It’s been fascinating watching the rapid reaction to Beyonce dropping a surprise record on iTunes last night. Of course, it’s a huge deal for the record industry, because putting out something like this without pre-hype is unheard of, but you know it will sell like crazy. That’s why it’s amusing watching some folks, who I shall leave unnamed, putting on a world-weary tone and complaining about all the buzz on Twitter and scolding everyone to talk about something else. You know that if Radiohead dropped a surprise record on iTunes, complete with music videos, half of those guys would be walking around fully erect all day.
There is also a song called “Flawless” on the record—an update on her previously released track “Bow Down”—that samples a speech about the importance of feminism by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Here’s the text of the sample at Buzzfeed. It’s a big middle finger to all the people who misread the lyrics “bow down, bitches” as some kind of anti-feminist statement, when it was clearly Beyonce demanding respect. So that’s awesome.
Of course, it’s getting torn up and all the hand-wringing is beginning, because Beyonce is not, actually, flawless, or an inhumanly perfect feminist icon. I could probably trot out all the objections in my sleep, starting with complaints that she reinforces the same beauty standards she decries on the records. Clawing people down for daring to step out and say something is just part of the cycle, and it’s just happening with rapid speed right now. It’s intensely predictable.
But I want to remind everyone that music is not a polemical or a campaign pamphlet. Music is art. Art can—should—be messy, contradictory, raw, and emotional. I love that Beyonce openly struggles in her music and in her image between the push-pull of both wanting to embody this kind of feminized perfection and seeing it for the trap that it is. It’s much more honest and human and humane than some kind of bland feminist treatise set to a beat. Beauty is a painful trap to ensnare women, but beauty is also pleasure and it draw you in. Denying these contradictions and presenting ourselves as people who have it all figured out all the time is tempting, but it’s not honest. And it’s certainly not art, which is supposed to reveal, not conceal.
Just a small plea from me to remember that we’re talking about an art form, not a political treatise, as we tear into the lyrics, beats, and imagery that Beyonce just turbo-launched into the public.
Updated to add: This is hilarious. One of the songs, “Partition”, has lyrics in French.
Est-ce que tu aimes le sexe? Le sexe. Je veux dire, l’activité physique. Le coït. Tu aimes ça? Tu ne t’interesses pas au sexe? Les hommes pensent que les féministes détestent le sexe, mais c’est une activité très stimulante et naturelle que les femmes adorent.
Do you like sex? Sex. I mean, the physical activity. Coitus. Do you like it? You’re not interested in sex? Men think that feminists hate sex, but it’s a very stimulating and natural activity that women love.
It’s from The Big Lebowski. I’m going to go lie down now and consider how awesome that is for awhile.