Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie makes a surprise appearance on Flawless, one of the many (for lack of a better word) flawless tracks on Beyoncé’s fifth solo album. The sample comes from a TEDx talk by the writer, where she says: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much’.” As Beyoncé’s swirling voice takes a backseat, Adichie continues: “Because I am a female, I am expected to aspire to marriage...But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? [sic]”

It is an arresting moment in what has been, until this point, a feisty, passionate, hummable, danceable bunch of songs. One gets the sense though, that Adichie isn’t here merely to add gravitas to what is, after all, simply a pop album. Her presence underscores Beyoncé’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a pop musician in 2014.

Sure, there are plenty of moments that exist only to showcase her gorgeous voice (Pretty Hurts, Blue) or the extraordinarily talented producers on board. But there are an equal number of lush moments that take her into unchartered territory, where she towers not just over guest vocalists (including husband Jay Z on Drunk in Love, or heavyweight Drake on Mine) but technology (Pharrell Williams and Timbaland on Blow) itself. She becomes larger than life in those moments, displaying the kind of power one assumed had died with the passing of giants like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

The accompanying DVD adds immensely to her statement about this being a ‘visual album.’ It changes the way these songs are presented and received. It’s January, but this may well be the pop release of the year.

— Beyoncé, Beyoncé,
CD-DVD, Sony Music, Rs 499