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2014 Artist of the Year: Beyonce

by Mosi Reeves

2014 Artist of the Year: Beyonce

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Beyoncé is Napster's artist of the year. Our editorial staff didn't mention any other candidates, because no one else came close to her impact. Others made small but noticeable ripples: Sam Smith, Iggy Azalea, Pharrell Williams, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, FKA twigs, Aphex Twin and Run the Jewels. Taylor Swift might have merited serious consideration if her 1989 was available on streaming services. And Miranda Lambert was a virtual runner-up for peaking early in the year with her widely praised Platinum. As it stands, Lambert topping our list for the best albums released in 2014 isn't a bad consolation prize.

So it's Beyoncé, then. She's arguably the biggest pop star in the world -- Swift is her only competition at this particular moment in the zeitgeist -- and a representative of how young women have become the dominant force in popular music, not just commercially, but artistically as well. By concluding her MTV Video Music Awards performance by standing tall in front of a projection that read "FEMINIST," she created a bellwether for how ideals about gender equality have finally, miraculously gained currency in the American cultural marketplace.

The surprise release of her self-titled "visual album" on December 13, 2013, with no real advance promotion and a music video for each track, is now a standard for music industry innovation. It's arguably her best album to date, one that synthesizes her thoughts on the highs and lows of marriage, sustaining romance with a life partner, and awaiting the birth of her first child, Blue. When she remembers on "Pretty Hurts" that, "Mama said, you're a pretty girl/ What's in your head, it doesn't matter," she speaks on how society values women's cosmetic appearance more than their mental and physical strength. On "Flawless," she not only asserts her power, but also illustrates how exceptionally talented women such as herself are castigated for claiming superiority and for leaning in. Beyoncé is a warm and intimate R&B jewel. But as with anything she does, her personal journals take on greater symbolism for the rest of us.

By nature, Beyoncé's ascent is a temporal thing. We only have to recall 2011, when 4 generated critical praise but middling interest on the charts. More instructively, there was 2013, when her exemplary performance at the Super Bowl also generated an ugly undercurrent of Tumblr gifs; media pundits whispered about the endless delays for her then-unreleased album; and a teaser track, "Bow Down," fueled a backlash for being too aggressive with its refrain, "Bow down, b*tches." (She later incorporated parts of "Bow Down" into "Flawless.")

What a difference that "pulling a Beyoncé" and dropping an amazing album on an unsuspecting world can make. In 2014, she is our reigning Queen of Pop. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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