Where Is Beyonce’s Fifth Album? An Investigation

Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood Entertainment Beyonce

January, 2013: Beyoncé does an interview with GQ to promote her upcoming Super Bowl halftime show performance. She tells GQ she’s been working on her fifth album at the Carter family’s Hamptons spread. She’s been hosting recording sessions with Pharrell, The-Dream, Timbaland, making tracks influenced by Prince and doo-wop. Word spreads online that the album is complete, ready for release.

February: Beyoncé performs a medley of her biggest hits at the Super Bowl. She does not premiere any new songs. In lieu of a new single or the release date for a new album, a commercial airs during the game announcing the impending kickoff of the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. In the tour’s ad, Bey ballroom walks in slow motion dressed like a steampunk Marie Antoinette to the strains of a new Beyoncé song called “Bow Down/I Been On.” Shortly thereafter, Bey’s self-directed documentary Life Is But a Dream premieres on HBO to mostly bad reviews.

March: Beyoncé covers the “Power Issue” of Vogue. She posts “Bow Down/I Been On” and its cover art on her official Tumblr page.

April: Beyoncé’s publicist announces that all photography by fans is prohibited at shows on the Mrs. Carter tour, despite the fact that attempting to get unflattering Super Bowl photos of Beyoncé pulled off the Internet only led to the Streisand effect, turning the pictures into a meme. Beyoncé has two cross-promotional commercials come out, both with snippets of new songs. A Pepsi commercial tagged #BeyHereNow has the Timbaland-produced “Grown Woman,” while an H&M summer swimwear campaign features “Standing on the Sun,” written by Greg Kurstin and Sia. It is announced that “Grown Woman” will be released as a single on April 8, and then a correction is made saying “Grown Woman” will be featured on the singer’s new album but isn’t the first official single.

That vague statement is entirely too reminiscent of when Beyoncé dropped “Who Run the World (Girls)” to middling reviews, and then reclassified it from a first single to something called a “buzz single.” What is a buzz single? It’s what you call your first single from an album when it doesn’t do as well as you expected and you decide to call take-backsies on it being the first official single. Beyoncé, of course, has the power to do this and anything else she wants. If she decides one day that one of her lesser songs never came out at all, so it shall be.

At the end of April, Bey performs “Grown Woman” for the first time when the Mrs. Carter tour hits Paris. Happily, its Fela Kuti–influenced Afrobeat pop sounds (and looks) fantastic.

May: Beyoncé wears a flame-themed Ricardo Tisci gown to the punk-themed Met Ball that’s so ridiculously over the top (matching boots!) everyone just assumes Tina Knowles designed it. Attention is drawn off of Beyoncé’s relative fashion fail by the much worse failure of Kim Kardashian’s floral sofa dress, also by Tisci. Beyoncé cancels her concert in Belgium “due to exhaustion and dehydration.” Perez Hilton speculates that she is blowing off the show to attend the Cannes premiere of The Great Gatsby. She doesn’t show up at Cannes, and reschedules the Belgian concert for June. There’s still no sign of “Grown Woman” as an official single or video, although it seems like the strongest candidate for an official lead single out of the three “buzz singles.”

Are Beyoncé and her team just throwing everything at the wall and trying to see what sticks? Perhaps. Maybe they’re hoping we’ll forget about the “Back to Black” cover she and Andre 3000 did for the Gatsby soundtrack. She also does a low-key (for Bey) guest spot on a song by The-Dream.

June: Beyoncé performs “Standing on the Sun” at the makeup date in Antwerp. Still no word on its status as a single, but it appears in another Bey-related promo commercial, this time for L’Oréal. Maybe now that the Mrs. Carter tour’s American leg is kicking off, we’ll get some more information!

July: Magna Carta … Holy Grail has two official guest spots from Mrs. Carter, but she’s all over the album on backing vocals. She is credited as “Third Ward Trill.” There you have it. Beyoncé is not putting out her fifth album because she’s having too much fun being Third Ward Trill. She might also want to give her husband’s album a little bit of lead time before her numbers stomp all over his. Not like he minds! He is obviously proud of her huge numbers. It’s just polite.

Honestly, I imagine that Beyoncé feels boxed in about having to be Beyoncé. On guest spots and unofficial releases she gets to get weird (for Bey) without having to worry about suffering any consequences to her towering brand. Jay told Angie Martinez that Beyoncé has “100,000 amazing songs” to cull down into an album, but that sounds like when a writer claims he is halfway done with something he actually hasn’t started writing yet. Beyoncé is likely still recording in whatever time she finds between shows and putting Blue Ivy to bed. We say Queen B can take as long as she wants. She has a world tour, a young child, and is dealing with under-the-table family drama with her dad.

Let them eat buzz singles. Beyoncé’s too busy headlining the Essence Festival and buying everyone delicious sandwiches.

Filed Under: Andre 3000, Beyonce, Jay Z, Kim Kardashian, Super Bowl, The Great Gatsby, The-Dream, Timbaland

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

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