"Can you lick my Skittles?" is the new "Hurry up with my damn croissants." Beyoncé has delivered countless surprises in her 15 years on top of the music world, but she's never dropped a bombshell like this. The Queen Bey woke the world in the midnight hour with a surprise "visual album" – 14 new songs, 17 videos, dropped via iTunes with no warning. The whole project is a celebration of the Beyoncé Philosophy, which basically boils down to the fact that Beyoncé can do anything the hell she wants to.
David Bowie, Kanye West and My Bloody Valentine pulled off stealth releases earlier this year. But this is a bigger deal because it's Beyoncé, music's glossiest mega-star, working with the likes of Drake, Pharrell and Jay Z. The state-of-the-art videos come from directors like Jonas Åkerlund and Hype Williams. "Flawless" features a speech from Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. And "Blue" has a cameo from her daughter, Blue Ivy, who probably won't be president until 2048 but has a head start on running the world. The sheer number of people involved in this top-secret project, and the way they all kept their mouths shut – well, it proves that basically any conspiracy theory is plausible. The nail techs alone for 17 different Beyoncé videos? That's a mountain of nondisclosure paperwork right there. You crazy for this one, Bey.
The vibe on Beyoncé is moodily futuristic R&B, strongest when it goes for full-grown electro soul with an artsy boho edge. "Blow," the best track here, evokes Janet Jackson circa The Velvet Rope, a song about oral sex that has an air of melancholy in the chilly neo-disco groove. There's a similar mood in her excellent Drake duet "Mine."
Beyoncé throws in too many pageant-ready ballads about believing in your dreams and reaching your goals – but the highlights are the sex songs. "Drunk in Love" is a superb duet with Jay Z, 10 years after "Crazy in Love." These two still can't keep their fingers off each other: "We woke up in the kitchen/Saying, 'How in hell did this shit happen?'" Jay Z adds tasteless Ike-and-Tina jokes as he and the Mrs. lead you on a sexual tour of their stately home, from the front door ("Foreplay in the foyer, fucked up my Warhol") to the bathtub, where Beyoncé claims to "ride it with my surfboard."
She hits nasty highs all through the album, from the squishy slow jam "Rocket" ("Let me sit this ass on you" – now there's an opening line) to the Frank Ocean duet "Superpower." In the fractured Timbaland production "Partition," she and Jay get kind of rough in the back of the limousine. She has to warn the chauffeur, "Driver roll up the partition please/I don't need you seeing 'Yonce on her knees." But the car doesn't even get to the club before, as Beyoncé puts it, "He Monica Lewinsky'd all over my gown."
Beyoncé may have gotten "bored" with the popstar routine, as she confesses in "Ghost." But only massive hubris could have made a feat like this album possible. And Beyoncé's hubris makes the world a better, more Beyoncé-like place.