#RealLife is a monthly feature where Consequence of Sound staffers join forces with a diverse cadre of writers to share personal stories inspired by one legendary album. This month we tackle Beyoncé’s solo debut, 2003’s Dangerously in Love, sharing stories for every song on the album. Some of the stories may be inexorably linked to the album itself, and others may just share its themes, tone, and atmosphere. Regardless, they’re all real.
I didn’t like Beyoncé. I didn’t like Beyoncé for the same reason I didn’t like N’SYNC. “They don’t write their own music,” I sneered. “They’re not authentic,” I spat, my bony frame wrapped in flannel shirts six years past their time. I remember being irrationally angry when she was cast as Foxy Cleopatra in the third Austin Powers film. “She’ll ruin the integrity of the series!” *facepalm*
Of course, I didn’t try listening to Beyoncé, or N’SYNC, or 98 Degrees (okay, don’t regret the last one). I was an immature rocker kid in the Detroit suburbs with no musical guidance. No one introduced me to The Cure or Blondie or The Kinks. No one exposed me to the wonders of Donna Summer or Devo. I had Nirvana. I had Weezer. I had Tool. I hadn’t yet learned how important pop was to modern music. I liked music, but I didn’t love it. Because it’s hard to believe anyone who disregards entire genres really loves music.
Dangerously in Love changed that for me. Sure, my six-string shell had already begun to chip over the years, pocked by infectious singles from Nelly Furtado, Puff Daddy, and soulDecision (check out “Faded”; it holds up). But Dangerously in Love was the first straightforward pop album I allowed myself to ingest in full. Yes, it was for a girl, but I wasn’t just trying to make out with her when I said I loved it. I mean, “Crazy in Love” is perfect, guys.
These days, Beyoncé has transcended her status as pop starlet. She’s a performance artist, a feminist icon, an institution. But her debut album perseveres, having lodged itself into our collective unconscious as a beginning, a statement of individuality, or maybe just something we bounced to at school dances. Love her or hate her, you can’t deny her ubiquity.
Crazy in Love
By Caitlin White
It’s just a dumb golden star. It doesn’t even exist in reality. It’s just a digital facsimile of a star, really, a tacit approval from someone who has never even met you. What could be more bizarre than feeling something form in your heart based on a tweet or favorite? What could be crazier? I wanted to lose myself in the big band brass of it anyway, the saxophone riff of a mutual, unspoken crush, and the tug to know someone else’s thoughts. How could Twitter be my love story? I closed the browser and went to get dressed.
It felt like fall, but it was really winter. It was New Year’s Eve, and though dateless as usual, I was determined to look good enough to erase my loneliness. My brother worked at a fairly high-end cocktail bar and they were having a classic, five-course, fancy New Year’s Eve celebration. He had his cute girlfriend, whom I adored, to be his date, but I was going stag. That meant instead of hurrying through a primping routine to go meet up with a boyfriend/lover/date, I spent the full prep time on myself, perfecting every detail for no one. Or for just me, which sometimes felt like no one. So, I finally turned back to the outside world I’d connected with the most since I’d become a fledgling music writer in New York City: Twitter.
Plenty of people don’t like selfies because they think they’re inane, vain, narcissistic, mindless–the list goes on. I love selfies because they give me the chance to find an angle on myself that I find beautiful. Finding yourself beautiful is a hard, hard task, one that can be exacerbated by the dread of being alone. I was 24 and I had been alone for four years. While many of my conservative, religious friends had fallen in love in their teen years and gotten married, even had babies, I remained stubbornly single. I was unwilling to settle for a sorta love story and unable to find most men more interesting than pursuing a career. But I had developed what was admittedly a weird flirtation with another writer on Twitter. I posted the selfie and went to my dinner, ignoring the internet through all five courses. But when the toasts and kissing hit, I checked again—he faved the photo, and that felt like a sign. “Happy New Year!” I said to whomever had toasted me and downed my champagne with gusto.
