Beyoncé, Beats and Blackface: Who’s Really Running Her World?

Posted: May 18, 2011 in commentary, music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

"Beyonce, Beats and Blackface"

On Thursday, April 21, 2011, Columbia Records officially released the lead single to Beyoncé’s fourth studio album. Although dubbed as an ode to female empowerment, “Run the World (Girls)” is revealed to be a farce underneath the surface.

Let’s start with the title, which references a prepubescent state of womanhood. Yes, it may be true that “girls” is often utilized – in colloquial terms – as a friendly name for female companions; but when one examines Beyoncé’s discography, which includes titles such as “Independent Women,” “Single Ladies” and “Naughty Girl,” it is safe to assume that she understands the power of word choice. (She is a songwriter, right?) With this particular song, however, there seems to a conflict between its embrace and usage of the word “girls” as a term of endearment as opposed to a belittling portrait of womanhood. But then again, who pays attention to semantics? Even so, did “girls” really need to be mentioned over 40 times?

Considering Beyoncé’s love for grand displays of female camaraderie – like her all-female band – why didn’t she hire a female director for her lavish video production? Sanaa Hamri, a Moroccan American, would have been an excellent choice – having directed for Nicki Minaj (“Fly”), Mariah Carey (“Can’t Take That Away”) and Yolanda Adams (“Open My Heart”), as well as feature lengths films with female stars, Something New (starring Sanna Lathan) and the Queen-Latifah-produced Just Wright.  Instead, she hired Francis Lawrence, who is known for his directorial work on Constantine (2005) and I Am Legend (2007), in addition to his artistic vision on the following risqué singles: Adina Howard’s “(Freak) and U Know It” (1997), Lil’ Kim’s “How Many Licks?” (2000) and Britney Spears’ “I’m A Slave 4 U” (2001). Lawrence even directed Jay-Z’s 1999 video “Girl’s Best Friend,” the penultimate anthem dedicated to a woman’s – err umm, girl’s – desire. How ironic then that Sanaa Hamri directed Jay-Z’s poignant video for “Song Cry” (2002)?

Eight years removed from the release of Dangerously in Love and the monster smash “Crazy in Love,” Beyoncé is showing signs of the development of “artistic fatigue” – a condition in which an artist with universal name recognition and critical acclaim releases subpar material simply because it will sell off of the strength of his/her brand.  After fourteen years as a recording artist, Beyoncé has failed to deliver a masterpiece album akin to the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and upon examination of the source material that inspired the backing track for “Run the World (Girls),” such an album seems to be far beyond her reach.

In 2009, two male producers united under the banner of Major Lazer in order to make their debut as a collaborative unit: DJ Diplo (of Tupelo, Mississippi) and DJ Switch (of London, England). And when confronted with the task of creating a dancehall video for their club single, “Pon de Floor,” a loopy visual minus the creators was born. Grotesque displays of black hyper-sexuality fanned the flames of a long social history linking globalization, cultural (mis)identity, and patriarchy in three minutes of footage. Throw in the fact that Beyoncé samples this beat and pays the creators, such action further proves that she is not the driver of her “empowerment” vehicle but instead a passenger. Just because Beyoncé appears to be in control in her videos, as the dominant heroine, this does not extend to the social politics related to her artistic work.

In life, the lingering effects of sexism constantly bombard women. As sociologist Arlie Hochschild noted in 1989, women have always had to work a “second shift” – working a paying job, while also working an unpaid job as mother and wife. And much less has improved in the workplace in regards to women’s pay, as they still earn 77 cent on the male dollar. With that in mind, lyrics such as the following are not only false, but irresponsible: “Boy you know you love it how we’re smart enough to make these millions / Strong enough to bear the children then get back to [business].”

While it would be extraordinary for women to match their male counterparts in wealth, as of 2005, the Center for Women’s Business Research estimates that only 3% of entirely woman-owned businesses have earned $1 million or more, in spite of that fact that 48% of all privately held U.S. firms are 50% or more owned by women. Suffice it to say, the bulk of the female segment of Beyoncé’s fanbase has a median income of $36,278 – compared to men’s $47,127. When age is factored into the equation: “weekly earnings were highest for women age 35 to 64; $728 for women age 35 to 44, $740 for women age 45 to 54, and $752 for women age 55 to 64. Workers [between the ages of] 16 [and] 24 had the lowest median weekly earnings, at $448.” At the age of 29, women close to Beyoncé’s age, within the 25 and 34-year mark, averaged $658 per week. Thus, mature, middle-aged women – not girls – are the group leading this “lower” economic population of Beyoncé’s admirers. Perhaps the following lyrics should be omitted from her song: “You better not play me.” Women, indeed, are getting played!

Somebody help Beyoncé, before she puts on “blackface” – again – in the name of female empowerment. By intentionally promoting this track, she is contradicting herself on various levels. Furthermore, it is disappointing that she allowed herself to be used as Major Lazer’s pawn – similar to the Jamaican “passa passa” queens showcased in the “Pon de Floor” video – in the suppression of women’s “independence” and overall respect. Unfortunately, any and all of the success from “Run the World (Girls)” only spotlights the fact that her target audience is unable to discern the false representation fueling the smoke and mirrors of her empowerment campaign.


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Comments
  1. agape4lyricz says:

    Fabulous article. Thank you so much for having the courage to uncover the wool over the eyes of the sheep. It is not about judgment but about responsibility. We are not disconnected as humans and whether we like it or not, we do hold a certain of level of responsibility to our younger generation of actual “girls”. This article was not judgmental, but came across as constructive and thoughtful. Great job.

  2. […] Beyonce’s album 4, though headed up with a controversial pseudo-feminist anthem, intrigues me. I just love Mrs. […]

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