I don't watch football, but I am reliably informed that Beyoncé motherfucking killed at the Super Bowl. (I'm also reliably informed that the power went out right after her halftime show. The idea of NOLA's major stadium in the dark is infinitely funnier when it's because of random circuit breaker fail instead of a natural disaster.) I have not paid as much attention to her as perhaps I should have. She is one of several pop artists who first hit while I was a teenager, all of whom are literally within months of my own age -- in Beyoncé's case, it's a matter of less than a week -- and there was a point in my early twenties when so many of them were disintegrating into total trainwrecks that I had to just forget that they existed in order to stop the urge to apologize to basically everyone else on Earth for my generation. Most of them turned out reasonably all right in the end, although God knows nobody expected Xtina to be the one who didn't end up with a serious drug problem and more unsuccessful marriages than Liz Taylor.

Beyoncé takes flak for a lot of things that are unutterably stupid. Her body, for one. I don't know if you've noticed, but BeyBey does a lot of bouncy jiggling when she dances, partly because she rocks it, but mostly because no matter what she weighs, she is pretty much T&A on some very shiny legs. Having a substantial backside gets you a lot of complaints from the kinds of people who have been breathing LA smog for way too long. This is particularly irksome because it forces people to argue with the asshats by either pointing out that that she's not fat -- which she isn't, but having to say that implies that the "fat" part is the insulting part you're trying to refute -- or stick to addressing whether or not it's appropriate to bitch about someone else's shape while pointedly not addressing the matter of what she looks like -- which implies that you agree that she is fat and thereby sets a totally bizarre standard for what actually qualifies as fat.

People also occasionally whip up a teapot-tempest over how explicit she can get in both her lyrics and her videos. Beyoncé happens to be a very mainstream kind of attractive, and she likes to conform to that image in many ways -- she wears wigs a lot, or straightens her hair and adds extensions, she goes for glamour-girl makeup and nails, and in general she likes to flash a lot of skin. There are people out there who believe that any adherence to traditional beauty ideals is a tacit support to the institutionalized misogyny that teaches women that their appearance is their only valuable trait, and that any woman who doesn't do her utmost to reject these trappings is essentially against feminism. There aren't many of them, but as with religious fundamentalists, the craziest ones are the loudest and most determined to scream over everyone else, so they get a disproportionate amount of media attention.

Personally, I like her. She does a lot of things I would consider to be very feminist, particularly in the sense that they highlight a lot of cultural inequality without feeling the need to end with either 'and I hate you all' or 'but I go with it anyway, because I have to in order to survive'. There are a lot of female R&B artists that I avoid, because their idea of pushing equality of the sexes involves co-opting a lot of the callousness and belligerent imagery that men have traditionally been allowed to employ in R&B and rap music -- I mean, you go on if that's the kind of idea you want to conjure up, but I'm really kind of not good with my playlist being all about dumping people after fucking them in either a literal or metaphorical sense, or with asserting your power by employing physical violence. It just strikes me as attacking the problem backwards, much like how Hollywood has tried "fixing" the disparity between male and female movie stars by also making it possible for a man to be famous for being hot even if he as the brains of a turnip, rather than opening up the field for women to be famous for being witty, regardless of what they look like,.

(For the record, I avoid male artists who like this theme, too. I tried going through a bunch of Tupac Shakur once, and I just couldn't get past the amount of very graphic badness he incorporated into some very good music. I know it's meant as realism and commentary, but I just did not have it in me to keep listening.)

Beyoncé instead goes for a lot of very pointed gender-bending. The critique of the emotional double standard applied to men and women in relationships is explicit and treated at great length in "If I Were A Boy", which incidentally also pleases me by using the subjunctive verb mood correctly:



It's only slightly less obvious in "Suga Mama".



Her "menswear" wardrobe is both hyper-feminized and hyper-sexualized, and she spends half the video clinging to a stripper pole, but the lyrics are an unapologetic subversion of the normal image of a woman as being herself the commodity under consideration. Women traditionally offer their body and their sexual fidelity as the valuable things they would bring to a relationship; Beyoncé here instead offers money and power, which is the customary mating call of the human male.

On the other hand, in "Upgrade", with real-life hubsand Jay-Z--



--she lists a lot of these same points and a state of general sexual attractiveness as things that the two of them can offer each other, even explicitly checking the fact that it's a rare and lucky thing to meet your equal. There's a similar theme in "Ego":



...and in "Why Don't You Love Me", she gives an acknowledgement that sometimes, even having everything and being an awesome human being doesn't really help, when it doesn't get someone you want to want you back.



And I can't leave out one of her most famous numbers, and one of the all-time great "welp, fuck you, then" songs, "Irreplaceable".

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