Beyonce’s ‘4’: Summer Preview

With Britney Spears and Lady Gaga offering up new releases in recent months, and given the fact that Adele has the album to beat so far, 2011 has certainly shaped up to be the year of the pop diva. At the end of this month Beyonce will also step into the arena when her fourth solo LP 4 drops. (Of course, some sticky-fingered fans may already be enjoying Bey’s latest!) So far the singles from the record haven’t made much of an impact. Can Beyonce turn the ship around? Find out all you need to know about 4 below!

ALBUM: 4, the aptly-titled fourth studio release from Beyonce as a solo artist. Previously, Bey had also released four pop-R&B albums and one Christmas collection as part of Destiny’s Child, between 1998 and 2004.

WHAT THE TITLE MEANS: “We all have special numbers in our lives, and 4 is that for me,” Beyonce told Billboard in May. “It’s the day I was born. My mother’s birthday, and a lot of my friends’ birthdays, are on the fourth; April 4 is my wedding date.”

RELEASE DATE: June 28.

OOPS!: 4 leaked online this week, a full three weeks before its scheduled release date, allowing us to listen to new tracks like the retro groove of “Love On Top” and the midtempo ballad “Star Over”. A similar occurrence happened in March with fellow pop icon Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale. A good sport, Bey posted the following on her Facebook wall yesterday:

“My music was leaked and while this is not how I wanted to present my new songs, I appreciate the positive response from my fans. When I record music I always think about my fans singing every note and dancing to every beat. I make music to make people happy and I appreciate that everyone has been so anxious to hear my new songs.”

SINGLES RELEASED SO FAR: Things with 4 got off to a rather ho-hum start when the Major Lazer-sampling female empowerment number “Run The World (Girls)” arrived in April. (Get up to speed on Major Lazer at Arjan Writes.) The action-packed music video received high marks from critics (EW Music Mix labeled it “a contender for best dance video of the year so far”), but the single was met with indifference from music buyers. After peaking at #29 on the Hot 100, “Girls” is currently floundering at #55 on the new chart published today.

Last month Beyonce premiered the Dream-produced promo single “1+1” on the American Idol finale (so far it’s peaked at #57 on the Hot 100), while the album’s official second single “Best Thing I Never Had” arrived last week. The latter debuted at #84 on this week’s chart.

ALBUM PRODUCERS: In addition to the the already-mentioned Dream, Beyonce worked with Kanye West and Consequence on retro slow jam “Party,” Diane Warren and Ryan Tedder on ballad “I Was Here” (Bey and Tedder previously teamed up for her 2009 hit “Halo”), Symbolic One on Babyface co-write “Best Thing I Never Had” and Switch and Shea Taylor on “Run The World (Girls).”

WHERE BEYONCE’S HEAD WAS AT WHEN SHE RECORDED 4: In her recent Billboard cover story, Beyonce explained what was inspiring her when she began the recording process for the album over a year ago:

“I started off being inspired by [Afrobeat music pioneer] Fela Kuti. I actually worked with the band from Fela! [the hit Broadway musical based on his life] for a couple of days, just to get the feel for the soul and heart of his music; it’s so sexy, and has a great groove you get lost in. I loved his drums, all the horns, how everything was on the one. What I learned most from Fela was artistic freedom: he just felt the spirit. I also found a lot of inspiration in ’90s R&B, Earth, Wind & Fire, DeBarge, Lionel Richie, Teena Marie… I listened to a lot of Jackson 5 and New Edition, but also Adele, Florence + the Machine, and Prince.”

OUR THOUGHTS: We’re all for artists making creative leaps, and 4 definitely plays like an album by a pop star looking to forge a new path away from her peers. (We’re particularly digging the cool old-school vibe on “Party,” which sounds ready-made for summertime radio, and somber synth track “I Care.”) It’s also worth noting that this is Beyonce’s first album where she’s serving as her own manager after severing business ties with her father Mathew Knowles.

The fact that 4 leaked so early isn’t a complete disaster. After all, Spears’ recent album still managed to debut at #1 and has been certified Platinum (though it posted the lowest first-week numbers for a Britney LP since her 1999 debut). But someone needs to get the situation with this record’s singles under control. Making “1+1” available before “Best Thing I Never Had” — and putting them out so close to one another — was just confusing. And the fact that none of the three songs released so far have bothered the upper reaches of the chart seems uncharacteristic for an icon like Beyonce.

Here’s hoping she pulls an “Irreplaceable”- or “Single Ladies”-like smash out of her lucky number 4 pronto.

Get more musical Summer Preview madness by checking our write-ups on Owl City’s All Things Bright And Beautiful, Eminem and Royce Da 5’9″‘s Hell: The Sequel and Weird Al Yankovic’s Alpocolypse.