Monday, January 6th, 2014

Beyoncé – XO

Waltz #2


Will Adams: Like “Halo,” it may be more helpful to think that “XO” is successful because of Ryan Tedder rather than in spite of him. His tropes are well-situated now; a choir of woah-oh’s, an anthemic stomp, and an entire album’s worth of reverb. Other singers get swallowed by the schlock, but Beyoncé is the rare case; her bombast is well-served by the arrangement, helping to obscure the fact that this love song, with a line like “you better kiss me before time has run out,” brims with anxiety.

Edward Okulicz: Ryan Tedder’s style works best when you can believe that his singer is leading us somewhere (as on”Battlefield” or “Halo”), so listening to it feels like being part of some communal march towards a utopia where everybody finds their own personal Jay Z or similar. The line “you better kiss me” is sung with such skilful ambiguity that it’s almost threat until the thought is completed with “before our time has run out” and it makes me want to go to that world right now.

Crystal Leww: Yes, this is co-written by Ryan Tedder, but more importantly, this is co-written by Terius Nash, who continues to be one of the best writers of female pop songs. I’m convinced that he saved this from being a dreary, watery mess (sorry “Halo” fans), utilizing synths instead of Tedder’s preferred pianos. Tedder still got to keep his dramatic background vocals. The two most famous dude writers for lady vocalists got together with the best pop female vocalist. She’s the best because this whole song is basically a collection of the biggest cornball lines and scenes in the world, and coming out of her mouth they sound anthemic rather than cheesy. My favorite delivery is in the bridge, “You kill me, boy, XO” with the “kill” delivered with an urgency, tension, and emotion. Was there any chance that this wasn’t going to be huge?

Jonathan Bradley: Beyoncé has more than enough poise to do reverence well, but if that’s all “XO” were, it would be a manicured sequel to “1+1.” But this time there’s joy in her awe, immense and uncontainable joy so big and wild as to be frightening. Which is appropriate for an ecstasy so consuming that it approaches a singularity where love is indistinguishable from death: “Your heart is glowing and I’m crashing into you,” sings Knowles. “Baby, love me: lights out.” Yet, just hold on: “Your love is bright as ever even in the shadows,” and because death has no meaning without the life to which it forms a negative, the Beyoncé of “XO” is fiercely alive as well, wanting to be kissed, to be made immanent — “baby take me” — even while she becomes transcendent — “give me everything.” The final line surrenders as it triumphs: “you can turn my lights out.”

Anthony Easton: This is pop as eddy, as tidal ebb and flow, as dawn and dusk, as recursive, without nostalgia, as the idea of gifting, as moving forward in order to move back, as formalist masterpeice, and emotional heartbreak. This is pop as art, like how “God Only Knows” is pop as art, but with a glorious post-machine, cybernetic sheen. This is the hue and cry of the post-pop age. This is so beyond the body that it is an unincorporated ode to pleasures yet to be discovered. Here be monsters, but also perhaps ponies. Robot Ponies for a future that forgets dystopia. 

Scott Mildenhall: Mortality has never seemed so comfortably accepted, so prematurely. Whereas Guetta House’s now apt preoccupation with death manifested in ways from lurking implicit to “Oh my God, we’re going to die!” manners of explicit, “XO” sees it as a means of seduction. Of course the whole creeping doom thing is just a metaphor for The Night, but unless this really is an end of time situation, it’s probably not an imminent prospect. Why are you so happy about something hopefully so far away Beyoncé? Is it because your song about love is very nice? There’s an odd dissonance if you overthink it.

Isabel Cole: Beyoncé has long been a virtuoso of joy, but she’s never sounded so warm — not just towards her partner but to us. From the delicate, tossed-off hush of the opening to the swooning starry-eyed giddiness she releases into “you kill me boy, XO,” this song is less a monument to love and more a party thrown in its honor, one we’re all invited to. Amidst the gauzy gorgeousness, an unvarnished chorus arises in echo, so that we’re glimpsing both the magical and the profoundly humane; but then, Beyoncé’s performance alone encompasses that scope, from the tender hitches in the verses to the easy soar of the chorus. The lushness surrounding her gentle sweetness, the march of the beat below and bursts of sonic fireworks above — they’re for the lover and beloved, but when she’s inviting us to come so close, it’s hard not to feel their glow casting dancing rainbows on our skin. Who wouldn’t sing along?

