Beyoncé’s ‘Rocket’ and the Pleasures of Artistic Freedom

When Beyoncé first met with Miguel to discuss what eventually became “Rocket,” the longest track on BEYONCÉ (2013), she’d only recently given birth to Blue Ivy. It would have been mid-2012 or so; Miguel recalls that “she was looking beautiful; her skin was glowing and she was ready to create.” Beyoncé was feeling more sexually empowered than ever as a new mom—she says as much in a behind-the-scenes doc released with the album—and wanted to record something D’Angelo-esque in that spirit. “I’ll never forget the conversation I had with Beyoncé and her insisting that nothing was off-limits,” Miguel told VIBE in 2014.

Given Beyoncé’s green light, Miguel imagined himself in her lover’s shoes to come up with “Rocket”: “What’s the first thing I would want Beyoncé to say to me as a man? What have I not heard her say?” Miguel, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé then co-wrote the song, working with producers J-Roc and Timbaland. On paper, the gender dynamic here is weird: we’re looking at a female sexual empowerment track made by a team of mostly men, one where the lyrics originate in what Miguel would want Beyoncé to say in a sexual setting. The album doc also suggests that, aside from music executive Teresa LaBarbera Whites, Beyoncé was the only woman in the room while recording “Rocket.” My goal here isn’t to undermine the song, but to contextualize its production. As I’ll argue, the fact that Beyoncé worked on it—and later, its visual accompaniment—surrounded by male creators didn’t ultimately prevent either from being subversive.  

Albums are generally titled eponymously to introduce a new act to the world—Queen made its debut with Queen (1973), Christina Aguilera with Christina Aguilera (1999), and so on. But self-titled albums can also debut a new sound or phase of an established artist’s career. Cher (1987) did this, as did Britney (2001). BEYONCÉ doesn’t fall neatly into one category or the other. When it surprise-dropped in 2013, the world had already known Beyoncé for a decade and a half. Still, it practically relaunched both Beyoncé the entertainer and Beyoncé the brand. 

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