Three days later and I’m eyeing my Gchat box like a drug. Three nights in a row we’d talked about literature, music, college, our families, hopes and dreams—all the shit that make twentysomethings fall in love. I was already gone and felt like an addict. My friends called him my “internet boyfriend” and just shook their heads at my constant phone clutching. But I trusted my instincts, and I kept the conversations going. Within two weeks he was planning to visit. Everyone laughed at my giddiness. Everyone said the same thing: “You’re crazy.”
I walked through Brooklyn every night blaring the same love songs through my headphones and battling the same fears. Was it real, or were we just imagining it? Would this phase last or suddenly pass by without warning? Of course, plenty of songs, movies, and books speak of not being able to do work, distracted by love, but I had never felt this. It feels dumb, even now, to write about falling in love through Twitter and Gchat–texts, selfies, and phone calls standing in for our first dates. It even sounds mundane at this point or like the stuff of a bad young adult novel. But to me, it was a romance for the ages, a classic tale of distance, time, and chance glancing off into an unshakeable trust.
And I still remember the first time I saw him, standing at the bottom of a train platform about to go up. I’d seen him in videos and photos, and I’d gotten more of a sense of him through texts and emails than most people know about their best friends—I guess that’s how it goes with writers—but seeing that he was real made all the fears and craziness fade. Finally, I felt sane—in real life.
By Brian Josephs
There are certain details about your adolescence you remember in quick flashes. Your first couple encounters with sex are one of them. Mine happened to be (other than accidentally stumbling onto the porn channel) Madonna’s “Erotica”, Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”, Tupac Shakur’s “How Do U Want It” video, and Beyoncé’s “Naughty Girl” video. “Naughty Girl” was one of the videos my parents said I shouldn’t watch. Because it was “bad.” She’s dancing in a champagne glass and strolls into a room with all eyes on her. Beyoncé is in total control here. Yet, it’s all “bad.” Ten years later, her self-titled album shows that politics are more complicated than that.
By Pat Levy
Sean Paul’s patois fills the middle school gym. It’s time to get jiggy with it, as they say. I walk into the room with three of my best bros, looking like the mid-puberty Entourage, and scan the prospects. Really, though, I just look around and note that all the cute girls are already dancing with other guys who are better than me at most things, but not the Bill Haverchuck dance. I commence the funk, drawing the eyes of several nearby teachers saddled with school dance chaperoning and the barely hidden alcohol breath that comes with it. “Levy, quit flopping around like that,” they say. I disregard. People still aren’t noticing, and Beyoncé is nearly done requesting that the male child in question fulfill her fantasies. I wonder, am I not in a position to be the titular boy in any of these girl’s lives? I cut myself off mid-funk as the song fades out, contemplative and concerned. The mediocrity of Maroon 5’s “This Love” starts to penetrate everyone’s ears, and I know what needs to be done. “Come get me when they play some good music. You know, Hoobastank or Akon. I’ll be in the other gym playing dodgeball.” I exit the gym, and somewhere Adam Levine weeps.
By Jeremy Owens
I danced myself across Chicago and into the homes of strangers. Isn’t that how you’re supposed to mark the end of a two-year relationship? A college professor. The guy next door, the one with the wavy, blonde hair you liked so much. A beautiful black man while his boyfriend watched. I wanted to feel everything that wasn’t you. Everything that looked in my direction. Everyone. Every. One. I am not cold and closed off. Look at all the bodies: my pile of proof.
Be with You
By Allison Shoemaker
We are 14. It’s Friday night, and we are sweaty and ate too much and yelled a lot. We know nothing about sports, but we think we won. We know nothing about high school, but we’re pretty sure we’re doing this wrong.
In the humid cafeteria, lights flash, bass thumps. Kids with eyeliner and expensive sneakers chew gum and cling to each other. Sometimes they move their hips. Sometimes they sneak into a corner and drink. Mostly they watch each other, touch each other, sweat.