Jer Fairall: We associate Beyoncé with strength much more than warmth, but her uncharacteristically vulnerable performance sells this. Still, what she’s selling here is a production and a lyric standard enough that it might have just as easily been a Rihanna or even a Katy Perry ballad with little alteration (though much less success), and generic is something that we definitely don’t associate with Beyoncé. 

Katherine St Asaph: The title had me fearing the worst, industry pressures planting a fucking Weeknd shoutout on Beyoncé. Instead, it’s “Halo,” or perhaps “Lift Off” or “I Was Here.” Not surprised this is the single; not really surprised by it, in general.

Patrick St. Michel: “XO” is the obvious choice for a single from Beyoncé because it’s the one song that sounds designed as a single. Not because it’s catchy — Beyoncé boils over with far catchier and far more interesting sounding songs — but because it sounds “big,” like someone describing what fireworks in the sky are like. It’s Ryan Tedder and The-Dream collaborating when just having one of them handle the song probably would have been better. It wastes Beyoncé’s voice in a flurry of synths and chanting. It’s just sorta boring.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: On an album that swerves in directions you don’t expect from the get go — we’ve covered two of them today — this is the big dumb world-crusher, expertly applied and executed, a huge-sounding blare that literally could be about anything. When defending her usage of the Challenger shuttle audio that opens the track, Knowles claimed that the song is about making the most out of the time we have with our loved ones. I hear it in the longing delivery of “you better kiss me/before our time has run out”, but I envision big dumb catharsis. Somewhere, someone is tetchily waiting to soundtrack a slow-motion Ronaldo goal with this and it is going to feel amazing. Expect the world crusher to roll out everywhere, more weapon than composition.

Alfred Soto: The shimmering and stuttering electronics envelop a Beyoncé so lovebuzzed that she can’t bring her voice down from empyrean heights. You can hear the Ryan Tedder section from Leningrad: parade ground chants, a not humble gesture for which superstars are required. If she’s looking for you through the crowd, bet on her finding you.

Brad Shoup: Did all these producers bow to their employer’s personality? Or did she break off a little bit of herself for everyone’s sound? Regardless, it’s funny that the most indie-rock thing on this album didn’t come from Jordy Asher. Pneumatic percussion terminating in squishes, ruminations on mortality echoed by little boys; this is the Walter Mitty power ballad. She’s most compelling when she dips into Patwah, settling into a warm creak until the chorus, when she and her boys shout “XO” like it’s more than it is.

Rebecca A. Gowns: Nobody can bring marital bliss to life like Beyoncé. This is the kind of song that indie bands wish they could make: large sound, poignant lyrics, hooks in the verses and chorus, built for singalongs and firework shows. It’s good. It’s really really good. With this one, Beyoncé has secured her spot as the queen of crowd-pleasing anthems.

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9 Responses to “Beyoncé – XO”


  2. Will nailed it.
    Where I could sense Tedder’s fingerprints all over Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” from earlier this year, thus preventing me from enjoying that song, here everything just works perfectly.

  3. *from last year.
    it’s 2014, dammit.

  4. I didn’t bother to check the credits for this one before blurbing, but Tedder’s presence definitely accounts for everything about this track that I don’t like.

  5. “and generic is something that we definitely don’t associate with Beyoncé. ”

    That’s a joke, right? She’s not Katy Perry but she’s one of the most generic stars we have, she just hides it a bit better than the rest.

    Anyway, not here for this album. I liked it better when Tinashe did it two years ago.

  6. Beyonce is overrated on this web page. As usual, I have to agree with Katherine: Boring.

  7. k

  8. Boring song but heartwarming video. Almost makes me like the song by association.

  9. There should be a name for these sort of Arcade Fire/Coldplay choirs, I’ve been hearing them everywhere for the past 10 years.