“We be all night,” Beyoncé proclaimed on “Drunk in Love,” the most meme-ready track on her self-titled album. She was singing about riding her husband’s big body like a surfboardt, but she may as well have been referring to the way listeners gulped down Beyoncé, which dropped at midnight on a Thursday and seemed to envelop all of social media into the dawn hours while also revolutionizing how albums are conceived and released.
The first major pop album to adapt to the way we listen to, and watch, music in the YouTube age, her first “visual album” couldn’t have worked if it weren’t Beyoncé at her absolute best. Over 14 tracks, she peels through her exhaustive musical vocabulary: married-woman trap bangers, ’80s-influenced roller-rink jams, grown-ass R&B, burlesque backseat scores, contemporary blues ballads. And then there was “Flawless,” which sampled Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2012 TEDX talk and helped establish Beyoncé as a fierce interpreter and purveyor of black feminist thought for the pop masses.
It’s difficult to understate how enduringly Beyoncé shifted culture (“I woke up like this!”), reasserting the artist as a full-spectrum visionary who was also dreaming up the future, invigorating the industry, maturing in her marriage, and blossoming into first-time motherhood. There is no doubt we’ll still be discussing it for decades to come. –Julianne Escobedo Shepherd / Pitchfork.com