We jump around to fast songs, but when the DJ plays a ballad, plays R&B, we’re sunk. We hug the wall. We watch. We sweat, we panic, we shrink. Then a discovery saves us. We join hands, we skip in a circle, we become a ballet corps. We embrace the awkward. We reject the sexy. We stay kids. We are obnoxious and wonderful.
Me, Myself and I
By Eileen Dougharty
“One way ticket to Seattle will cost you $287. But all that stuff, that’s another story.”
“All that stuff” Janice is referring to is my overloaded luggage cart, stacked with suitcases, cardboard boxes, and a garbage bag full of shoes.
“You can check one bag for free. Second one is $50. Everything else is $100 a piece.”
I tell Janice I left my boyfriend of five years after his cheating became common knowledge. Filled my Volkswagen with my possessions, headed home to Seattle. Fried the engine on a 107 degree day. Hitchhiked to the Medford airport, in flip-flops with dirty feet.
Janice tells me she left her cheating husband five years ago, the hardest thing she ever had to do. Janice checks every bag, every box, charges me nothing.
As I make my way to the gate, I’m not feeling the crush of having no job, no car, no man, no plan. I feel only the weightlessness of being free.
By Dennis Frymire
“We should wait until we’re married.”
I meant those words. I was 16, and she was 14, and I believed Angela and I would marry one day. So did she. And she agreed with my proclamation.
Eventually, we were still virgins by only the most technical definition. That wasn’t enough for me, even as I realized I didn’t want to spend my life with her. She still wanted to honor the “True Love Waits” abstinence pledge we had taken at church.
There was no pronouncement when it happened. We were fooling around in her bedroom; I was grinding against her like I had many times before. Then she reached down and put me inside her.
I was 19, and she was 17.
After, I said, “That was a surprise.”
“Well, I realized you’re never going to ask me to marry you,“ she said. “So … might as well, right?”
By Natasha Samreny
Gemini was the first time I found understanding in astrology. He was manipulative and I was young. Sounds like a half-baked Lifetime movie. All I knew was we didn’t function together – one second he asked me to marry him, the next he made me cry.
I didn’t believe in horoscopes, really. I just flipped straight to them whenever I got Cosmo. I was religious, so God had the answers. Outside, obedience drove conscious action; inside, I was in turmoil. “Should I marry him? What if he doesn’t change? Is this what happiness is supposed to feel like, or do I really have to wait for Eternity to feel joy?”
In a shoe store the night before, my body was turning inside out, and I still hadn’t bought my wedding shoes. I didn’t need another horoscope or prayer to convince me of what I already knew.
By Leah Pickett
I am 15 and rarely speechless. I act in school plays and dance in a pre-professional ballet company, twirling on stages in Vienna, Venice, and New York City. I am dramatic and immature. I laugh loudly, speak out of turn, and embrace life with an open heart. I don’t know much about pain or sorrow. I haven’t been in love yet.
That’s How You Like It
By Randall Colburn
Windsor. We’re 19 in Windsor, drinking Bud Lights, spinning under disco lights at Bentley’s, Wired, Woody’s, Joker’s, and her name is Linda or Loni or Laura and she can’t remember her friends beyond the Absolut but she’ll always remember me even if it’s just “one night,” she says, “is sometimes all we need” before evaporating into the oscillating reds, blues, and greens and outside frosted tips in blazers call us faggots so David fights him until they’re both bleeding and the cops are tired the cops don’t care the cops are tired and “go fuck somewhere else” they say so we eat pizza and Burger King poutine from a Canadian Burger King and outside one car smashes into another and Jason can’t stop staring at the blood dripping from the woman’s eye so we drink more to forget and maybe I’ll meet another Linda or Loni or Laura maybe if I keep dancing I’ll look like I know what I’m doing but the night ends alone we’re alone me, Jason, and David, driving through customs and the man asks, “What did you do?”
“Not much,” we reply. “Quiet night.”
And he hands me back my license, smirking. “And that’s how you kids like it these days, isn’t it?”
They search our car, but there’s nothing to find. Whatever they were looking for, we left it in Windsor.
