Bow Down: Beyoncé Finally Lets Us In

Categories: Pazz & Jop

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Louisa Bertman

Beyoncé fans began 2013 believing they wanted, even deserved, a certain kind of truth from their pop idol. As is the case when a celebrity begins sparkling too brightly, we had gotten curious (if not outright suspicious), after 10 years of überstardom, about the diva's bulletproof, halo-ringed public image, and about her faults — the unattractive "normal" stuff we imagine stars must hide from us while we're busy falling hopelessly in love. What was ugly Beyoncé like? We needed an answer.

See also: What We Can Learn From Beyonce's Feminism

Beyoncé, for her part, experimented in giving it to us: Just 12 days after the delirious, titanic success of her Super Bowl XLVII halftime performance, she offered Life Is But a Dream, the HBO-released, sef-directed-and-produced documentary that purported to tell the real story "in her own words." When announced, its promise of behind-the-scenes realness sent fans into a frenzy.

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View this year's full Village Voice Pazz & Jop music critics' poll.

Its airing, however, left us deflated. By the so-called documentary's (or fluff piece's) end, we still knew nothing more about Beyoncé Knowles than exactly what Beyoncé Knowles wanted us to know. It was a rosy portrait of the superstar's never-ending pursuit of perfection. We felt rejected, shut out by a billionaire idol who symbolized something powerful and wonderful and important to our lives and our culture.

But then other artists kept releasing records and demanding our attention (including her husband Jay Z, whose clever million-album Samsung deal left a bad taste in everyone's mouths), as images of Mediterranean summer vacations and world tours and Blue Ivy appeared on Tumblr. We put our disappointment in Beyoncé's version of the truth on pause, or perhaps forgot about it altogether. An idol that insists on keeping up walls in our all-access era eventually loses the fervor of our adoration.

But 10 months later, we were suddenly gifted with Beyoncé. And this changed things.

The "visual album" came to us intimately, a surprise delivered in the night without PR apparatuses or label hype machines, with a magical, delectable set of videos to match. That it's already been hailed by almost every critical body as a magnum opus is no wonder, considering both the delightful unexpectedness of its delivery and its stunning, detailed lushness. But there was something else equally important to its success: It satiated Beyoncé's fans' cravings for truth better than anything a documentary — made by a perfectionist about herself — could have revealed, even if that truth did come in more sensational packaging.

With Beyoncé's previous albums, the songs mostly came her way and she molded them; this time, the songs seem to flow more from rather than through her — she is an ideal now made flesh.

See also: The Top 10 Beyonce Collaborations


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