As expected, Beyoncé has released the first musical statement of her anticipated fifth studio album, following her well-received Super Bowl halftime performance, and the announcement of her upcoming world tour, which begins in Europe next month. Good old perfect and predictable Beyoncé, predictably being perfect just like always. Ho hum.
Unexpectedly, the single (? buzz track, at least) that debuted on Soundcloud this afternoon, "Bow Down/I Been On," is totally bonkers and is entirely unlike what you would expect Beyoncé's music, much less pop music, to be. That's because it's not really pop music at all - it's trap, which is by all accounts going to be the big new thing this year, so pay attention. Nicki Minaj and Rihanna have spiced some of their recent music with pop-friendly trap the way Britney dusted her single with "dubstep" (oh, and there's a little trap single called "Harlem Shake" at #1 as we speak) but Beyoncé goes all in on "Bow Down," no pop anywhere in sight except for the woman singing (and, later, talking, her voice pitched electronically to sound like a dude). She manages to cram a lot into that minute, too, managing to assert her dominion in the face of encroaching younger women, defend her decision to take time off and have a baby, and assert that, despite the title of her upcoming world tour she is not going to be simply Mrs. Carter, and give a shout-out to her hometown of Houston before undergoing her little digital sex change. See, even on her whack trap-pop buzz track she's like a supermom.
Also, there's profanity. Beyoncé, like Britney, never uses profanity. She says "eff you pay me." And the "eff" is bleeped in the video. So when she does, it's a big fucking deal. I imagine there'll be lots of discussion about Beyoncé's descent into the explicit world, plus things like "omg she shouldn't be calling women bitches she's a role model that's anti-feminist etc." But maybe "Bow down bitches" is just Beyoncé's "It's Britney, bitch," which would make all the hand-wringers on Twitter seem rather silly unless they'd wrung their hands the same way (but on Myspace) about "Gimme More." But then again, Beyoncé's image, especially since her marriage, has been so actively wholesome that she would know full well the effect such a flagrant transgression would have on all the uptight people in the world who spend their time getting upset about things like this.
In this business you get ahead either by innovation or escalation, and it's a little weird and, frankly, kind of exciting to see demure demigoddess Beyoncé seeming to take the latter route, because doing so requires letting go of much of that rigid perfection and poise that make her so boring to me. But I was nearly fooled once before by a song that, at first glance, appeared to be the huge daring musical revolution I'd been longing for someone to emerge and lead turned out to be just another one of Beyoncé's "characters" over a two year old reggae/dub track, so I'm not going to extrapolate anything from "Bow Down" besides a few chuckles and move on with life as before. (Fortunately Ke$ha came and led the troops to victory.)
If Beyoncé really does have something unique and risky and interesting and unexpected up her sleeve on this next album, that'd be awesome and I'd be down for that 1000%. Somehow, though, I can't really see perfect predictable Beyoncé - the one who pre-records her perfect national anthem and directs and edits her own perfect documentary, the one married to Jay-Z and essentially considered by many to be a kind of royalty, the one who looked so good so quickly after having a baby the internet buzzed with rumors of some elaborate scam or another where she'd never really been pregnant - I can't really see her taking the risks needed to create something greater than just a collection of Beyoncé singing other people's songs really really really perfectly.