Monday, October 17th, 2011

Beyoncé – Countdown

Originally I was going to have these scores count down from [10] to [1], but never mind…


Brad Shoup: This is the speed B should maintain: a bouncy cruising velocity with The-Dream and Raymond Scott as co-pilots. There’s a surfeit of vocal and lyrical details, touched on as gleefully and arbitrarily as a pranked bank of elevator buttons. The track itself stomps like the best Southern productions, issuing heraldic horns and marching-band percussion (probably Cainon Lamb’s input). I’d rather not issue a 10 so close to my last, but there’s an unquenchable sense of wonder here, a superhuman confidence and joy.

Edward Okulicz: Great hit songs usually have to win me over with their chorus, or they’ve got no chance. The descending-pitch-shifted countdown actively annoys me; it’s air coming out of a balloon, metaphorically and sonically. Its lyrics don’t work, and it sounds like some bedroom hack playing around with a microphone and a freeware sound editor. But the rest of the song is Beyoncé on her A+ game. From horn parts to skittering drums that conjure up the bliss of falling in love over and over again, the verses throw such a bewildering mess of beautiful noises that resistance is pointless. Beyoncé on top is like chocolate syrup on top of the most rich, creamy ice cream cake and then whipped cream on top of that: sweet, if overwhelming. But the chorus sounds like it was flown in from another song, and I wish it would go back there so I can enjoy this slice of near-perfection untainted.

Katherine St Asaph: This score is artificially deflated; when “Countdown” leaked, I’d have given it a [6], but I’m halving that because of weeks-long irritation. At the risk of repeating myself, but since I’m particularly pissed today: “Countdown” does not work as a song. It’s a junkyard of sonic baubles that neither fit together, grow nor develop depth. But luckily for Beyoncé and her eight co-writers, nobody cares. 60% of the adoration for “Countdown” is just adoration of “boof boof,” which turns Beyoncé into a lolcat and doesn’t even make sense. “Me and my boof, and my boof boof riding” is the sort of astoundingly bad line that’d be savaged if uttered by a Rebecca Black or Taio Cruz or similar Internet punchline. Elsewhere in the lyrics: clueless Roberta Flack references, shoehorning words to make the “countdown” work, gender shit somehow worse than “Cater 2 U,” motherfucking grocery-bag hashtags. 20% of the adoration, meanwhile, is just for the “Beyoncé: Buzzfeed Edition” video. 10% is crappy biographical criticism that we all sighed at when that Slant guy did it but that’s A-OK now that Beyoncé’s pointed to her slightly enlarged abdomen. The last 10% is genuine appreciation, but it’s outswooned by the rest. Sad thing is, 4 is full of nuance and emotion and terribly represented by this animated GIF of a song. But this is 2011, where immediacy trumps nuance and memes trump quality. Just as “Umbrella” was coronated as classic because people found “ella-ella-eh-eh-eh” amusing, this song is going to be inescapable forever because of nonsense. Oh, fuck it: BOOF BOOF. That’s all you want to hear.

Jonathan Bogart: Is it a novelty? Sure. Are there songs of equal merit — or possibly even better — on 4? Of course. (Bonus track “Schoolin’ Life” goes to 11.) It’s even, according to classical songwriting principles, a mess: the joins show, there’s no melodic, rhythmic, or lyrical throughline. Doesn’t matter. BOOF BOOF.

Alfred Soto: It’s all about the BOOF BOOFs.

Alex Ostroff: Admittedly, Countdown is more of a series of incredible moments than it is an actual song, but what moments! Besides the obvious “BOOF BOOF”, there’s the magnificent “grrrrrriiinnnndd uponit” and “Houston ROCKIT!” and the dizzily melismatic “boy” that opens the extravaganza. Beyoncé is more often praised for her range than her interpretive skills, but I can’t think of another current pop star who could pull this off, let alone make it all hang together.

