First post back and I’m about to go hard about what has already been well tread territory for a few weeks now: the goddess Beyonce and her surprise new album. Lots of people, especially the feminist media, have weighed in, and now it’s my turn to add to the convo.
Here’s the thing about this album. We could talk about how brilliant it is to drop it with no notice (because she is BEYONCE and needs no introduction), to create a visual for each song because she understands how visual the current technology driven culture is, how those videos further give her control over her image and brand (a control which she is often criticized for, but which I think is incredible and empowering), and how generally savvy this move was.
But that’s not why I’m so hype.
We could argue about how enraged I become at some of the criticism leveled her way. That she is too cold and controlling, when a woman so completely in control of her public image is actually quite a slap in the face to patriarchy and the male-controlled music industry at large. That she doesn’t write her own songs, and so she is an ‘entertainer’ not an ‘artist’. First of all, she does write. Second of all, writing songs vs performing as the marker of true artistry is a completely arbitrary distinction. It is not the case that one is more authentic or difficult than the other, and to say so reeks of all kinds of weird prejudices.
But I’m not here to argue. I’m here to talk about why we should all be amped about this release.
I’m hype because she continues to be a dominant female force in a world where many females, even if they seem dominant, and largely puppet-ed and exploited. I’m hype because she is a black woman creating a cultural moment that is undeniable, demanding of our attention, a show of total strength, control, and confidence.
And I’m hype most of all because this album is dripping with sex. But its not the kind of sex we usually see. When you look at other sex kittens of our time, from Brit Brit to Katy and even Tay Tay (though her whole appeal and genre are in a different category), the sexuality that is created and consumed is strikingly adolescent. These are images of young girls, who even when they are no longer teenagers cling to that aesthetic. Katy prances around amongst candy, with huge innocent eyes and lyrics about ‘teenage dreams.’ Brit came to rise in a school girl outfit and continues to wear skimpy clothes without convincing anyone that she is enthused about it (or about making music in general.) The music is about flirting, about boys and first love mistakes. And I like it. But this is the only kind of sexuality we are shown in pop culture, and it is stunted. Even Taylor, who I would argue pulls no punches and speaks truthfully about her experiences (which she is criticized needlessly for) is still talking about young love. She doesn’t really come off as in control. And there is never real talk about what women want, sexually, from men. It’s all batting our eyelashes and wondering what he’s thinking and does he like me and am I good enough and I’m totally the best girl for you look at how shiny and fun I am! To be fair, the portrayals of male sexuality are not any better (BLURRED LINES UGH) but that’s another topic for another day. This body of work that Beyonce has created is a different kind of sexy. She is a woman. A woman over 30. A mother. A wife, to a black rap icon/mogul. And she is at the peak of her sexiness. And she is owning it. This is nothing less than completely revolutionary. Sure, you may say, she is still trying to be beautiful and fits mostly within the confining and un-diverse beauty standards we force on women. But this isn’t entirely true. Her body isn’t typical, the variety of looks she can pull off isn’t typical, and the use of feminist voice overs and unapologetic strength while still being almost painfully sexy is not typical. Unlike the other ladies I’ve mentioned, there is nothing girlish about her. Her demands, and her ass(ets) are undeniable, forceful, and unapologetic. Complaining because she still looks amazing is to ignore the fact that she is still trying to sell a product in an industry whose main currency is image. But she is EXPLOITING this. She controls her image in a way that artists like Miley only claim to do. I don’t believe for a second that Miley feels totally in control of her career, her body, or her image. She is a kid making mistakes and trying to find herself, and that’s fine. But when the feminists come to her rescue against the slut-shamers while ignoring the ways that taking your clothes off is still problematic and so is appropriating black culture, they are missing the point. Beyonce lets you hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie define feminist in the song Flawless. Are you listening? (Ok I can only find the preview which doesn’t have the voice over cause she HANDLES HER CONTENT so enjoy)
That voice, over the image of her dancing fiercely and declaring herself flawless from the moment she wakes, is a fucking powerful statement. Moreover, her sexuality in the context of her marriage is extremely powerful. White feminists aren’t seeing the whole picture when she deride her for using the ‘Mrs Carter’ name. Black woman are statistically less likely to get married, and live in a world that portrays them as animalistically/dangerously sexy, single mothers, or as raising other people’s kids. You can’t separate her identity as a woman from her identity as a black woman, and in this context her marriage and motherhood are powerful cultural symbols. They don’t symbolize settling or limiting herself, which is crazy to even say BECAUSE FUCKING LOOK AT HER. She is at the top of her game. This is not a case of internalized misogyny or a lack of self awareness. She knows exactly who she is, and to come out with this album as a married women demanding to be idolized, fantasized about, and satisfied by her man, is so amazing and sex positive that I can hardly watch the videos without exploding from joy. This is truly a woman claiming and in control of her sexuality and sex life. Watching other artists prance around scantily clad and claiming to feel empowered looks silly after seeing this album. Hearing stunted claims like ‘Oh I got what you want, I got what you need’ is laughable after watching her expose herself, and be vulnerable, while demanding satisfaction. This is the kind of sexuality I want to see more of, and it should be celebrated. It is bold, and brave. It’s fierce. She is setting a new standard for black female sexual empowerment, and we should all take note, listen, and admire. After all, she demands it.