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My love of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter runs so deep it’s close to fanaticism. The only thing preventing me from crossing the border to permanently reside in the land where all the super crazy Beyoncé fans live is the fact that I need to stay employed and tweeting about her all day does not pay my bills.
It all started in 1998, when I stumbled across a picture of Destiny’s Child in a magazine. The root of my fascination was fickle, I thought they were pretty girls and I liked their hair. Eventually I actually listened to their music and was hooked, living vicariously through DC and their changing lineup.
Finally, in 2004, I had the privilege of watching Destiny’s Child perform live. I screamed until I was hoarse and was convinced Beyoncé waved at me. There was no going back at that point.
Recently Beyoncé released “Bow Down/I Been On,” a snippet of her new work. My initial reaction? Beyoncé. Good grief. Why didn't you stick to the rivers and the lakes you were used to?
I quickly concluded the purpose of the track must be to generate conversation both on and offline. Or perhaps it was a parody. Sonically, it's an unpleasant experience. It’s syncopated in the wrong places, the production is vacant of soul and adventure, and it’s lyrically clunky. I believe the track is beneath Beyoncé’s level of talent and experience. Musically, it's not risky enough and, if anything, Beyoncé’s playing to the part of herself that she shouldn’t -- the part where she panders to the status quo.
Since being a Beyoncé fan means you relinquish the right to publicly critically assess her work, a few mindless members of the Beyhive (Beyoncé’s online following) attacked me on Twitter. Insults included “Die bitch” and “Your mother should have aborted you” (Sidebar: I wish we could find some way of restricting the Internet access of cowards who only seek to use it to anonymously attack people.)
They couldn’t change my mind, though. I am a Beyoncé fan, but I cannot with good conscience say this is a good song.
I assumed the views on the song would broadly fall into one of three camps. The fans who think it’s a stroke of genius, the detractors who think it’s the chronicles of a narcissist being sung on an inane beat and Beytheists -- people like my parents who will never hear the song, because frankly they don’t give a damn. However the debate surrounding the song has taken an interesting turn.
In spite of the song’s obvious playfulness, people have taken its message literally.
Keyshia Cole, (an outspoken R&B singer who’s as famous for her tumultuous family life as she is for her music), called Beyoncé out via Twitter on her “hypocrisy.” According to Cole, in one breath Beyoncé tells women to stick together, and now it’s “bitches better bow." Writing for the Washington Post, Rahiel Tesfamariam goes as far to say the song sabotages Beyoncé's female empowerment efforts.”
I'm a feminist who doesn’t feel uncomfortable around the word bitch. I don’t view it solely as a pejorative term. I think the context within which the word is being used and the spirit behind it is always key when interpreting its usage.
If you look at the phrase “Bow Down Bitches” contextually, you’ll realize it’s part of a song that’s tongue in cheek and full of deliberate braggadocio. Beyoncé is borrowing from the Hip Hop tradition of making grand megalomaniacal declarations about one's prowess and presenting them like they’re facts.
I get it. The phrase “Bow Down Bitches” is controversial. However, to draw firm conclusions about Beyoncé’s ideological position based on its use and then say it tarnishes her efforts thus far is taking it a bit too far.
Beyoncé is an artist. Artists often create things that aren’t reflective of their beliefs; they’re simply creating art. Beyoncé (hopefully) doesn’t want people to bow, anymore than JK Rowling wants us all to play Quidditch.
I understand we live in a time when the height of a female celebrity’s rise tends to be inversely proportional to her depth. Beyoncé is a rare breed, a woman whose talent and achievements justify her fame. This means whatever she does is magnified. Consequently, being Beyoncé comes with a responsibility that she hasn’t necessarily signed up for.
Let us not forget that Beyoncé is not a politician, activist or feminist thinker. She’s a woman who makes incredible music, has an enviable wig collection, and slayed the Superbowl so bad the lights went out. Though she may self-identify as a Feminist, her work isn’t necessarily here to contribute (or erode) Feminist efforts. At times, it’s simply her work.