B’Day at Twelve
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How Beyoncé’s Influential Album Impacted Music in 2006 – and Still Does to This Day
I realise Beyoncé’s B’Day turned twelve yesterday…
PHOTO CREDIT: Beyoncé
but it is cool to fashionably late and, besides, Beyoncé herself turns thirty-seven on Tuesday (B’Day was released to coincide with her twenty-fifth birthday)! The album was meant to be released sooner but, in 2006, Beyoncé was still part of Destiny’s Child. Given the success of her 2003 debut solo album, Dangerously in Love, there was a plan to release a quick follow-up. Destiny’s Child’s fifth album, Destiny Fulfilled, was released in 2004 so that took precedence. That record was a success and boasted some taut and memorable tracks – it was clear the group was near the end and they were past their best. Beyoncé had a starring role in the 2006 film Dreamgirls and she was keen to get into the studio and get something cooking! A lot of B’Day revolves around Beyoncé as the new star being born: this actor who was assuming a rise in fame and getting onto the big screen. Rather than present something egotistical and arrogant, the album is more a look at her changing career and transition to a solo artist. Live instrumentation was used to record most of the track – she wanted a record that used live instruments and had a different sound to the records she had previously been involved with. It was a bit of a difficult and strange time during 2006. Whilst Destiny’s Child was a unit and viable; it seemed like things were winding down and, perhaps, one could sense Beyoncé wanting to lead and be out on her own.
PHOTO CREDIT: Beyoncé
You can look at the band as a unified sisterhood but, when it comes to big Pop/R&B groups, there is always a leader and that bigger personality. The star quality one could see as early as the debut Destiny’s Child album - their eponymous album in 1998 - was evident. Beyoncé was itching and full of ideas; she had a lot going around in her head and wanted to translate that into music. One can never accuse Beyoncé of streamlining and focusing when it comes to producers and students! Her career has been built around employing a range of producers and putting a few different cooks into the kitchen. Whilst the defiant and definite voice is hers; by using producers like Rich Harrison, Rodney Jerkins and Sean Garrett she had experience and different angles she could work from – not just sticking with one producer who might put the album in one direction and not expand. Female writers were employed too and that gave the album more structure and variation in the team. Whereas we feel the idea of employing a team and having a unit work on an album is a bit too much and lacks real skill; an artist like Beyoncé has that ambition and wanted B’Day to be as ambitious and big as possible.
Influenced by her husband Jay-Z’s use of multiple producers; recording took place in New York and four different rooms were used! In fact, it was four studios: this massive space where she could roam and get a different sound/timbre. Beyoncé and her team would brainstorm lyrics whereas producers, including the Neptunes, worked on beats and production. The R&B icon wanted things to be perfect and she did not want to feel constrained and controlled. Whilst her team did offer a lot of input and worked closely with her; you can feel a sense of liberation and inspiration throughout. Around twenty-five tracks were recorded in three weeks – that was several weeks earlier than the label wanted the album completed by. She used the best producers around and, because of that expertise and quality, things came together fast and her ideas turned into songs rapidly. A lot of artists, then and now, employ big producers but spend weeks in a studio and labour over songs with little result. They bleach all the life from the song and it all seems rather clinical and cold. In B’Day; you can hear an artist who wanted those hands and voices but intended to record an album that was her passion and ambitions coming to the fore. B’Day, like Destiny’s Child albums, used female empowerment and strength as a core but represented that theme through a range of styles and genres.
PHOTO CREDIT: Beyoncé
There was invention and variation back in 2006’s music but look at the albums being produced by female mainstream artists now and you can hear elements of Beyoncé’s first regency – where she was coming into her own and maturing into a member of a girl group to a standalone star! So many of today’s artists trip and slip between genres and bring in all kind of styles. They have that confident voice and lyrical style but, rather than rigidly stay within Pop and R&B; they stretch their wings and show a fearlessness – one can trace a lot of that back to B’Day. Bass guitar and congas can be heard in some moments; alarm sounds and effects; Rap vocals and sizzling percussion and incredible slams. It is a hectic and eclectic album that breaks conventions and goes beyond what was expected from a mainstream star of the time. Determined to raise the stakes and create something world-class; B’Day is an incredible statement from an artist breaking loose. Gender roles are shifted in various moments: keeping a man at home so she can keep his love with her; a sassy and exhilarated woman scorning those who dare cheat and mess around with her. There is explicitness and sauciness throughout the album – B’Day raised some eyebrows upon release due to explicit content and some very near-the-bone lyrics.
Kitty Kat is the heroine blaming her lover for not appreciating her; Beautiful Liar, a duet with Shakira, is about two friends discovering the same man cheated on both of them; Green Light is a standout song that had echoes of Dangerously in Love’s star, Crazy in Love. There were some midtempo ballads and softer moments but, unlike some of her later albums, there was quality and intrigue in those ballads. It is the harder edges and empathic strength that has always been Beyoncé’s calling card. Listen to the raw and animal-like growl on Ring the Alarm. Maybe not as political and charged as a lot of the material on 2016’s Lemonade; you can hear songs like Ring the Alarm would not only inspire Beyoncé’s contemporaries but the star’s own albums.
