I know this is awfully perinatal of me, but I’ve had Beyoncé’s “Countdown” on the brain for weeks. So, with natural numbers, I’m running down some thoughts on a song that has been stuck in my head and whispered out of my lips while anticipating buses, scrubbing my back and pacing the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to hiss.

Ten years of courtship later and six years after “Crazy in Love,” Beyoncé has progressed, to nutty-bordering-incoherent — devotional with one riff and defiant with the next — in a kaleidoscope of atomic vocalese. “Countdown” gives her the canvas for it — in mixed media — a patch-worked roller coaster through which no dominant melody or mood can pierce. From that opening melismatic “boy,” (transcribed loosely as buoyee-eh-eeh-yee-hee-yee-hee-ee-hee-ee-yee-ee! and yes, you call us “girl,” we’ll call you “boy!”) Beyoncé is transfiguring/deconstructing (grammar?), tearing up the damn place. Rather than pie-ee-eece out her syllables mechanically like Katy Perry or faux-tropically via Rihanna, Beyoncé’s (occasionally overachieving — but here, wholly earned) aerobics massage them, oiling in casual snarls, octaval flips, jubilance. Love is “low-ooh-of.” Sing is “sayng.” (to rhyme with chain). Boo becomes “boof,” no questions asked. When language limits me, I have been known to sing. Or make up words.

Nine is the number of people credited with writing “Countdown,” which bears little skepticism considering the song’s Frankensteinian chassis. Dancehall, Tusk-style horns, Boyz II Men, steel drums, throw it all in! Each segment collides with the next, edge-of-folding-chair, white-finger-tipped snare-rolling, tom-breaking, methyplenidated, adjective pileup. If K-pop has taken the torch of maximalist pop, “Countdown” is the final salvo of a nation one year deep inside a darker decade.

8. If we’re going to hash out Beyoncé’s place in feminism, we’re going to need some hyphens. Post/non/second?-wave, Bey’s calls for female empowerment, like in “Run the World (Girls)” or “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” are either too conflicted to bear inspection or reductive against their best intentions. “Countdown” revels in domestic pleasures — still-sexin’-but-no-longer-clubbin,’ unabashedly heteronormative. But she gets her kicks in with the divine “Say it real loud if you fly / If you leave me you out of yo mind,” a threat and an invitation. But then we’ve got “Yup I put it on him, it ain’t nothing that I can’t do / Yup I buy my own if he deserve it, buy his shit too,” in which sex and money, as always, equal control. Lest we forget a man wrote these lyrics?

Seventy-one (I cheat sometimes) is the top spot “Countdown” has reached on the Billboard Hot 100 (as of writing this) which suggests some things and makes nothing clear. To begin with, “Countdown” can’t sit nicely with anything Euro-thumping the top 10 (even Rihanna has folded) these days. None of 4’s singles have had much staying power, which seems to say more about their independence (maturity?) from pop radio’s clubbing-turning-to-fatalism/predestination (i.e. Ne-Yo on Pit-Bull’s “Give Me Everything” “for all we know / we might not get tomorrow,” a trend I like) than of their mediocrity.

6. Let the culture vultures pick at “Countdown” ’s video for its cut-and-paste pastiche/plagiarism of Hepburn/Keersmaeker/everything. The clip’s hydra-headed po-po-mo velocity suits the track like its kinky snapped fingers set against those twee, clinking keyboards — unexpectedly well.

5. A conversation via text with a female friend at 3:15 a.m.:

Me: Writing about Beyoncé

Friend: She run the world

Me: Thoughts on her?

Friend: Sassy diva bitch with meaty thighs (in a good way)


3:33 – total track time, 213 – seconds total, 33 – number of replays on my iTunes in a week. Give it time.

Two months ago, there was a comment — so beautifully succinct — regarding previous single, “Run the World (Girls)” about who really “runs” the world, featured on an article titled “Beyoncé Wants to Rebrand Feminism,” saying it better than I can: “SIMPLE….MEN DON’T, WOMEN DON’T…SATAN THINKS HE DOES…BUT GOD DOES ACTUALLY.”

1 … What is the countdown to, exactly?

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