A badass case of Beyoncitis


It starts with cunnilingus. Not the “Beyoncé ” album (which starts with “Pretty Hurts”) but this review. After all, when a megastar like Beyoncé dedicates a song to oral stimulation of the clitoris in a world where the opposite is more common, an emphasis is only appropriate.
OK, “Lick my skittles, it’s the sweetest in the middle” isn’t quite as bawdy as, say, Lil Kim’s “I don’t want dick tonight/ Eat my pussy right” in “Not Tonight”, but it’s daring enough to ignite my feminist pulse.

The entire album is sexually bold for a mainstream pop album. Some examples: first of all, in the thumping and infectious “Partition”, there’s a translated to french sample of Julianne Moore (in The Big Lebowski) saying, “Do you like sex? Coitus, the physical act? Men think that feminists hate sex, but it’s a very stimulating and natural activity that women love.” Just such a thing.

In “Blow” (the “lingus” song) the male dancers appear dystopian while the women having unleashed their expression of sexuality are in total control. In fact, many of the videos conjure a badass matriarchal world where women’s sexuality has been let out of its cage. This ravenous sexuality is present even in my personal favourite, “Superpower”, which is actually a song about love rather than sex. But even here, Beyoncé and her all female posse kick off a love-riot evoking an amalgamation of FEMEN, Occupy and civil rights protest.

While Beyoncé does not, unfortunately, objectify men (and I don’t mean objectify degradingly) they are hardly the subjects either. She is. A grown woman. Doing WHATEVER she wants.

Even Jay-Z who is present in many of the videos hardly appears in full body, rather we sense him. We see his back walking down a street, his hands reading a newspaper, his lips smoking a cigar. With the exception of “Drunk in Love” where he makes a full appearance, Mr Carter is a prop for Beyoncé’s sexual fantasies. V-power!

Speaking of “Drunk in Love” much attention has been given to the offensive “Eat the cake” reference in the song, and it is indeed unfortunate, but frankly, the assertiveness in the rest of the album would make the abusive ex-husband of Tina Turner roll over in his grave. That matters.

Add to all this the sample from African Feminist superhero, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, TedXEuston talk “We should all be feminists” in “Flawless“. Out of this world. Then sprinkle a level of honesty and vulnerability quite unlike the careful public profile Beyonce’s become known for. She is especially open in the ethereal tribute to motherhood, “Blue”, and to friendship, in “Heaven”.
In “Mine” Beyoncé sings: “Been having conversations about breakups and separations / I’m not feeling like myself since the baby / Are we even gonna make it? / Cause if we are, we’re taking this a little too far…” and in “Jealous” she explores how insecurity can harm a relationship.

A final point, “Beyoncé” contains no droning on about whether you can be a wife, a mother and a sexual being at the same time. You definitely can, it seems to say, but having it all ain’t easy. By contrast, “all” is a thorny, messy but altogether beautiful bouquet of female roles to fit in one vase.

Nevertheless, as honest, sexually mature and, yes, feminist as the album is, not to mention how perfect on the ear the songs are, there comes a point when you think, “Enough already!” and start looking through your iTunes library for some reeeal feminist shit, y’know, Fiona Apple or something.

Have you listened to/watched the album? thoughts?

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com MsAfropolitan

      Yes! Share your thoughts once you listened

  • http://www.africamusiclaw.com Uduak Oduok

    I smiled at your review and descriptions. An unexpected case of “Beyoncitis” indeed. :) I am yet to purchase it, then again, I am yet to purchase a Beyonce album. . .

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Uduak. It truly was unexpected! Amidst all the analysis of Beyonce the public person, I’d almost forgotten that she was a musician. As far as mainstream R&B goes, and if you ever listen to such, this is a superb BADASS album :)

  • http://www.thetigertales.co.uk/ MsXpat

    I don’t buy CDs I hear things when I randomly listen to the radio. I did watch the Drunk in Love video and I do like the song… sleep deprived mother that I am I don’t understand the reference to Ike. Please explain

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com MsAfropolitan

      Hi MsXpat, it refers to a scene in the Tina Turner biopic when Ike Turner physically abuses Tina forcing her to eat a cake. So the line in “Drunk in Love” could be seen as endorsing domestic violence.

      • http://www.thetigertales.co.uk/ MsXpat

        OIC to be honest that is what I thought but I asked myself how could they endorsing that?! Ok gotta listen to it properly without being distracted by the video lol to get the full context, Thanks :0)

  • Amaka I

    Mmmmh… I loves me some Fiona Apple. Must take a closer look at that Beyoncé album though. 😉

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com MsAfropolitan

      I think you might like the Bey album! It’s actually quite genius.

