Reflecting on the year and how major releases have been handled, how is it we didn’t see this one coming? Justin Timberlake resurfaced in March to the surprise of us all with The 20/20 Experience, Kanye’s Yeezus album helped kick off the “F these record labels” rebellion, and that was right before Jay Z launched into his #NewRules campaign with Magna Carta…Holy Grail. But what Beyoncé did with her fifth solo album was borrow from those formulas to stir up one hell of a recipe; 14 songs, accompanied by 17 visuals all pushed to the public with no promo build up? Unheard of. Truth is, even if the music didn’t match up to the hype, the project would’ve sold from that excitement alone. Thankfully that’s not something to worry about, as Beyoncé is the pop star’s most focused and honest work to date.

“I’m climbing up the walls cause all the shit I hear is boring all the shit I do is boring, all these record labels boring” she mutters on the eerie track “Haunted,” before assuming she “probably won’t make no money off this.” It’s a true testament of art over sales (which she’s never had a problem with in the first place). The album does an excellent job of having something for the Beyoncé fans that look to her for empowerment, while also introducing us to a more vulnerable, sexually confident artist who identifies with her audience through relatable insecurities, and the pressures of her fame as she details on the opener “Pretty Hurts.” “Blonder hair, flat chest TV says, “Bigger is better.” South beach, sugar free Vogue says, “Thinner is better” as she tells it, but Bey isn’t down on herself for long, as evident elsewhere. Take “***Flawless” for instance. The catchy uplifter even samples from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminist ” speech before launching into a boastful club banger.

And that’s how Beyoncé has been able to remain such a prominent cultural figure through the years; making songs powerful enough to resonate with women that their boyfriends hate to admit they love. What men can openly admit they love however, is  that Bey offers bedroom music like we’ve never heard her before. “Drunk In Love” pairs her with hubby Jay Z for an X-Rated sequel to their 2003 hit “Crazy In Love,” while “Partition” raises the seductive bar. “He Monica Lewinski’d all on my gown” she overtly sings. Beyoncé is that you? If that doesn’t get you going, “Rocket” is sure to leave you flustered. The D’Angelo-inspired cut will cause ears to perk with it’s opening lyrics, while oral sex is the topic of choice on the Pharrell-produced “Blow.” Although it’s a slight shift for her, it never comes off as forcefully done.  All isn’t sexually charged though, as the vulnerability of an imperfect love on “No Angel” will tell you, or the self explanatory subject matter of “Jealous” could detail. But none get more sentimental than the closer “Blue.” Dedicated to her daughter Blue Ivy, its the kind of song every new parent feels compelled to make, but can’t quite pull off.

What’s admired is that an artist that’s been around for the better part of 15 years is still able to surprise us. The always private star was able to let her guard down and make her best offering to date. “Been having conversations about breakups and separations I’m not feeling like myself since the baby” she sings on the overly Drake “Mine.” This isn’t the first time an artist of her caliber came out of her shell. What Bey was able to do here is reminiscent of what Janet Jackson did years before; Both stars exemplified how comfortable they’d become with not just their sexuality, but were also able to put their art at the forefront of it all while everything else seemingly fell into place. The coincidence lies in the fact that they were both five albums in when they took the artistic chance. (Janet Jackson’s fifth album Janet
was released 10 years ago.) Whether or not Beyoncé will be talked about 10 years from now remains to be seen, but Mrs. Carter has upped the ante.