Beyonce: B-Day

I still think that Beyonce has a perfect masterpiece in her, but I guess we'll have to wait until the next album to find out.



Label: Sony Urban Music
US Release Date: 2006-09-05
UK Release Date: 2006-09-04

Beyonce is damn near a national institution at this point. With dual singing and acting careers, the thick-bodied girl from Houston has been in the national spotlight non-stop since her quartet Destiny’s Child jumped onto the scene in 1998 with “No, No, No”. Even at the early stages of Destiny’s Child’s success, everyone knew she was the breakout star. With 2003’s uber-successful Dangerously in Love, Beyonce’s transition to solo star finally became complete. Dangerously, in addition to being a huge commercial success, had enough solid musical moments to make B someone you could possibly admire as much for her musical chops as for her good looks. I was one of many hoping that her sophomore release, B-Day, would confirm the greatness that Dangerously (as well as the final Destiny’s Child effort, Destiny Fulfilled) suggested.

Well, guess what, folks? B-Day... well... it's not a work of genius. It’s a solid album, but I definitely get the feeling that this album might have been rushed a bit. Aside from the relatively short running time (10 songs, plus a “bonus track” and a remix), it sounds suspiciously under produced. That may have been the sound that Beyonce and her creative team (which definitely includes her boyfriend, Jay-Z) was looking for. Thing is, it doesn’t work all the time.

One thing that DOES work is that voice. Miss Thing can SING her honey-brown weave off. Her Southern syntax and that meaty voice occasionally conjures up images of soul divas like Tina Turner (before she got all Eurofied). “Get Me Bodied”, for example, isn’t much of a song. The spare production, from hip-hop stalwart Swizz Beatz, is little more than synthesized handclaps and chants of “hey!” and “yo!” in the background. It’s basically Beyonce’s glorified version of a “Hollaback Girl”-type song. Cheerleading routines get made to songs like this. But listen to way she wails and shouts throughout the song! Gwen Stefani certainly isn’t capable of vocal gymnastics like this. When she sings “a little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody” in that thick Texas twang, you can visualize beads of perspiration coming off of her as she shakes to this song.

The spare instrumentation is a recurring theme to this album, as some of the songs are stripped to the point that they sound incomplete, or even worse, boring. The dreary “Kitty Kat” is a waste of four minutes of my time. Pharrell Williams, who produced this song, needs to be told that his glory days are two years behind him if not more. B fares better on cacophonous tracks like the frenetic “Freakum Dress” or “Suga Mama”, on which a sampled funk guitar and go-go-esque production create a vibe that recalls down-home '60s and '70s soul. It helps that B’s voice is up to the task. When she sings “come sit on mama’s lap”, it sounds like a command, not a suggestion.

One suggestion from me is that Beyonce take a songwriting class. She’s capable of a fair amount of wit (“Freakum Dress” is about pulling out your best dress to remind your potentially wandering mate of what he’s leaving at home), but her lyrics don’t really radiate any warmth or any particular worldview beyond keeping your man, dumping your man, and making sure he really, REALLY pays when he does you wrong. It’s a tack that Beyonce has been working ever since “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Say My Name”, and it’s starting to get a little tired.

To be fair, there are more winning moments on B-Day than there are weak moments. “Irreplaceable” is a mid-tempo, acoustic guitar-kissed winner of a song that contains the words (sung in a military chant) “To the left, to the left... everything you own is in a box to the left...”. The song, tellingly, was co-written by Ne-Yo, who may not be the powerhouse vocalist Beyonce is, but has significantly stronger songwriting skills. It‘s the best song on the album -- perhaps Ms. Knowles should take a hint. Meanwhile, the two songs with Jay-Z are excellent. “Déjà vu” has a flavor reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall”, and it’s fantastic to hear Beyonce singing her lungs out over a full-bodied groove featuring live instruments. “Upgrade U” survives not due to B’s singing, but due to the natural chemistry that she and Jay have. Jay’s rhymes strongly suggest that this rhyme animal is hungrier than ever, and does a good job of whetting appetites for that mysterious album he’s alleged to be releasing later this year.

B-Day is certainly not perfect. Some sharpening definitely needs to be done when it comes to production and songwriting sides (I guess there are some things that having a fantastic voice just can‘t hide). I still think that Beyonce has a perfect masterpiece in her, but I guess we’ll have to wait until the next album to find out.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.