Beyonce recently released a song via sound cloud entitled “Bow Down/I Been On” that is being highly criticized. I take issues with the criticisms. I firmly believe that the criticisms stem from our patriarchal and self-centered consumption of culture, particularly the cultural work and products of women and girls.
My issues are not because there are criticisms. I believe we should engage in more constructive criticisms of contemporary culture and it’s materials. Yet, I take issues with the commentary surrounding Beyonce and the single for two primary reasons 1) Because of how she is being criticized and 2) the lack of actual criticalness in the actual criticisms.
The Gaze of Criticism
Much of the criticisms I have encountered center on the language being used, the fact that the song displays (too much of her) hoodness, and that she’s gone too far in her arrogance. Many are displeased with the use of the word bitch and crying foul. Many men and women, mostly women, are upset about the use of the word long deemed derogatory and engaging in debates similar to those surrounding the word nigger. Women of all races and age groups are arguing that she’s contradicting herself and that her image as a role for girls and girl power is now tainted.
She’s just gone and ruined everything!
Hold on, wait a minute. She’s gone and ruined what?
Beyonce has used the word bitch before in popular songs. Moreover, have you ever listened to “Ring the Alarm”? What about “Irreplaceable” or “Crazy in Love” or going back to gurl group days, “Bills, Bills, Bills” Or “No, No, No”? Capitalistic consumption is a tricky beast. Beyonce is a creative genius, pulling the puppet strings and making us dance, while we all think we’re real boys.
Through our purchasing and engagement of artists we create an image of an artist that fits with our beliefs and priorities. Often, an artist with a discography as varied and deep as Beyonce’s is largely appealing for this very reason. Particularly because she rarely explains her work, she simply produces and distributes it. This unadulterated presentation allows consumers (folks who refer to themselves as fans) to connect as they wish. Thereby, folks are able to create a Frankenstein Beyonce of sorts.
Fans and consumers alike, can piece together the ideas, emotions and experiences of each song they decide to consume and enjoy. This Franken-Bey is of our own creation. It represents ourselves, (our) Beyonce is just like us. She has had our experiences; she has felt the same emotions we have; she believes the same things we believe. How do we know this? Because she sang about it in that one song and we were really feeling it; we know just where she’s coming from.
Oh really, do you?
Let’s talk about that too.
Critiques Absent of What’s Critical
Critical actually means to involve the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. Objective in this case doesn’t mean, without bias, it means based on actual fact. The actual facts are:
Beyonce is from the third ward of Houston. Parts of which went through a process of gentrification late in the first decade of the current millennium, many parts of which did not. I’ve never heard of gentrifying or revitalizing a neighborhood that is already posh and upscale. So for those of you that have only consumed Beyonce as a grown woman, writing and singing about love and making her space in the world, I’d like to let you know that it’s the hood. Beyonce has never hidden this and isn’t ashamed of it, folk just attend to what they wish. But this is the woman who wrote, sang and danced appropriately to Booty-licious ending the video quite well with a fedora and gold tooth. Please also see the video for “Soldier” (listen to the lyrics as well) and listen to the actually lyrical content of “Lose my Breathe.” All of which are her creative works (see what happens when there are no more liner notes to flip through and read – darn iTunes). She met, attracted the attention of, sustained a relationship with, and subsequently entered in the agreement of marriage with Jay-Z, Jigga, Rock-boy. She has never said or indicated that she was your girl next door – nor that she wanted to be.
Additionally, those critiquing the song also neglect to see the lyrical, musical and conceptual overlap between “Bow Down” and MUCH of her other work as a solo artist. “Bow Down” is much more complex and intricate than these other popular singles. This may be the reason why folks are having a hard time digesting it. I’ve detected 4 or 5 musical layers in “Bow Down.” Many of them are rythmically and tonally similar to layers in her previous work. If you take them apart and, one or two layers at a time, pair them with the swaggerfic-gangsta-arrogant-can’t-nobody-tell-me-nothing trope she’s invoking you will get the following singles:
…well you get the point, as many of these were released as singles and videos. If you didn’t pick up what was being putting down, here is the point:
We are only surprised because we weren’t paying attention to her body of work. To her artistry. To her. We’ve been consuming without analysis, true evaluation or actual attention to the critical, i.e. important, threads that have ALWAYS run through her artistry. The products of her craft she has offered to us. Products to which, when offered to you, you did not say, “No, thank you.”
So as Beyonce said, but you didn’t like to admit, “I know when you were little girls you dreamt of being in my world, don’t forget it, don’t forget it. RESPECT THAT…”
Blog vibes: “Lost & Found” by Lianne La Havas; “EAsier” by Fred Hammond; “Still” by Yellokake; “The Highway Don’t Care” by Tim McGraw