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The Beyoncé Album That Changed Everything

Klaudia//December 16, 2023
10 years ago this week, Beyoncé released what many fans consider her defining work: Her fifth studio album, simply titled Beyoncé. From a production standpoint, the album was a feat, but what makes it significant isn’t only the music—it’s the way it shifted her career. Beyoncé marks the moment that Beyoncé Knowles-Carter stopped playing by the rules of the industry, and instead put the industry under her own will.

The album's origin story is certified pop culture lore at this point. The clock struck twelve on Friday, December 13th, 2013 and without any promotion, easter eggs, or clues to fans—let alone music-world professionals—Beyoncé dropped her fifth studio album. The tactic was unheard of at the time; albums normally dropped earlier in the week to better account for Billboard charting and overall sales counts, and releasing an album with little to no promotion was considered a sure pathway to a flop.

Beyoncé could only be purchased as a whole (on iTunes or physically via CD in stores) because the star wanted people to experience the entire project at once. "People don't make albums anymore,” she said in her 2013 HBO documentary Life Is But A Dream. "They just try to sell a bunch of little quick singles. And they burn out, and they put out a new one, and they burn out, and they put out a new one."

This was also highly controversial, but the album proved that fan demand can drive the success of a project, even without corporate marketing teams or soulless press runs. Beyoncé sold 828,773 units in its first three days, making it the fastest-selling album ever on iTunes at the time of its release. It went on to win three Grammy awards the following year.

Since that night in December ten years ago, Beyoncé's only true creative competition has been herself. Her new standard simply became excellence. As a soloist, Beyoncé had already proven her abilities as a vocalist and performer, but her self-titled album was an introduction to Beyoncé the cinematic auteur, a creative side fans would continue to witness over the years with Lemonade, Homecoming, and most recently Renaissance: The Film. Alongside the album, she released 14 music videos—one for each track—with a team of directors that included longtime collaborators like Todd Tourso, Jake Nava, Jonas Akerlund and Melina Matsoukas. It was a move that forever cemented fan expectations for Beyoncé’s videos—there's a reason we're still asking for the Renaissance visuals, after all.

Ahead, Harper's Bazaar looks at the impact of Beyoncé 10 years on.

An Innovative Approach To Style

For Ty Hunter, Beyoncé's stylist for over 20 years, Beyoncé provided the opportunity for him and Bey to collaborate with other creatives in a way they had never done before.

"We were on and she essentially told us 'We're gonna shoot all these videos on our off days, creating what would become instantly iconic music videos," Hunter tells Harper's Bazaar. Of course, styling 14 music videos with and all of the looks it entailed wasn't a job for just one stylist.

"I've always been comfortable with allowing other stylists to have their shine and see what they can do and see what limits she could break and go towards," he explains. "I had been with her so long and so she would probably say to me, 'No, no—absolutely not.' But another stylist can come in with a similar piece and she'd at least give it a chance."

While Hunter oversaw styling production for the project as a whole, he enlisted the help of peers such as Marni Senofonte, Bea Akerlund, and Ken White to tackle individual music videos for the album. Most of the videos, according to Hunter, were shot in just one day to account for the logistics of filming during a world tour and the heightened secrecy surrounding the album, which few people even knew was in production.

"When she came to me with this music, I also was like, this is bigger than me," he continued. "I can't be in Australia trying to get fashion flown in and worrying about Fedex—logistics aside, it was a good feeling to have creative forces come together from all different directions to catapult the project to another dimension."

The thrill of the project from the fashion side, for Hunter at least, was seeing Beyoncé step outside of her comfort zone. The album saw the singer sultrier than ever—not just lyrically, but also aesthetically. Her haute couture corsets, lace lingerie, and diamond-encrusted Louboutins made a memorable impression when all 14 videos first dropped.

While Beyoncé is a meticulous Virgo—constantly editing and curating to ensure her vision is fully conceptualized—a few spontaneous on-set moments unexpectedly turned into some of the album's most memorable imagery. "Drunk In Love," according to Hunter, was meant to be music video with dozens of dancers and extras at a beach party of sorts.

"All these people were supposed to be in this video, and we got there and started filming that part with her and Jay-Z by the water first...By the time we started doing that, it was like 'Send these people home.'" Hunter laughs. " looks hot, hair is cut, the body is banging. We don't need all these people."

Creating the visuals for Beyoncé, he says, allowed the star push herself to a new creative limit, especially within the fashion realm."It was just cool to see elevation all the way around, you know what I mean?" Hunter reminisces. "To see things surpass me, even. , we've done it all. We've done history, and so to see other stylists be able to come in and just elevate and take her in another direction that we wouldn't even possibly go —that was special."

A Fearless Approach To Glamour

“Beyoncé collaborates with Beyoncé, and we throw something in the mix," laughs Sir John, Beyoncé's former makeup artist, who has worked with the star through formative eras such as Coachella, many Met Galas, and the self-titled visual experience. "But one thing I love about her is that always, since day one, she has been very much like, Hey, what do you want to do? What do you think we should add here? There's always a really robust storyboard and conversation there — she's quite collaborative in that sense. But she knows what she wants; she knows what she wants very immediately."

When it comes to beauty, Beyoncé’s 14 music videos have no shortage of glamour. Standout looks include the flapper-era hair waves and glossy, burgundy-lined lips in "Haunted," the smoldering, smokey eye in "Drunk in Love," and the '80s inspired blowouts and electric blue eyeshadow in "Blow."

