On the evening of December 13, 2013, Beyoncé shocked the world by releasing a surprise self-titled album. I was still reeling from the appearance of Maya Pope and her disheveled weave on the winter finale of Scandal. In the middle of dissecting the show on a Google Hangout, I happened to glance at my Twitter timeline and caught a tweet that read “Okay, I might be crazy but I think there’s a new Beyoncé album on iTunes.”
Just a few seconds later, another flew by proclaiming that the surprise album from the Queen was truly real. I promptly freaked out and clicked the button to purchase before my brain even realized what my fingers were doing. Fourteen songs and 17 videos? I needed the album immediately — I didn’t care about the $15.99 price tag. This was no time to wait for it to be available on Spotify. I had to repress the urge to run around my apartment screaming frantically as I waited for the download to complete. I spent the rest of that night tweeting through my tears of joy knowing that this kind of ballsy power move meant that I would never again have to argue with non-beylievers. Beyoncé saved me from the stan wars.
To understand the feverish hype behind the release of this album, you have to first understand a few things about Beyoncé. After rising to fame as a teenager with record-breaking girl group Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé has developed an incomparable solo career. She is one of the best-selling recording artists in history, the most Grammy-nominated woman ever, and she has received over 500 awards over the course of her 15-year career. In addition to being gorgeous and insanely talented, Beyoncé shatters the standards and smashes records in the process. If you don’t enjoy her music and think the rest of us are crazy for loving her that’s a personal problem; if you can’t at least acknowledge what she’s accomplished then you’re the textbook definition of a hater.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one having a meltdown on that now-historic December night. Self-titled sold 80,000 copies in three hours and over 600,000 in just three days. It shot straight to the top of the charts in over 100 countries, made Beyoncé the first female artist to have five consecutive albums debut at number one. By the end of 2013, it had already reached platinum status like the rest of her albums.
That was just the beginning; it’s undeniable that 2014 is the year of Beyoncé. She’s wrapped two tours, each grossing over $100 million, landed on the TIME roster of the 100 most influential people, and topped the Forbes’ earning list of women in music for the second consecutive year. Her countless achievements are impressive, but when Beyoncé dropped the visual project on iTunes, it was so much more than adding another checkmark to her already highly-decorated scroll of greatness.
Self-titled stands out as a definitive moment in Beyoncé’s career for its shocking delivery and refreshing format, and with its release she cemented her place as a global icon who transcends the term “pop star.” By taking hold of her own career and producing work that is relatable and feels genuine, Beyoncé proved yet again that she is more complex than any factory-assembled pop music wannabe or cookie-cutter aspiring reality TV star. Beyoncé didn’t just grow up in front of the world — she let her music mature along with her. Self-titled addresses themes I never thought Beyoncé would be bold enough to approach, like eating disorders and postpartum depression. Her willingness to drop the facade of perfection paid off in a big way on the charts.
The impact of this album on pop culture cannot be understated (and if you disagree, the Beygency would like a word.) Although there is a lot of fighting amongst white feminists about whether Beyoncé deserves to include herself in their number, “***Flawless” and the use of a snippet from Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk helped to rebrand feminism as both relevant and interesting to her massive audience. Beyoncé perhaps does not encourage particularly nuanced feminist discussion, but by using her considerable platform to promote the very simple idea of equality amongst the sexes, she jump-starts the conversation for a great number of people who never considered feminism seriously before. Argue if you must about her “bow down bitches” lyric or whether her flippant mention of #ElevatorGate on the “***Flawless remix” was appropriate, but good luck discrediting the culture punch of her feminist declaration at the 2014 MTV BeyMA’s.
One year after the release of Beyoncé’s best and most cohesive project to date, I still feel like this album is proof of what happens when a black woman is confident in her abilities and brave enough to create and publish her work on her own terms. Self-titled is grittier and more honest than Beyoncé’s previous — reflective of a woman who has learned to embrace her identity and the many ways that identity can be complicated. It is all at once beautiful and insecure, powerful and submissive, sexual and motherly, solemn and playful, and I find inspiration in it every time I watch. All hail, King B.