By BILL ZAN
Nominees for the Best Album award at the 2015 Grammys included Beyoncé’s Beyoncé and Beck’s Morning Phase. Although Beck’s album ultimately received the coveted award, many of Beyoncé’s fans, including myself, thought her album was more deserving. Beyoncé was released on iTunes on December 13, 2013. The release was unexpected. Beyoncé worked on the album in secret for over a year and a half. The process, documented in a 27-page study by the Harvard Business Review, included forming her own company, renting a Hamptons compound and delaying the manufacture of physical copies until the online release. The release itself was a statement about the commodification of music and inspired similar low profile releases, including Drake’s If You’re Reading This You’re Too Late.
In addition, Beyoncé is an audiovisual album, with seventeen short films, including one film for each of the fourteen songs. The videos were filmed in a neo-noir style that matched the dark, moody themes of the album’s lyrics. Videos featured innovative dancing by Beyoncé and interesting perspectives on a variety of themes. Based on the nature of the album itself, having a visual component is unique. In order to film the videos while maintaining secrecy, Beyoncé invited actors to live with her throughout 2013.
Beyoncé worked with many different artists on the album, including popular artists Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and Sia, to make sure her album was accessible to all audiences. She reviewed and edited each song to make sure the songs – which featured many different songwriters and producers – were thematically consistent while remaining sonically experimental. The album features an exciting blend of soul, hip hop, and R&B elements. None of the songs were written in the conventional pop structure, and the album as a whole is texturally interesting. Songs ranged, sonically, from the bright and traditional “XO” to the dark and electronic “Flawless.”
The album’s lyrics centered on feminist issues and inspired discussion regarding feminism across the United States. The album included many different samples, including a quote from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk. To explore feminism, Beyoncé covered many topics, including physical sex, feminism in the black American community and her personal life. Beyoncé’s willingness to explore all aspects of her life resulted in Beyoncé being her most explicit release so far.
In contrast, Morning Phase is an acoustic album that Beck worked on for half a year. The songs in the album are all nearly identical in theme and sound and are derived from songs in his earlier album Sea Change.
Given the amount of time and effort Beyoncé put into creating an audiovisual album with films for each song, conveying a direct and controversial message, collaborating with artists and generating various musical textures, it seems odd that Beck received Best Album instead of Beyoncé. Fortunately for Beyoncé, most critics and fans respect her artistry. Beyoncé sold over five million units worldwide, received rave reviews from critics and is widely regarded to be her best album. Unfortunately for Beyoncé, the Grammys did not seem to appreciate her art as much as her fans, demonstrated by Beck’s winning of the album of the year.