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Throwback Thursday: Beyoncé’s self-titled album

Beyonce - Hannah Anderson

Illustration by Hannah Anderson 


Beyoncé changed the music world forever with the surprise drop of her self-titled album on Dec. 13, 2013. The album popularized surprise and visual albums and led the International Federation of Phonographic Industry to change when new music drops from Tuesday to Friday. Ten years after its release, the sonic, artistic, and advertising of “Beyoncé” ripples through the music industry. As a lifelong fan of Beyoncé, the album profoundly impacted my life — beyond its influential role in my musical tastes. 


By the time “Beyoncé”was released, I had grown up, as had Beyoncé. As a sixth grader in 2013, I began to grapple with the reality of being an adolescent girl in a misogynistic world. When Beyoncé released, I had the words to describe what I was going through. The album was also released at an influential time in Beyoncé’s life — it was the first album she released since entering her 30s and becoming a mother. Her songs took a mature edge, looking deeply at topics her earlier music hinted at with more pointed lyrics and samplings. 


The album opens with “Pretty Hurts,” a brutal yet beautiful pop song about the pressures of beauty standards. In the song and video, Beyoncé takes on the persona of a pageant contestant. The song ends with Beyoncé asking, “Are you happy with yourself?” and answering, “Yes,” a call back to the opening of the song in which she is asked her goal in life and answers, “To be happy.” At the time, this song was a radical rejection of the media’s demands of women. I am grateful I had this song as I grew into my adult body, growing faster than my peers, hips widening, and perpetual acne despite the array of products on my bathroom sink. 


Most of the “love songs” on “Beyoncé” went over my head. On the song “Blow,” which takes elements of R&B, funk, hip-hop, and old-school pop, she sings, “This is for all my grown women out there.” These songs were not for me but for Beyoncé’s contemporaries, women confident and mature in their love lives. That much was apparent to me: the love songs on this album were less childlike than Beyoncé’s earlier tracks, like “Love on Top” from 2011’s “4” in which she sings about finally finding a relationship where she feels love.


Beyoncé knows what she deserves on her self-titled album and deals with more severe issues, like the potential of infidelity and feeling insecure in a relationship on the track “Jealous.” “XO” helped me better understand love and its power in difficult times, singing of a love she searches for even in the darkest nights. 


“***Flawless” feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, of all of the songs on the self-titled album, might have the most cultural impact with the phrase “I woke up like this flawless” decorating many t-shirts and for being one of the most popular songs to include samples of speeches to add political context to a song. Janelle Monae and Lana Del Ray have adapted this technique, sampling sermons on their respective albums, “Dirty Computer” and “Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.” Beyoncé’s song includes a speech from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk “We Should All be Feminists,” a name taken from her rallying cry in the video and title of one of her books. 


While Adichie disavows Beyoncé’s brand of feminism and the way her speech was divorced from her career as an author, the speech in “***Flawless” spread her ideas about the socialization of women. Such influential ideas included “We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much/You should aim to be successful, but not too successful/Otherwise, you will threaten the man” and “We raise girls to see each other as competitors/Not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing/But for the attention of men.” To 11-year-old me, these statements were revolutionary. Lying in my childhood bedroom, I replayed it, listening to the ending of the speech, “Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes” enough times until I had it memorized. 


Pinning my feminist awakening to a Beyoncé song seems silly, even to me. But the song did inspire me to learn more about feminism, and within months, I was reading about intersectional feminism. Over time, I have grown away from Beyoncé’s capitalist feminism and eventually Adichie, too, due to her transphobia in recent years. Still, this song sparked a genuine desire to learn more about my place in the world, and for that, I am endlessly grateful for Beyoncé’s self-titled album. The ideas from this album sustained me through my difficult teen years. It helped me to stay confident in myself. 


Even now, ten years after its release, I still return to Beyoncé’s self-titled album for great dance songs and comfort. I find the album ages with me, continuing to be emotionally salient. “Drunk in Love” and “Partition” aged like fine wine.


When my cat died in early 2024, I found great comfort in the last two songs of “Beyoncé.” On “Heaven,” Beyoncé sings to the child she miscarried. She laments her loss, singing in an increasingly pleading voice, “Heaven couldn’t wait for you, no/No, Heaven couldn’t wait for you/So go on, go home.” No other song captured the feelings of mourning I felt like this song, and I return to it many nights. When I think of moving forward, the following track,and the finale of the album, “Blue” feat. Blue Ivy, reminds me that I will love again, as Beyoncé soothes me as she has my whole life, singing in a light head voice, “Each day, I feel so blessed to be lookin’ at you/’Cause when you open your eyes, I feel alive.”

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