Jonathan Bradley: From demands that a man pick up the cost of her credit binges to “Cater 2 U,” Beyoncé’s always had some affection for the kind of femininity wrought from passivity. Over the latter and, by no coincidence, less interesting half of her career, she’s tried to mold her throwback housewife urges into the air of refined domesticity exemplified in Mad Men-chic, as if the power of the independent woman can be willed back into being through the force of ladylike poise. “Countdown” doesn’t entirely free from its more uncomfortable connotations the image of one of the world’s biggest pop stars cooking dinner in heels for her husband, but the girlish flutter of the fanfare goes a long way toward explaining it: she’s sprung, and she don’t care who sees. I preferred her back in 2002 as Bonnie with Carrie-fever, watching Sex and the City with her husband-to-be, as opposed to this paragon of (very!) blissful domesticity, but you can redeem a lot with some well-placed BOOF-BOOFs.

Anthony Easton: Outside of the fashion, costumes and video — but with Beyoncé is anything beyond fashion, costumes and videos? — the song pops. The chorus is perfect, there are a few lines that are just brilliant, and it has Tarantino-level skill in working through genre and floating pop signifiers, which makes any accusations of stealing choreography profoundly missing the point. 

Hazel Robinson: Frightening prenatal aerobics aside, this is the most interesting thing Beyoncé’s released for a long time — I’m slightly tempted to say since “Ring the Alarm” — and where the chaotic elements of her higher-speed songs finally gel coherently. The speed-changes and aggression, flattened melodies and saccharine possible-threats from Sasha Fierce are tessellated expertly and into something catchy, on which she misfires often for me. It’s frightening/inviting, flirty/grinding in a heart-fluttering fizzy cocktail.

Jer Fairall: A bright, jaunty splay, this never sits still long enough to become any one thing in particular, but any mess that is made trying to shape steel drum percussion, “Tusk” marching band horns, hashtag raps and minimalist electro-funk into any kind of coherent whole is bound to be happy.

Al Shipley: My relationship with my wife over the past ten years lines up chronologically pretty well with that of B and Jay: the long courtship, then finally the wedding and not long after that the baby. That adds a little personal resonance to how perfect an expression of love and devotion her latest album and this song in particular are. Being able to write an ode of infatuation as delirious as “Crazy In Love” early in a relationship is one thing, being able to write something even more dizzily ecstatic almost a decade later is another entirely.

Zach Lyon: Every new Beyoncé album holds the expectation of one mega-earthshaker, that one song that’ll show up on every top 10 singles-of-the-year list and also win every Grammy and almost every VMA. “Get Me Bodied” didn’t have that much of an impact, but “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies” did. Those three were perfect unions between the performance of Knowles and innovation of production, and if I hadn’t become so aware of our need for this song, I’d easily slide “Countdown” in there too. After all, its production is just as weird and eye-opening as that of “Single Ladies,” and she’s just as hypnotizing as she was in the former two. And I have been listening to it nearly non-stop for a week, but… I just can’t call it classic yet. Although it does really make me want to marry Jay-Z.

33 Responses to “Beyoncé – Countdown”

  1. Take out Katherine’s spoiler, and the score would be a frankly ridiculous 8.64, which I believe would be a nu-Jukebox record. Which, I know, is exactly why the spoiler is there.

  2. I mean, I’d love to like this as much as everyone does, but I can’t. Also, I’m a bitter, twisted wretch who hates joy.

  3. The right song holds the record. I hope it’s never broken.

  4. I can only imagine how long my blurb would have been if it had incorporated the… proper appreciation ratios.

  5. The boof boof thing is stupid, the horns are nice enough, but the song is a mess. This thing is a 2, maybe 3, and I’m not artificially deflating anything; I just don’t understand you people, sometimes.

  6. You should’ve blurbed this!

  7. I know! I was super busy last night, or I would have. Sorry to leave you hanging out there by yourself.

  8. It doesn’t sound like a mess at all, thanks to Beyonce; she’s up to the rhythmic and melodic changes. She’s in control.

  9. But is she? I haven’t heard the thing on live, but on recording it sounds like 50 separate parts spliced together in Audacity without transitions or development. Seams being visible doesn’t make for a bad song on its own — listen closely to, say, “Bad Romance” — but you’ve at least got to pretend.