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the thoughts @Fola. See, the thing I question when I hear someone say a woman is vulgar is what parameters are people measuring it by? Often, lurking underneath accusations of vulgarity is patriarchy. If there were no men in this world would Beyonce’s videos be vulgar? Or are they seen as vulgar because patriarchy tells us that women should behave in “respectable” ways. When are men seen to be vulgar?
      As for Bey being a feminist champion, it seems to me that to some she is to others not. She isn’t my go-to for feminist theory or activism or even art, but for feminist-friendly music – I like this album, I like the videos, that’s all I can say.

      • http://www.hotnailagirl.com HotNaijaGirl

        MsAfropolitan, I have to say that my parameters on vulgarity are definitely not linked to gender and most certainly not coming from any notion or belief in patriarchy. I moved continents to defy patriarchy. vulgar is rife in the music industry and I most often point this out in my music reviews on my blog. I just think Beyonce disappoints me in some aspects of this album yet I have a few songs on the album on replay.

        • MsAfropolitan

          Ah! I’m glad to hear you too are enjoying some of the album 😉
          I suppose it depends on how you define ‘vulgar’, for me, in terms of sexuality, it always comes back to respectability/moral, which in return closes the patriarchal circle

  • https://twitter.com/myburntorange myburntorange

    Let me not lie to you, I am a die hard Beyonce fan and it is probably tragic for some that I am, but I don’t know why there is always so much negativity around EVERYTHING she does, so to see your post about her new album in a non condemning way has made me smile. I have seen comments like “how could she?, she is a mother”… blink… blink… so what? Mothers don’t get their freak on? Really? Now, I am not saying I am a freak in the bedroom, neither am I saying I am not, but I totally love what the woman is doing. People say she is not a role model, she is a bad example for girls, she is blah blah blah. But for me, she is pushing boundaries both in the music business and socially, she is trampling on the ingrained notion that sex is bad and dirty. Game on Beyonce, game on! A mother, wife, career woman, bawse…. It is hard to do all that and somewhere something may give, we win some and lose others but I am feeling her. Now, when it comes to feminism, to be honest, I actually get confused by the analysis of analysis of who is or isn’t feminist, who has the right to be called a feminist or who has earned their medals of the feminist army general. I just think the danger here is that hard-core-die-hard-raw-vegan-type-organic feminists (nah mean?) seem to want all women to conform to some image of being a real feminist, and that is a huge mistake. I will not conform to the out dated man’s world fantasy of who I should be, I will not conform to the stay at home mom’s (SAHM) misconceptions of the “loveless” working mom and how SAHM are the perfect example of nurturers, and I will not conform to what feminists think about how women should fit into a box with a stamp on it called “earned the right to be part of our motley crue of feminists”. We are all women, we are grown women, we can do whatever we want. Thanks for the post!

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com MsAfropolitan

      @myburntorange just wrote a long reply and deleted it by accident :(
      The short of it was that I co-sign everything you wrote in your great comment. And regarding the views that as a mother she should not behave a certain way, I also heard that one + heard (in utter disbelief) how she can’t sing, is ugly, all sorts. That said, I also agree with many feminist critical analyses of pop culture including Beyonce but I think it’s so important to keep a fresh, open mind and be able to consume culture without dogmatic ideas about wrong or right.

