So, it’s not really a secret, but a lot of people don’t know this: I’m a really big fan of Beyonce.

Starting her career as one of the three piece Destiny’s Child when she was twelve, she grew into a woman almost entirely in the public spotlight. And while doing it the (Texas raised!) chanteuse casually blended hip hop with R&B as well as maintaining an image as the classiest sex symbol in pop stardom. Really, other divas came and quickly went eclectic and bizarre, but no other singer has been as exploratory of how to be a sex object than Bey0nce.

Even her song about guilt tripping a man (hmm, who could that be?) over “not sleeping” with a girl,


even this video has her dabble in butch uniform and dangles her dripping sexuality like a tease, tripping on the guilt even more. The simple fact remains that you don’t mess with Beyonce. She will address you in her music, invisibly epistolary through the translucent postal service of art.

It kind of comes from the secret reason I like Beyonce: she isn’t an album artist, or someone who’s even going to write something incredibly well. She’s a dramatic artist, able to reveal truths in simple words, phrases, and songwritings through her ecstatic performance thereof. Her focus on her own songs lays this much bare than any critical pedantry could: “When I sing a song, I definitely have the image for the video in my mind. I kind of hear the choreography that will be in the video, and I can see how I’ll look, even before anyone—the record company, the director—has heard the song.”

Notice how she’s talking about she’s performing the songs, not the complex composition thereof. Her songs aren’t supposed to be grand compositions. They are stages on which stellar, revealing, and creative servitude dance. Almost resembling the relationships she often sings about, she still cares, she’s gonna give it everything she gots, whether he deserves it or not.

Every song sounds like it was delivered with this passionate, uplifting kiss.

That said, I’ve never really been a fan of any single Beyonce album. I mean, I’ve quietly sang “All The Single Ladies” to myself about as many times as I’ve sang “Ordinary People”, and almost any time Beyonce and Jay-Z are on a track together, it’s electric.

That is, I haven’t been a fan of an entire Beyonce album until this year.

Her latest album, titled 4 (you know, like Dungen), takes all of these dramatic aspects, boils them down into the singing of each song, and even reveals something about our own culture through the entire aristocracy that produces this album of “Beyonce’s” work (which it is, more than any other album she’s made).

Let’s start by examining the Beyonce which appears on this album. As she has generously done for Wmagazine, she shows the seven looks that have defined and shaped her own career (after Destiny’s Child broke up).

Starting from the basic point of a gangbanger’s girl way too gorgeous for her environment, there are basically two visual ideals she reaches for, often oscillating between them, and building from their interactions with each other. On one hand, Bey is the classiest, most tasteful sex symbol hip hop and R&B has seen since before music videos. On the other hand, and maybe because she only dips her fashion instead of language into the sleaze, she also has this air of taking things too far, of being a huge bad girl unafraid to use her sexiness for gain, but certainly more than the object most men (and women) find themselves hypnotized by.

She nailed this visual dialectic back in 2006, for the video of Jay-Z collaboration “Deja Vu”, a video where she shakes her hips in designer fashion, surrounded by a Louisiana bayou:

The rest of her style’s journey positions her as bringing new ways of presenting a contemporary female sex symbol in much more interesting and absurd ways than Lady Gaga could ever dream.

Talk about a bad romance up above, down below is Beyonce’s embroidered gold in a black and white world look for her hokey and forgettably recorded (although, of course, marvelously photoshot) album Sasha Fierce.

You don’t need to be elaborate or a diorama to be artistic. Indeed, in the one time they performed together, Beyonce showed much more weird than she did by trying a whole lot less. It ended up looking like this:

Now, after playing the singer Etta James in a movie (that apparently inspired Clint Eastwood to cast her as Billie Holiday in an upcoming biopic), she realizes “that if anything is too comfortable, I want to run from it. It’s no fun being safe.”

And so we finally have an album that has Beyonce trying to be more than a man’s perfect image of a woman.

It’s a woman’s perfect version of a woman.

So it’s someone who’s perfect around the house, willing to give more than the world around her, but is also going to take what’s hers. While her singing about wearing heels around the house at dinnertime might make some women cringe (indeed, it does to me, too), her independence in the late night hook in “partying” provides a model for being the one in control of a situation (while also being written by a male in his late twenties and being somewhat of a wish fulfillment, but aren’t that how all romances are written, anyway? A man’s will interpreted by a woman and turned into beautiful music that other people hear?)

Plus, it’s not like she’s given up being sexy. Check out her rocking this song with a sailor’s hat:

watch it until the end, too. Brilliant stuff that no major label would ever advise a pop star to do.

The cool thing about Beyonce’s new album is she gives us that much style in almost every song, instead of just in press releases and videos. From the moonlit monologue of “1+1” to the club stomp of “Run the World”, to the witty and ecstatic small party gathering on “Partying” (featuring one of Andre 3000’s best guest verses), you can hear plenty of styles just waiting for a spotlight to illuminate and a team of militant fashionistas ready to make everything fabulous.

And it’s not like the album lacks bold moves. from “1+1″‘s video that is almost only Beyonce staring at the camera (yes, an idea taken from Janelle Monae’s “Cold War”, but drastically recontextualized when a love song is sung instead of a homily on self reliance), to thirty beautiful seconds of Beyonce’s falsetto voice following a guitar solo sliding up the fretboard, to the absurdly trafficky synthetic congestion of “Countdown” that is as much about finding love as escaping the hustle of the modern world. And it’s not like Bey’s given up on the hip hop swag. From the way she sings about her love’s enduring power on “I Care”, you get the sense that she’s bragging about how good her love is not just to her man, but to the world. A song full of braggodoccio not about how you’re gonna treat yourself, but other people.

Instead of focusing more on her voice as a diva’s instrument, she still collapses into chant quite often, ad libs over the tracks as much as Prince does, and still finds new ways to be sexy.

May she never stop. And may we never stop finding new truths through that dimly lit path.