Why voluntary (and really all) single motherhood is the last feminist frontier.
Last week, someone asked me if I was a Beyoncé fan.
The question kind of caught me off guard. "Do we even have a choice anymore? Aren't we contractually obligated to be Beyoncé fans?" was my honest answer.
I hesitate to write this because what can be said about Beyoncé at this point? In fact, when people come around and bring up Beyoncé, my answer is an curt "don't talk to me about Beyoncé."
A large, very entitled part of me just feels like they don't deserve that particular conversation, and I don't have the energy to humor their opinions about how great she is. I get it, you saw Single Ladies. I get it, you were surprised by the surprise album.
That's not to say that I think I'm Beyoncé's biggest fan, not by far, but I'd say that I'm up there. But Beyoncé does incite this irrational possessiveness in her fans, as I illustrate above.
I just, we all know that Beyoncé is a force of nature, we don't need to rehash it every single time she updates her Instagram and sends the internet into a frenzy. You wanna talk to me about Beyoncé? Show me your worn out copy of Destiny's Child. Whip out your VHS of Carmen: A Hip Hopera and then we can have a conversation.
I have, and have always had, all of these opinions about Beyoncé, but none of them matter. She's one of the only artists, and certainly the biggest artist, that creates from the inside out. She seemingly does not pay attention to feedback, positive or negative (though when is it ever negative when it comes to Beyoncé?)
Ever since the first Lemonade teaser last Saturday, all I've been hearing is "Tynan! Did you hear that Beyoncé is releasing an album on Saturday?"
"Do you know that Beyoncé is premiering another visual album on Saturday?"
Yes, motherfucker I do know, oddly enough. I have a WIFI connection, as well as five fully functioning senses. Everyone knows that Beyoncé is premiering on Saturday.
But what do we really know? What do any of us know? NOTHING. Every time the word "album" carelessly falls out of someone's stupid mouth, I have to stop them short. Beyoncé isn't just any old pop star. She plays completely by her own rules. We don't know what she's doing. We don't ever know what she's doing.
There is no anxiety quite like trying to decipher Beyoncé's next move.
I'd love to think that we're getting an album Saturday night. That'd make sense, wouldn't it? That's what bothers me. That's what strikes fear into my heart. When have any of us ever been right about whatever it is Beyoncé is doing?
What I love, what a lot of us love, about Beyoncé, is that she is simultaneously the most famous and most private person on the planet. Her fame and her secrecy have formed this symbiotic relationship, each heightening the other, which is what makes her both more mysterious and more powerful than anyone else on in pop music or popular culture right now.
Her silence isn't always celebrated. There have been many times in the past few years where people have looked to her to use her voice and influence for the benefit of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as LGBT community, to be met, a lot of the time, with the same silence that has made her such a mystery.
That's not to say that she's always quite in times when her voice could be of value. She was on the ground with Jay Z at the Justice For Trayvon Martin vigil in 2013, as well as using her Instagram to urge her followers to support the NAACP after the unrest in Baltimore after the death of 25-year-old African-American Freddie Gray who died in police custody.
It's understandable why people would look to Beyoncé, one of most powerful women in the world, and on top of that, a black woman, to speak up in times of such political unrest, especially involving issues of race. It does raise questions to me about an artist's obligation to become politically engaged, especially at the request or demand of their fanbase. Where and when does an artist draw the line when it comes to issues of where their voice could help the dialogue? Do they need to speak out on any issue, when requested?
The power of Beyoncé's voice, or lack thereof, was never more apparent than when the world did a collective spit take after the piece from the New York Times where her rep stated "Beyoncé has not answered any direct questions for more than a year."
Once again, everyone was talking about Beyoncé not talking, and Beyoncé, unbothered as ever, was not saying anything at all.
And then, one afternoon in the middle of February, Beyoncé broke her silence in the most Beyoncé way possible: Dropping a new single complete with a music video that made it clear that Beyoncé was back, and she brought an axe to grind.
The song is great, but it can't, and shouldn't be separated from the video. "Formation" opens with Louisiana gay icon Messy Mya declaring, as if coming from Beyoncé herself, "Bitch, I'm back."
When hearing it in the club, it's easy to forget that, in the video, at the climax of the first verse celebrating her black, southern roots, she stops it and does the whole verse all over again, just in case you missed it the first time. This go round, she gets help from Messy Mya and another Southern queer icon, Big Freedia, who reminds you, care of Beyoncé, "I did not come to play with you hoes."
Whatever she has in store for us, it seems like she's finally ready to speak, whether all on her own, or through others like Mya, Big Freedia, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, or UFC Champion Ronda Rousey (she used Rousey's "Do Nothing Bitch" speech in her live performances of "Flawless" last summer.)
This time, it's going to be different. It's already different because, this time, we have warning.
In 2013, Beyoncé told GQ:
"I now know that, yes, I am powerful," she says. "I’m more powerful than my mind can even digest and understand."
This quote ended her cover story was kind of a mic drop and a punch line, and most people took it as the latter. While we all laughed at it at the time, after everything she's accomplished since, it's less comical and more of, well, the truth.
While artists like Kanye West scream at the top of their lungs about wanting to "shift the paradigm," Beyoncé simply does so without any fanfare or explanation. Delivering her message as a package deal, letting the music and visuals speak for themselves and saying little else, she constantly forges new ground if only because she's playing by no one's rules but her own. She presents herself as a powerful, at times vulnerable, and, god forbid, multidimensional woman, never apologizing for it because she meant what she said the first time she said it.
She's made us feel empowered, she's made us dance, she's made us fall in love, but she's never really asked us to think, about anyone but herself, that is. It seems like that's all about to change. Maybe.
BUT THAT'S THE POINT. Lemonade might not be new body of work at all! She could pull a giant "You thought!" NOTHING IS SACRED.
Lemonade could be any one of the following:
- A giant commercial for the Formation World Tour, for which "Formation" is the only new song, and the setlist is otherwise identical to The Ms. Carter Show.
- An extended version of the Ivy Park athleisure collection ad.
- A director's cut of her 2013 HBO documentary Life Is But A Dream.
- A commercial for the cookbook she announced in 2011 during the 4 era that she then swept under the rug (complete with cooking segment.)
- A full music video/H&M commercial for the original version of "Standing on the Sun" which was not included on her fifth album, only the rerelease as a remix. #Justice4StandingOnTheSun
Is it an album? I'm not holding my breath. We'll have to wait and see. Whatever it is, there's a good chance it's going to change the game. Again.
Tynan is counting the hours until Lemonade on Twitter @TynanBuck.