Beyonce’s phenomenal new album 4 was released this past Tuesday to great critical acclaim, receiving an aggregate score of 72 on Metacritic.com.
Village Voice said “Beyonce’s art is delivery, and 4 is a gorgeous frame for her voice at its absolute best.” Meanwhile, the BBC proclaimed “Beyoncé slips from flirty to fragile to fabulous, and is in terrific voice throughout, reminding us that when she opens up there’s no-one else in the game.” And even the ever-thorny, hipsterrific Pitchfork Media thinks Beyonce’s the shit, explaining “The lion’s share of the album–along with its excellent deluxe tracks–has one of the world’s biggest stars exploring her talent in ways few could’ve predicted …”
So why is 4 already being called a flop? And should that matter?
4 will at the very least have a relatively successful opening week. It will definitely debut at number 1 next week, with sales estimated to be in the ballpark of 300,000 copies. This will be higher than first week sales for Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale, which did 276,000; yet still lower than Adele’s 352,000 opening week for 21, and much lower than Lady Gaga’s Amazon.com-assisted 1.1 million first week sales explosion with Born This Way. Meanwhile, Beyonce’s label has released an official statement scoffing at any such “flop talk,” stating their satisfaction with 4‘s initial success, which they expect to include number one debuts in 13 different countries.
But the real question is whether or not 4 has staying power. Adele may not have done 1 million in a week, but 21 has dominated the charts like no other album in recent memory, spending ten non-consecutive weeks at number one, and even overtaking Born This Way to reclaim the number one spot a mere two weeks after that album’s release.
As I stated in my review a couple weeks ago, I think 4 is an amazing album. It eschews the dominant Europop sound that has essentially highjacked radio, and it celebrates monogamy and commitment rather than kinky sex and debauchery (see Rihanna’s “S&M,” Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” or Britney’s “I Wanna Go” for the latter). But pop stars are called “pop stars” because they make music that’s POPular. The best pop stars, like MJ or Madonna (or Beyonce), make pop music that is both commercially viable and critically laudable.
What seems to be missing from 4‘s unique composition is a radio hit. “Run The World (Girls)” kills at the club, but it’s gone nowhere on the charts. And “1 + 1” is absolutely gorgeous, but it’s essentially hookless, lacking the instant gratification of Adele’s “Someone Like You” or Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory.”
In other words, it is a definite possibility that Beyonce’s 4 will be her first commercial flop. She will still be one of the most famous, beautiful and talented women in the world, and any tour she launches will likely sell out. But artistically, it will be interesting to see how the album is received down the road.
Perhaps, when it comes to artistry, the rules are different for pop stars. Maybe, when you’re practically a walking, talking corporation like Beyonce, an album this accomplished and well-executed is an unequivocal failure for not selling.
Perhaps for a big budget, worldwide pop superstar, the point is to sell records, not impress music nerds like myself.
What do you think? Does it matter if Beyonce’s 4 flops?