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. 

Continue reading “Beyoncé’s ‘Rocket’ and the Pleasures of Artistic Freedom”

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Podcast #5: Music in Film

The fifth episode of the Much Ado About Cinema Podcast has arrived!

On our Patreon page, we set a goal of $75 to start working on our podcast and four months ago we hit that goal, thanks to your help! Every time we gain a new Patron, we come one step closer to saving enough money to pay to our writers. You can help us with as little as $1.

In this episode, I talk to writers Mia Vicino, Kareem Baholzer, and Hannah Ryan about our favorite uses of music in film. To keep the conversation tidy, we limited it to non-original, non-score music. It was a lot of fun to put together, we hope you enjoy!

Available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and anywhere else you access your podcasts!

Teenage Euphoria in Céline Sciamma’s ‘Girlhood’

As teenagers, music often plays a pivotal role in our lives. While an adult identity gradually begins to take shape, music sonically illustrates the ever-growing complexity of our emotional lives, giving voice to our desires and insecurities and helping us to make sense of the world around us. Brought to life on the silver screen through pounding beats, glossy visuals and naturalistic movements, Céline Sciamma’s third feature-length film, Bande de Filles (titled Girlhood in English) reaches through the screen, encouraging its spectator to recall and connect to these sensations themselves.

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NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘Her Smell’ is a Riot in Full, Glorious Swing with Elisabeth Moss at the Helm

It reeks, it lingers. Her Smell invades, it threatens, it’s aggressive and it’s dirty, draining. It’s a riot in full swing. Yet amidst the assumed chaos, it becomes tender and honest, an exploration into addiction and the punk rock scene of the 90s, but even more so into identity. What can be repaired after not only hurting the ones we love, but ourselves in the process?

Alex Ross Perry’s five-act tale of rockstar rampage and recovery is unapologetic and unpredictable, proving to be one of my favorite and one of the most exciting films I’ve seen this year. It was borne out of Perry’s incessant need to not only explore multiple act structure (after being inspired by the three act structure of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs and by Shakespeare), but push the envelope on his creative relationship with Elisabeth Moss. The pair had previously worked together on 2015’s Queen of Earth, similarly dark and ruptured. Her Smell raises the bar and sails clean over it.

The role of Becky Something, our enigmatic, perpetually inebriated, crass, and readily dislikable star was written completely for Moss. When she smiles, it’s more with wickedness and less with joy. We know little about her rise to the top. It is only shown in bits and pieces through the home videos played before each act, and all about her ruin.

Continue reading “NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘Her Smell’ is a Riot in Full, Glorious Swing with Elisabeth Moss at the Helm”