By Amanda Wicks
On Sunday (September 4) Beyonce’s B’Day celebrates its tenth b-day. It was her second solo album, but her first since Destiny’s Child split. Here, we take a look back on the album, and wish Queen Bey a happy 35th (9/4 is her birthday!).
Released three years after her sizzling solo debut Dangerously in Love, B’Day found Beyoncé willing to push the boundaries of the pop music that defined her career up until that point. More than that, though, she offered an original statement—both musically and lyrically—about celebrating strong, independent women. It wasn’t exactly a new theme for Beyoncé, who had addressed the subject with Destiny’s Child. But it did mark the formation of the Queen Bey fans know and love today. While the Beyhive is still recovering from her stunning, long-form performance at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, they can trace the roots of her fierce, take-no-crap persona back to B’Day.
B’Day signaled her transformation from girl-group member to solo artist. Yes, Dangerously in Love predated B’Day by three years, but Beyoncé was still a member of Destiny’s Child at the time of her solo debut. After releasing Dangerously in Love in 2003, she headed back into the studio to work on what would become the trio’s swan song, 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled. It’s important to note the timeline here, because Dangerously in Love felt as if Beyoncé dabbled with DC’s sound on her own terms. B’Day, by contrast, felt like a fully realized solo project delivered from the Queen herself.
B’Day offered listeners funky rhythms, big horns and a live production quality that blended the stylized, old school sound Beyoncé had picked up while filming 2006’s Dreamgirls with the type of big pop numbers she’d recorded up until that point. It also saw her pushing her own boundaries and trying out different genres, which she has continued to do over the years. So, when you hear Beyoncé experimenting with country 0n “Daddy Lessons” from Lemonade, that experimentiation can be traced back to B’Day, where she tried out ’70s funk on “Suga Mama,” and stretched out a bit more on the punk-influenced “Ring The Alarm,” which brings in a marching band-style rhythm.
The message on “Ring the Alarm” seemed to be, “Do not cross me. Ever.” B’Day had other similar messages like on “Irreplaceable,” which warned men that their women weren’t nearly as dependent upon them as they might believe. Coupled with “Suga Mama” and “Upgrade U,” Beyoncé put forth the idea that women had the power. Yes, they could be “Crazy in Love,” but that love didn’t mean handing over your self-worth and self respect to make things work. The album was, and is, a celebration of strong femininity: it celebrates what it means to be a woman, make a point and take a stand.
Beyoncé was clearly feeling a rush of creativity while making the album. Her original plan after filming Dreamgirls, was to go on vacation; she wanted to give herself space so she could transition from playing a character back to being Beyoncé. But inspiration doesn’t strike on schedule.
She soon ended up back in New York at Sony Music Studios and started working at a furious pace. “We did three songs a day, and I didn’t want to go home, and every morning I was like ‘Oh God, I want to get back in the studio.’ I just wanted to be in the studio. It felt so good, and I did the record in a little over two weeks,” she said in an interview weeks before she released the album in 2006.
At the time, Beyoncé swore B’Day wasn’t a personal record. “I think it’s really sexy and beautiful to see a strong woman, but it’s not an autobiography,” she said. And chances are it wasn’t, but what’s strange in listening to it now is the way it became an autobiographical record. Lemonade details her husband’s alleged affair, and certain symptoms of that pain and struggle arose on B’Day.
Speaking about the influences that went into writing B’Day, Beyoncé shared how much her role as Deena in Dreamgirls influenced her. “The crazy thing is the record is really aggressive, and I’m very happy, I’m very content in my life,” she explained before its release. “But Deena felt like she was trapped, and she was married and she was in this relationship for so long and it was all the things I wanted to say while I was doing the movie, all the things I wanted the character to say, so I’m speaking for every woman whose been in a relationship for a long time. It’s supposed to empower women to have the extra boost to say all the things that they feel in their hearts, so it’s really a strong album. It makes women feel like they’re powerful, and it makes you want to get your power back.”
The empowerment that she offers women through B’Day has become even stronger with every subsequent album, culminating with the artistic and personal statement of Lemonade. It’s as if, without fully realizing it, she provided a way to eventually articulate the circumstances surrounding her husband’s future (alleged) infidelity and the pain it caused her. By empowering other women, she empowered herself.