REVIEW: Beyoncé – “7/11” & “Ring Off”
by Trevor Johnson
If you are gifted enough in the art of the internet to find this site, you’ve probably heard that two additional Beyoncé tracks leaked within the past few days. They are, reportedly, outtakes from her last album and perhaps rightfully so. Compared to the rich, layered, and complex songs that make up Beyoncé, these songs are either overly playful for that album’s fairly earnest registers, or a bit half-baked. That doesn’t mean they are without charm.
“7/11” might be the perfect B-Side for her 2013 eponymous masterpiece. Where she originally took on anyone and everyone at their own game (while advancing and claiming every cranny of current hip-hop and R&B), “7/11” is The Queen wondering aloud “what’s so hard about writing a club banger?”. It’s telling that a Beyoncé leftover might end up being one of the three or four best pop songs of year. She’s just better at it than most. Over a ticky, ratchety beat, Bey just spits pure free-association. She doesn’t even waste time with a chorus. Instead, the song is really just a series of bafflingly catchy pre-choruses and a quick, floating (read: “druggy”) bridge. Seriously. That’s it. The over/under for “how long did she spend on these lyrics?” is probably 14.5 minutes. And you will hear it in every club between now and Flag Day. The entire track has an air of “People get famous for this shit?” to it. Yes, Beyoncé has made a career – and in the past year, a legacy – out of painstakingly crafted modern soul gems layered to uncharted territory. “7/11” is simple and satisfying like DJ Mustard. It just trades lean for speed. The lyrics (and to an even greater extent the video) seem to address concepts like “These hoes ain’t loyal,” with the dismissive flip they deserve. There’s a lot of talk about waiving your hands in the air, smacking it, spinning, rolling dice and waiving your hands some more. There’s never any real talk of men because the proper girls night doesn’t require them.
Speaking of which, there’s “Ring Off”. Let’s get one thing out of the way quickly for anyone who hasn’t heard the song: “Ring Off” is not about Beyoncé’s relationship with Jay-Z. So just stop that. “Ring Off” is about Tina Knowles, Beyoncé’s mother and stylist, and her divorce from Matthew Knowles, Beyoncé’s father and former manager. The Knowles’ divorced in 2009 after news surfaced that Matthew had fathered a child with another woman. In the same year, Beyoncé relieved her father of his managerial duties as well. “Ring Off” is an ode to her mother’s strength and independence, post-divorce. It’s an eye-opener, extending the feminist frameworks of Beyoncé in praising someone for ditching a dirtbag, even when that dirtbag happens to be your father.
“Ring Off” is also a gorgeous summer track. Not quite a summer jam, but its squeaky clean guitars sound like they could spark jump rope competitions all across the country. It doesn’t quite have the exacting detail and attention, nor the standard killer of a chorus, to be a Beyoncé single. Instead “Ring Off” rambles a bit, not to a detrimental level but to an extent that will definitely prevent most fans from being able to sing along all that quickly. The bridge starts off promisingly with Beyoncé offering: “Finally you put your love on top,” a smart call back to the lead single off 2011’s 4. But she repeats the phrase for nearly all of the remaining 30 seconds of the track, changing only the “Finally” half of the stanza. It immediately sounds wrong, even a bit lethargic. There are plenty of words that rhyme (or, you know sort of rhyme) with “top”. Why not take the riffing one step further? Rather than searching for as many good ideas as possible off the bat and editing down later, it seems a bit conservative and uninteresting, over-indebted to Diana Ross, let’s say, while not supercharging it with Beyoncé’s own imagination, the way she did on “Pretty Hurts” for instance.
“Ring Off” actually feels like the type of track that weighed down Beyoncé’s previous albums. Now that she has ascended into Pop God status, missteps stick out like loose nails. Clearly, “7/11” is the more fun and thus marketable track, a great pop song that just doesn’t have the same stirring depths as the best of Beyoncé. So if we’re being honest, they were properly left off the album they presumably were written for and will now serve to satiate rabid fans, move more units, and stoke the eternal flame of Beyoncé’s career without having to be as good as say, “XO”. This is how deluxe reissues work in an era when even The Dirty Projectors and Kurt Vile send out “expanded” versions for the holidays. And let’s be frank, Beyoncé was almost entirely made up of songs that could be singles. Anyone tired of that album only eleven months later didn’t deserve its greatness in the first place.