"Beauty is a huge part of her journey," Sir John adds. "She's always been so colorful with the way she communicates things visually."

As with the fashion, the makeup choices needed to be altered and edited to accommodate shooting in between shows. Sir John says that on especially tight days, he was able to execute some looks in a mere 17 minutes, but that doesn’t mean the deeper story behind the glam was sacrificed.

"Partition" was a particular favorite of the makeup artist."When we think about smoky eyes, when we think about liners, you think about Cleopatra right? These are forever reoccurring beauty staples that predate the Bible—women in Mesopotamia were doing the same thing, which is rimming that silhouette of the eyes for it to be a bit more feline or intoxicating or mesmeric," he explains. "My thought process is, Wouldn't it be so cool is to make it modern? 'Partition' was a play on that."

"Mine" a moody, evocative track with Drake, was also a standout beauty look for the artist.

"People really loved that look because we had already seen it before in the '70s. It was very Bianca Jagger, very Jerry Hall inspired, a little Grace Jones with the warm hot pink and the crease, too."

One of Sir John's favorite things about working on the album, though, wasn't a moment from the makeup chair.

" about that time that was so amazing was that Blue was a baby," he remembers. "One of the most beautiful tracks on that album is called Blue. I remember we were on the beach in Brazil and shooting that, and we were just taken away. I grew up with an amazing mom, and that song reminds me of the love that a mother gives to their child."

"From an emotional standpoint, seeing Blue in that video and hearing her and just remembering her during that time...," he continues."I'm just proud standing on the outside. She's a beautiful woman now, she's so graceful."

A Foray Into Feminism

The self-titled album also marked the first time Beyoncé's albums and accompanying concepts dipped a toe into politics. For Beyoncé, the singer danced with the concept of feminism, enlisting the likes of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for her track "Flawless." 2013 was a time when discussions of feminism were starting to enter the mainstream. Female pop stars were constantly being asked whether or not they were feminist and why, and many began to push back on the constant questioning with their art. Beyoncé chose to answer that question with a song that celebrated her unapologetic desire for success. The song asked: why can't she want what men want if it's already meant for her?

She also used her visuals to critique the fashion world, an industry that often allots for the success of only one Black woman at a time, by enlisting a trio of elite Black supermodels including Chanel Iman, Joan Smalls, and Jourdan Dunn for the video for "Yonce" — one of the shortest moments on the album due to it being a prelude to “Partition”, but still one of the most impactful. (Ty Hunter also expressed he knew "Yonce" would be an unexpected hit. "The beat is so nasty and disrespectful," he said. "It's just one of those things where you just want more and more and more.")

"When I got the phone call to be in the ‘Yonce’ video, it was one of the best things that happened to me that year," remembers supermodel Chanel Iman. "To be doing it with Jourdan and Joan who are two girls that I grew up with in the fashion industry, who also have paved the way, and for us to be together because fashion tried to divide us at some point...that was incredible. Beyoncé brought us together to prove it doesn't have to be just one Black girl."

"We can support each other and all three be in one video," she continued. "It just was a strong thing for the fashion industry to see. After that, we were always very connected—Beyoncé gave us that Black girl power moment."

According to Iman, the two-minute video changed their status within the industry.

"It went viral and then all of a sudden everybody was inviting the three of us to join the best fashion parties," she laughs. "They finally figured out we were all beautiful and all deserved to be invited and deserve as many opportunities as the other girls. When we saw each other, we would run to the DJ and ask them to play the song and say This is our moment right now! We still talk about it to this day. If we see each other, we say, 'Yeah, girl, we did that!'"

A New Relationship With Fame

In a way, Beyoncé was a study in how Beyoncé has chosen to present herself over the years; as a child, as a star, as a wife, as a mother and simply as a woman who never dared to shy away from the layers that exist in between. Her fifth studio album truly became a cut-off point in how she's elected to give access into her world (a decision that has been critiqued over the years, probably because when an artist has given so much over the decades, society only really knows how to ask for more.)

She began to give far fewer interviews, allowing her music to speak for her. She reflected on that decision years later in a rare interview with Harper’s Bazaar: “I’m grateful I have the ability to choose what I want to share. One day I decided I wanted to be like Sade and Prince. I wanted the focus to be on my music, because if my art isn’t strong enough or meaningful enough to keep people interested and inspired, then I’m in the wrong business. My music, my films, my art, my message—that should be enough.”

Looking back, Beyoncé’s first five albums, from Dangerously in Love to Beyoncé, represent starkly different periods, not just in her career but in her overall creative process. Her 2003 debut solidified her Diana Ross-esque rise from the constraints of girl group-dom and birthed countless hits that are still radio and streaming mainstays today. B'Day—a particular favorite of the Beyhive—was a solid continuation of DIL but with a leveled-up approach, embracing her newfound R&B/pop diva status. One could argue her third effort, I Am...Sasha Fierce, fully catapulted her into the pop star canon with anthems like "Single Ladies" (which changed the course of modern weddings and gave us that Saturday Night Live skit) and "Halo," one of her most versatile lovelorn ballads. 4 was a return to R&B funk and soul, with the exception of her futuristic, feminist anthem "Run the World (Girls)."

Beyoncé, however, was the first time the Houston-born superstar truly wielded her power—not just as a pop star, but as an industry titan. It marked the beginning of when Beyoncé decided for herself and for her career that she'll only give just enough. She knows what we need and when we need it, not vice versa. The album was the moment she told the world that it’s not just about the music, it’s also her life. One doesn't exist without the other.