  • http://www.ligali.org Toyin Agbetu

    Greetings Ms Afropolitan, I hope I am subtle enough not to cause offence for that is not my intent. I wasn’t even going to respond but seeing you invited me to, well… it’s just that referencing Beyoncés latest album as feminist work feels somewhat similar to calling Kanye West a neo-Black Panther because of a few socially legible verses in some of his albums. The names Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and. Beyoncé should never be mentioned in the same sentence. You see her latest stance reminds me of the last album from Karen White that contained the song ‘Sista, sista’. Ms White due to the brilliant ‘Superwoman’ song had (accidently?) chalked up a feminist anthem, much like Mrs Carter with the song ‘Independent Woman’. But I think this also attracting a lot of pressure for her (them) to keep it real for the sistren dem (‘girls rule the world’ anybody) and I think we are agreed that B’s idologicl take on life is not the same as bh as in the real supa hero – bel hooks. Call me cynical but I feel these populist follow ups by Ms White and Carter reveal their lack of understanding of what feminism truly means. I mean it could be my age but I’m not sure that being sexually bold in the face of misogyny qualifies as being proactive on women’s issues, I mean sure their tunes are musically competent but let’s not pretend they can hold company with the best of Millie Jackson, Oumou Sangare or my personal favourites Nina Simone, Ursula Rucker, Jaguar Wright (albeit a little foul mouthed) and Rachelle Ferrell who fuse political and spiritual issues with superb orality.
    I am of course guilty of being a hypocrite. I have not purchased or listened past a few cursory samples of the new album. I also feel uncomfortable posting what can be construed as criticism in a space dedicated to the empowerment of sistas. Its just that I’m hearing tales of young African women at the beginning of their political awakening proclaiming Beyoncé as a feminist icon. Its my belief this undermines the value of true work by those like Funmilayo, Nehanda, Wangari, Sojourner, Nana, Nzingha, Yaa Asantewa and so many more.

    Badass maybe, revolutionary… er, no.

    • MsAfropolitan

      No offence! I truly welcome all thoughts here. Thanks for your two cents.
      You said “The names Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and. Beyoncé should never be mentioned in the same sentence” but not only are they mentioned in the same sentence but Adichie herself is collaborating with Beyonce, which is her right. If she herself is collaborating with Beyonce then why should anyone else opine that she is too good (=respectful) for that?
      Women, like men, can operate in different realms of society. Beyonce is not a writer or a politician, she is a musician in the pop industry. IE. she is not in the same business as a bell hooks or a Wangari just like, say, Wole Soyinka and Kanye West are people with very different interests (thank god). Whether we like it or not, the pop industry has become one which influences ideas about sexuality and desire and this album is unapologetic about women’s right to sexual assertiveness and pleasure, which I actually think is both badass and revolutionary.

      • http://www.ligali.org Toyin Agbetu

        Hey hold on. I aint no culture snob (ok just a little). :-)

        But I actually have no issue with Beyoncé collaborating with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In fact I think its a great idea when popular culture is used as a vehicle to disseminate and promote revolutionary thought.

        My point was that I’m not sure that popular media which is “unapologetic about women’s right to sexual assertiveness and pleasure” is that unique or new.

        As a man it is not my place to try and define what iconic feminism is or is not, but can I at least suggest that in a market where so many others have long established gold standards in sexual independence/expression, female self determination and sisterhood – this new album is merely badass entertainment?

  • http://www.cawclark.com Christopher Clark

    Just came across your blog and I like it a lot. It resonates with a lot of my personal and academic interests. Having said that, I REALLY disagree with you on this whole “Beyonce is a feminist icon” thing.

    Yes, she might be powerful and sexually liberated, but whatever vague (and they really are vague) allusions she might make to female empowerment in her music, these are generally secondary to her almost complete nudity and self-objectification. Do any of the men out there care what she is really “saying” with all that BOOTY in their faces? Not really.

    For Beyonce’s feminist credentials to have any real weight or bring significant change they need to be influencing the way men perceive women, not just the way women perceive themselves and each other.

    Also, is semi-explicit sex/sexuality really the only/best way to empowerment for women? Isn’t that just in some way legitimizing the current cultural/media landscape that makes a woman’s sexual desirability in the eyes of men the be all and end all? Either way, at the moment, it seems to me like Beyonce is just trying to give everyone what they want: low calorie feminism for the young women, BOOTY for the men, unanimous popularity for the Bey “brand”.

    Oh, and just as an aside, she toooooootally uses skin lightening lotions.

    If she is an icon in ANY regard other than for girls who just want to be rich and look smoking hot, then I am the Pope

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the comment about my blog.
      you said, “Do any of the men out there care what she is really “saying” with all that BOOTY in their faces? Not really.”

      Well, it’s nothing new that there are men out there who cannot look beyond “booty” to see a woman as a multidimensional being. But this album is, however shockingly, not about men. In fact what makes this album great in a world where most things are about men is that it’s about women and female sexuality, hence I wrote about the men as props thing.

      You also said, “For Beyonce’s feminist credentials to have any real weight or bring significant change they need to be influencing the way men perceive women, not just the way women perceive themselves and each other.”

      Actually, her feminist credentials (or lack thereof) do not need to influence the way men perceive women. If a man is not intelligent enough to know that a woman is not merely an object then Beyonce’s sexual expression is hardly going to convince him otherwise as he will find legitimacy for misogyny elsewhere.