Although singles like Déjà vu and Ring the Alarm performed modestly in the charts; B’Day went to number-one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and it sold over half-a-million units in its first week. Beyoncé would record better-received records – including Beyoncé and Lemonade – but, to me, few that possess the same range of moods, sounds and movements. I love songs like Ring the Alarm because the messages are strong, the production slick and the central performance, combined with effects and great beats, get into the head and gets the body moving. Beyoncé was recording the same big and anthemic songs she had released with Destiny’s Child but now there was more of her stamp on proceedings. She showed her debut was no fluke and was able to shoulder pressure and expectation without her band members. Beyoncé, on her sophomore album, was shaping up into a modern star that was beholden to nobody and showing she was the equal of anyone else out there. She turned from this promising artist into a queen of music who was laying down a gauntlet and seeing if anyone would pick it up. That ambition and confidence gained during B’Day led Beyoncé to create two ‘visual albums’ Beyoncé (2013) and Lemonade (2016) – where there were visual films for every song that gave the albums a definite story and sense of style.
Almost every one of the tracks from B’Day has an accompanying video. This was rare in 2006 but it certainly inspired Beyoncé and has compelled other artists to follow suit. Even if you are not a fan of artists who release a slew of singles; it provides them an opportunity to flesh a record out and give it a visual, cinematic dynamic. Songs from B’Day like Déjà vu and Get Me Bodied became part of the musical culture. B’Day was the beginning of Beyoncé providing albums visual sequences that tell the album’s stories; an array of outfits and looks that provides every track its unique skin and sense of individuality. Various commentators and journalists have paid tribute to the album and how it transformed Beyoncé and music. This article argues B’Day is Beyoncé’s true masterpiece:
“B’Day,” especially, was just as much of a hit as “Lemonade” is today (Ed. note: I don’t agree with Libby on this one, but she is entitled to her opinion), and features some prime Beyoncé songs. But at least in my experience, it doesn’t get worshipped as much as other records of hers. In fact, it even gets overlooked at times.
What I think is perhaps the most notable feature of “B’day” is that it sets the stage for our current version of Beyoncé: fearless, in charge of herself and her sexuality, and sure of herself as an artist. The disparate musical influences on “B’Day” manifest themselves in later records, like her self-titled release in 2013, and “Lemonade,” of course. But with “B’Day”, Beyoncé didn’t have to be as serious — not that that’s a bad thing. She was fresh off her stint in Destiny’s Child while recording it, and that freedom allowed her to have fun and explore, while still making an amazing record that’s stood the test of time”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Beyoncé
This feature argued how some critics were harsh and attacked Beyoncé’s stance. She was raking in money and her stock was rising; she was living a life of luxury so they felt her messages of being betrayed and struggling rang a little hollow. They questioned the purity and meaning of the songs and wondered how authentic the Beyoncé on B’Day was. The article looks at how the album introduced new sides to Beyoncé and brought a lot from her:
“While B'Day isn't a fully showcase of her yet-to-emerge alter ego Sasha Fierce, Beyonce unleashes the spirit of Sasha on "Ring The Alarm, a cut that sees her conflicted about whether she should drop her philandering boyfriend and risk the trappings of her possessions and lifestyle or keep her rightful position as the Queen of her King's palace. Barking "Tell me how should I feel/When I know what I know/And my female intuition telling me you a dog/People told me bout the flames/I couldn't see through the smoke/When I need answers, accusations, what you mean you gone choke?," her suspicions are voiced loud and clear, but she ultimately decides to go against her better judgement, concluding "I been through this too long/But I'll be damned if I see another chick on your arm!"
Reviews aside, B'Day would prove the strength of Beyonce's star power, selling 541,000 copies in its first week of release at a time when the music industry was suffering a steep decline in sales. The album would eventually be certified triple platinum and has sold over 8 million copies worldwide to date and would net Beyonce a Grammy award for Best Contemporary R&B Album.
“… While not as successful and as well-rounded as Dangerously in Love, B'Day served as the first step in Beyonce's evolution into womanhood and saw her shed her innocence in exchange for the naughtier, grown and sexy persona she would adopt on subsequent releases and throughout her career. While its nearly impossible to declare which album by Beyonce is her best, B'Day is by far her most liberating body of work and its impact still echoes ten years later”.
Many might gravitate towards other Beyoncé albums as the best and finest assessment of her talents – you cannot argue about the influence of B’Day. It was the transition from Destiny’s Child to being a realised and assured solo artist; Beyoncé bringing in top producers and flexing her muscles; a strong and varied album that took chances and was recorded quickly; an artist who was involved in film and was determined to rule the world. B’Day was stepping stone between the great-yet-flawed debut album and 2008's, I Am… Sasha Fierce - that would see her become a bona fide star. Beyoncé released a B’Day visual album in 2007 because she wanted fans to see her videos and experience the album without logging onto YouTube. There is so much to love about the album and it is a fascinating window into a performer transitioning from an established group and making big steps into solo work. It would be a couple of years before Beyoncé truly captured the world stage and established her place as the Queen of Modern R&B but, a couple of days before Beyoncé’s birthday; it is worth looking back at an incredible and…