  10. Audacity? Everyone involved wishes, the pitch-shifting is so CoolEdit 1.0.

  11. I need to get back on my game here instead of just babbling incessantly on tumblr but if I were aiming for conciseness i would have given it a 10 and just said “a love song for people with intense ADD.”


    I dunno, she sounds OK here. Plus, it’s Knowles: no one is going to greenlight a song she can’t handle live.

  13. The pitch-shifting sounds like Kid Pix Studio, actually; I really really really wish the Internet had audio of what I’m talking about, because otherwise maybe one other person will get that comment.

  14. I don’t think I’ve ever commented here before but Katherine’s comment brought me out of the woodwork. I am the one person on the internet who gets that comment.

  15. Kid Pix Studio is awesome, but Ian’s right, the BOOF BOOF thing is dumb. The first 30 seconds of this song is my favorite song of 2011.

  16. Also, you guys, it’s definitely “Boo” not “boof”. “Me and my boo in my boo coupe riding”.

  17. (This is the second time I’ve referenced a kids’ software program on the Jukebox, which is [wow] pathetic. But I’m thinking of the “three” in particular.)

  18. It’s seriously hilarious to me that the worst thing people can say about this song is that there’s lots of pieces to it, and some are kind of silly, and they don’t all fit perfectly together. That’s exactly why it’s great, and why it’s so much more exciting than most other Beyonce songs.

  19. i was initially in the “cool sounds, too bad about the song camp” but now i think that beyonce being able to corral the dizzying instrumentation and sing a beautiful song that traverses from first date to baby is one of the great achievements of her career.

  20. See, the “most other Beyonce songs” part is where we differ, because at least 50% of Beyonce songs are amazingly exciting. “Bug A Boo,” “Crazy In Love,” “Lose My Breath,” so many more. They have the additional minimum qualification of making sense, and they don’t have the demerit of inept parts. (“Bug A Boo” in particular is an amazing example of how to pull off this level of energy and speed while still having, y’know, coherence and throughline.)

  21. Beyonce and DC have lots of great songs, but “Bug A Boo” and “Lose My Breath” are both just loud and monotonous.

  22. “Boof boof” is the new “fill up my cup – mazeltov”.

    “Bug A Boo” is probably the best DC single, except when it’s “Jumpin’ Jumpin”.

  23. I actually prefer the “drank”/”l’chaim” parts of “I Gotta Feeling” to this mess. And it still sounds like “boof” to me…

  24. @Nathan: OH THANK GOD, I was beginning to think I’d just made up a memory. (And also you, and everyone else, should totally comment!)

    @Edward/Ian: “I Gotta Feeling” would be so much better without words to me (and without certain subsequent Guetta songs), so I dunno? That whole verse is just embarrassing.

    @Al: I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree, because both those songs are loud in a fantastic way.

  25. The lyric sheet might say “boo’s coupe,” but B sings “boof.”

  26. It’s “My Girls” all over again isn’t it.

  27. You’ve all lost your minds.


  29. Was listening to this today, on repeat, and it really doesn’t sound messy at all to me anymore. Frenetic as hell, but Beyonce herself is the throughline and every massive shift in song is just something she stomps all over. It’s basically like the three best parts of three different songs were all smashed together and then we get Beyonce on top and THE FUN NEVER STOPS

  30. Zach

    you know this is why it’s genius right

  31. Oh god, this really IS gonna be another “Umbrella,” isn’t it.

  32. I was leaning toward the Kathrine camp when ‘4’ first came out—liked the enthusiasm of the song, couldn’t make heads or tails of it—but it eventually resolved itself in my head, and now it’s my favorite on the album by far. It’s like the Magic Eye of Beyoncé songs.

    I think I’ve decided that I love any Beyoncé song that includes some kind of regal fanfare, a la “Crazy in Love”—like B is being hauled out on a lintel of shirtless manservants while trumpets ring out, “Behold! Lady B is here!”

    Oh, and finally, K and Al are conflating two totally different DC songs, quality-wise: “Lose My Breath” is forgettable. “Bug a Boo” is hands down their most underrated song, sheer genius.

  33. “Lose My Breath” is awesome!