The Closer I Get to You
By Brenna Kearney
He walked ahead of me toward our front door. It was one of the only warm days we would have that summer. He wore a t-shirt that accentuated the familiar curves and grooves of the muscles in his shoulders and back. We should have been enjoying the warmth together, but he walked away from me. I stopped at the gate. I watched him open the door, step over the threshold, and disappear into the dark hallway of the house we shared.
Dangerously in Love
By Nick Tsangaris
Young love pulls no punches. I unapologetically loved Steve in the only way a seventh grader who just broke through the chains of what love should look like and realized what love looked like to him could: pure, simple, with a six-pack. With the crossbeams of my top bunk as my audience, I sang about a concept I never really thought about. It was on that day that I realized how high a person’s love can transcend. As a performer, I am systematically fighting the constraints words put on my emotional message. “Dangerously in Love” was the first time I experienced a liberation through words on such a heavy subject instead of a constriction. And it was through this release that I was able to write in the back of my yearbook about Steve, physicalizing an emotion that before had been so out of reach. Granted, things did not work out with Steve and me. But it’s okay. His girlfriend in 8th grade started puberty a month earlier than me. Game’s gotta respect game.
By Joshua Davis
I remember the first time I saw you.
You smiled at me and made a snarky comment about robots. I can’t remember the exact words you said, but I remember the way your eyes crinkled as you laughed.
They were dark and I rolled up in them like a ham sandwich, smothered in tomato sauce from that deli down the street.
Why do the badgers of my mind eggs dance in the crinkled laughter of panda baby robot delis that smell of hamburger and regret and harmonies and colors and shit?
I like your face.
Gift from Virgo
By Ruth McCormack
It started as a bit, and, really, I’ve got to stop falling in love for laughs. It always gets real and I should know better, but when Rachel saw a guy from work on Tinder, of course I said, “Oh my god, he’s like so handsome, I’m gonna swipe right all over his cute face.” I’m the last single one of my friends, maybe of all humans anywhere, and I do this boy-crazy bit so nobody thinks I’m lonely. The bit always gets out of hand, and now I notice my office crush all over, and I call him the OC so I can do this bit about Arrested Development where I say, “Don’t call him that.” Ugh, bits, I know, but he is really handsome, and nice, and it makes me all fluttery to even look at him, but when I do his eyes are kind of hazel or something. It always gets real.
By RK Arceneaux
I get my “Jew nose” from my dad. My mom burned all of the photos of him so I have no idea what he looks like but my uncle says like Bob Saget and now when I watch Full House things get weird. Me and my sisters always begged my mom to take us to the grocery store with her but she never would because we asked for too much shit and once a lady in Claire’s saw her pinch my arm until I cried and threatened to report her to DCFS. My mom went to the Brickyard Jewel without us and came home in a really good mood because she ran into my dad. My uncles were with her and they held him down as she kicked him in the face with her leather platform Candie’s boots.
My sister does not have a Jew nose. She has a regular nose and everyone in my family likes her better. She is more conventionally prettier but she is an “n-lover.” She asked for a pair of Phat Farm sneakers for her birthday and even though there are only two black kids in our whole school, Alphonso and Rosemary, she was friends with both of them. She also tells everyone she wants to be a wrestler for WWE, but not the sexy stripper kind with huge fake tits. She is going to be Chris Benoit so my mom says she’s going to end up a “fucking dyke.”
Beating my dad’s face in cheered her up a lot and that week we got a Columbia House mailer (get 15 CDs for the price of 1!). She filled out several vouchers using our names and let us pick one CD. My sister desperately wanted the new Beyoncé but my mom was afraid of encouraging her blackness and Bey is scantily clad on the cover so it could make her more gay, but we got our albums and just two months ago my sister went in to buy her first car and the credit guy told her she has a delinquent charge for Columbia House from 11 years ago which is pretty shitty because all my mom had to do was call and say we were underage and they would’ve erased the debt. But it was totally fucking worth it even though we always skipped over deep cuts like “Daddy”.