No one expected Beyonce to release her self-titled, visual fifth studio album on Dec. 13 exclusively on iTunes without any prior announcement or promotion -- and yet, the surprise release was exactly what fans, and the world of pop music, needed to end 2013 on a high note.
In a crowded fourth quarter that saw releases from fellow pop divas such as Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, all eyes were on Beyonce, with fans waiting at baited breath wondering "will she or won't she?" release a new album, with no signs of a proper studio release following her Super Bowl XLVII halftime show performance.
After touring the world throughout the past year on her Mrs. Carter Show Tour and months after songs like "Bow Down/I Been On," "Grown Woman" and "Standing on the Sun" made their way onto the Internet, Beyonce shocked fans and her peers by releasing her self-titled fifth studio album on iTunes on Dec. 13. The record contains 14 songs and 17 music videos to correspond with them all at the same time.
1. "Pretty Hurts" -- The album opens with a simple, yet loaded, question -- "What is your aspiration in life?" -- to which Beyonce replies, "To be happy." The song, co-written by singer/songwriter Sia, details the struggle women endure to be perfect. Lyrics include, "Trying to fix something but you can't fix what you can't see / It's the soul that needs the surgery." Beyonce has long been an advocate for women and embracing imperfections, capturing emotions that many young girls keep silent into one mid-tempo anthem track.
2. "Haunted" -- In one of the album's first standout moments, Beyonce gets experimental creatively and she talk-sings over an eerie electro R&B beat. The singer highlights her displeasure for the direction the music industry has taken, chanting, "All the [expletive] I do is boring / All these record labels boring / I don't trust these record labels, I'm tourin'." "Haunted" is quite possibly one of the most unique Beyonce tracks ever recorded, for its immaculate urban electro beat and equally as dramatic music video.
3. "Drunk in Love" (feat. Jay Z) -- Beyonce sings about being so blissfully drunk in love, that it was a no-brainer to have husband Jay Z assist on the track. The singer herself delivers her own rap during the song's second verse -- complete with a memorable pronunciation of the word "surfboard." Typically one of the most composed and graceful singers in music, fans will appreciate Beyonce letting loose on this track, giving them a glimpse into what her and husband Jay Z's love life is like behind closed doors.
4. "Blow" -- With Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake and producer Timbaland at the helm, "Blow" is a surefire hit on the dance floor and the charts. Chock full of innuendoes and set to a groovy R&B beat, Beyonce unleashes her sultry side, with breathy vocals reminiscent of previous tracks including "Naughty Girl," "Green Light" and "Party." Complete with a neon roller rink-set music video, the song commands listeners to get up and dance.
5. "No Angel" -- Beyonce goes for the breathy falsetto in this track, where she clarifies to her man that they are the same type of people. Lyrics include, "No I'm not an angel either, but at least I'm trying / I know I drive you crazy but would you rather that I be a machine." For die-hard fans, it may be hard to believe that Queen Bey is far from perfect. However, it is refreshing to hear the singer capture emotions felt by many in relationships every single day.
6. "Partition" -- Made up of two distinct sounds, "Parition" begins with Beyonce channeling, in what may be, a new alter ego known as "Yonce," as she talk-sings over a clap-along electro beat, singing, "Drop the bass man, the bass gets lower / Radio say speed it up, I just go slower." The track then transitions into a new smooth -- and raunchy -- territory, with lyrics such as, "Take all of me / I just wanna be the girl you like." "Partition" stands out on the album for its frank lyrical content and capturing a unique blend of musical sound offerings in one piece.
7. "Jealous" -- This song is a classic Beyonce piece, one that would have rested well among any of her previous four studio albums. Reminiscent of other powerhouse ballads including "Resentment," "Start Over" and "Flaws and All," Beyonce showcases some of her most impressive vocals on the album, singing, "I take one look in the mirror and I say to myself / Baby girl you can't survive like this." The song resonates for, once again, tapping into real, raw emotions that fans experience in their own relationships.
8. "Rocket" -- In another track that is reminiscent of the singer's previous recordings, Beyonce sings about being intimate with her partner. The song finds the singer instructing her partner to look at her and adore her in all of the ways she sees fit. "Rocket" is structured like a throwback slow-jam, recalling work produced by Timbaland on Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience," adding a unique flavor to the album's overall sound.
9. "Mine" (feat. Drake) -- Beyonce gets candid on this Drake-assisted track, singing, "I'm not feeling like myself since the baby / Are we going to even make it / 'Cause of we are, we're taking this a little too far." In the minimalist track, Beyonce finds herself expressing doubts about a relationship, stating that all she really wants is her man. The song is a standout on the album, for showcasing some of the most candor on the entire LP.
10. "XO" -- Produced by OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, who famously teamed with Beyonce on the hit "Halo," the two team up again for yet another turn at power-anthem magic. Meant for packed stadiums full of fans to chant along to, the song serves as a love letter for all situations related to love, be it her fans, her husband, etc.
11. "***Flawless" (feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche) -- Despite singer Keyshia Cole referring to an early version of this song, known previously as "Bow Down," as not feminist, Beyonce enlists Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche for the track, sampling an excerpt from a speech titled "We should all be feminists" on the hip-hop track. On one of the album's standout tracks, Beyonce reminds girls everywhere that all women are flawless and to embrace all aspects of their womanhood. Lyrically reminiscent of previous female anthems "Run The World (Girls)" and even "Independent Women Part 1," Beyonce has cornered the market on female empowerment anthems and continues to shine with "***Flawless."
12. "Superpower" (feat. Frank Ocean) -- Beyonce teams up with R&B singer Frank Ocean, in a collaboration that will have fans of both artists weak at the knees. In another experimental sounding track, Beyonce sings, "And when I'm standing in this mirror, after all these years / What I'm viewing is a little different from what your eyes show you." Unique production aside, the collaboration between Beyonce and Ocean makes the song memorable all on its own.
13. "Heaven" -- With an album full of mid-tempos, "Heaven" is the first true and traditional ballad on the album. One that will for sure make for a memorable live moment in concert, the track finds Beyonce singing about a lost love, with lyrics including, "I fought for you / The hardest, it made me the strongest." The song's repeated chorus will make for memorable live moments, meant to be song along with a crowd of fans.
14. "Blue" (feat. Blue Ivy) -- In the album's closing note, Beyonce describes the love she has for her daughter, Blue Ivy, whose own vocals are even featured on the track. The singer describes feeling alive in the presence of her daughter, detailing how blessed she feels to be a mother to her daughter, who turns two on Jan. 7, 2014. "Blue" ends the album on a retrospective note -- preceded by numerous tracks about love, sex, doubts and imperfections, the beacon of light that remains consistent in Beyonce's life is that of her daughter. As the album's closing song, it shows how much the singer has grown since her 2003 solo debut, "Dangerously In Love," and gives fans a glimpse as to who Beyonce is now, as both a person and a performer -- truly, a grown woman.