her 25th birthday, Bey's second album is a tighter, more uptempo effort than her debut. She ends with the soulful ballad "Resentment" (which remarkably, was originally recorded by Victoria Beckham), but only after dishing up a succession of rhythmic R&B bangers like "Déjà Vu" (frenzied), "Get Me Bodied" (sweaty) and "Green Light" (downright irresistible). Bey's confidence is swelling here and it's inextricably linked to her earning power. "Suga Mama" is pretty self-explanatory, but the album's biggest hit Irreplaceable has just as much cash-fueled swagger. "It's my name that's on that Jag, so come move your bags, let me call you a cab," she sings dismissively as she waves an ex goodbye. B'Day is probably Bey's most underrated album and fittingly enough it contains one of her most underrated singles: the angry, frantic, siren-packed "Ring the Alarm."
I Am… Sasha Fierce (2008)
Bey continues to push the envelope with her third long-player, a dual album featuring one disc (remember those?) of slowies and another of more uptempo material named after her sassy alter ego Sasha Fierce. Opening with the huge hits "If I Were a Boy" and "Halo," the first disc is consistently well-crafted and obviously beautifully sung by Bey, but the second is simply a blast. After the iconic "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)", Bey channels '80s MJ on "Sweet Dreams," vamps over hip-hop beats on Diva and gets down 'n' dirty on the crunk-flavored come-on "Video Phone," winking: "If you likin' this position, you can tape it." Don't skip bonus track "Why Don't You Love Me," an old school R&B tune on which Bey can't fathom how a man could ever resist her: "I got beauty, I got class, I got style, and I got ass." Damn right.
Bey's fourth album feels more intimate and emotionally resonant than its predecessors. Unusually, it begins with a series of downtempo ballads like the sublime Frank Ocean co-write "I Miss You" before picking up pace thrillingly in its second half. She channels early Whitney on the sparkling "Love on Top," samples Boyz II Men on the horn-fueled "Countdown" and tips her cap to Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti with "End of Time's" euphoric stomp. Bey has been repping for the ladies since her Destiny's Child days, but "Run the World (Girls)" is arguably her first full-on feminist anthem. "Strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business," she beams over a glitchy Major Lazer beat. Swap the overblown power ballad "I Was Here" for deluxe edition bonus track "Schoolin' Life," one of Bey's best deep cuts, and 4 is close to flawless.
By releasing it on December 13 without prior announcement or a scrap of promotion, Beyoncé instantly made her fifth album a game-changer: Drake, Skrillex and U2 are among the artists to have followed her lead with surprise album drops. But Beyoncé also feels special because of the scope of its ambition (it comes with 18 accompanying music videos) and the depth of its songwriting. Here she tries everything from disco (Pharrell production "Blow") to chillwave ("No Angel," co-written with Chairlift's Caroline Polachek) to minimal futuristic R&B (Drake collab "Mine") while singing about unattainable body ideals, relationship problems and her frustrations with the music industry. It's an album only a superstar could make. "Radio say 'speed it up, I just go slower," she sings on "Partition," fully aware that radio will play her track however much she drops the tempo. It also contains another great feminist anthem, "Flawless," which features a stirring excerpt from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 2012 call-to-arms We Should All Be Feminists. In short, it's peak Bey -- so far, anyway.
Rumor has it that Bey's new album features collaborations with Jay-Z, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Frank Ocean, all of whom she's worked with before, as well as Adele and Mariah Carey, who she obviously hasn't. Meanwhile, her stylist Ty Hunter has described the music as "beyond awesome". But as ever with Beyoncé, we won't know anything for certain until she decides the time is right. "Formation" and its stunning video, on which Bey aligns herself with the #BlackLivesMatter movement by placing her ethnicity center-stage, suggests it could contain her most political and hard-hitting work yet. Bring it on, basically.
Text Nick Levine
Image from Dangerously in Love