Whereby Beyonce Breaks the Internet, and Kismet Drinks (Some of) the Koolaid

Beyonce broke the Internet on Sunday with a super futuristic, multimedia, high energy performance of “Run the World (Girls)” at the 2011 Billboard Awards.  She also may have shut up all the haters, myself included.

I heard the song when it first dropped and not only did I tune it out as analgesic, monotonous refuse my iPod would chew up and spit out in disgust, but the lyrics themselves hit my radar as pretty damn problematic.  Or at least the ones that aren’t the hook…which is most of the song…

Some of the men think they freak this like we do
But no they don’t.
Make your check come at they neck
Disrespect us no they won’t.

Boy don’t even try to touch this.
Boy–this beat is crazy.
This is how they made me.
Houston, Texas baby!

This goes out to all my girls
That’s in the club rocking the latest.
Who will buy it for themselves and get more money later.

I think I need a barber.
None of these b*****s can fade me
I’m so good with this–
I remind you I’m so hood with this.

Boy I’m just playing
Come here baby
Hope you still like me (Hate me)…

My persuasion can build a nation
Endless power
Our/Their? love we can devour
You’ll do anything for me…

Who run the world? (Girls)

Apparently, I wasn’t alone.  This video by woc vlogger Nineteen Percent (@NinteenPercent) has been circulating the interwebs.  And she makes very, very good points:

Please note, everyone does not agree.  A Twitter conversation with Treva B. Lindsey (@divafeminist) and Joan Morgan (@milfinainteasy) put me on to a great post by @NatashaTheory over at The B(e) Girl Manifesta who asked whether or not we were being too persnicky in our definition of what is good for girls and what is feminist:

Now, I can completely understand the crux of Beyonce and why she is so controversial. Her expression is decidedly sexual. People observe her blonde hair and question her racial politics. When confronted with her as a woman, a brand, and an artist, questions arise about how much of her is genuine expression, how much is savvy marketing, and how much is female exploitation by male handlers. I’ve often thought about Beyonce’s relationship to corporate interests and what it means for the young women and men in my community whom I work with on a daily basis. Beyonce, just like feminism itself, is a complicated knot of fascinating and uncomfortable questions.

Let me just state for the record, that I have not always been pleased with everything that Beyonce has produced. And if given the opportunity, I would love to engage her in a conversation about all of the things I love about her body of work AND the things I take issue with. However, the tone of this hypothetical conversation would reflect the amount of respect that I have for Beyonce as both an artist and a black woman. Being able to navigate contentious points and differing perspectives is the sign of a movement that is healthy and truly progressive.

With that being said, I absolutely love Beyonce’s new song and video. I can relate to the words and performance. In so many ways, this song embodies how I experience my own feminism. Futhermore, I respect that Beyonce is Beyonce. She is not Gloria Steinem. She is not bell hooks. And she is not supposed to be. Her brand of feminism is and should be a reflection of who she is.….[Read the rest there]

Before the Billboard Awards, I fell somewhere in between.  I gave Bey a pass.  The song is a ladies anthem and I don’t think any ladies anthem should be taken off the radio unless it condones, oh, I dunno, date rape (yeah I’m looking at you Miss Cheetah Girl).  At the end of the day, “Girls” is meant to celebrate women who do, in my humble opinion, run the world.

It may be that I’m just getting tired of accepting music because it’s catchy as opposed to loving a song for its content and lyrics.

And there’s also the Rule of Three.  As my Twin, @ProdDDoster likes to remind me, it takes about three times around the world for a song to really get me going.  After that, even if my brain isn’t all in, my bootie probably is.  And there I go, all jukin on the dance floor acting a damn fool.  #welp

Anyway, this was all before I saw the Billboard Awards performance (Listen #2):

Which forced me to check back in on the video (Listen #3):

Third Time + Charm = Me chair dancing while I type this while Pretty Magnolia stands behind me wondering where she can find some stockings and a garter belt that fits her thickalicious thighs.  Because, ya know, she just walks around like that.

Now see…..why did she have to go all hyper digital on me?  And why did her video have to be all dystopic and post-apocalyptic and war-goddess like #SableFanGyrlsUnite?  Why am I so susceptible to pretty colors and bangin choreography and an afrofuturistic landscape and women at the center of it all?

Damn, damn, damn.

I still don’t like the song and I fully agree with Nineteen Percent about what it represents.  I hate the way that empire gets reimagined only this time with a woman at the top of the pyramid (holding a baby to her tit).  With the U.S. waging several wars, assassinating folks in problematic ways and continuing a geopolitics of imperialism that lays a waste which keeps ending up at our front door, I don’t think this is a good message.

I’m not surprised that Nineteen Percent is looking up through the bottom of the video and seeing all the troubling ways the colonialism is reconfigured with women (of light color, because there isn’t a dark sistah in the video) as part of its harem….

[Ahem]

Of course, I also bob my head to #BedRock so I know that our critiques and our lives sometimes often exist on different planes.  And that it is a constant, daily struggle to integrate the two.  And that for some girl out there somewhere, listening to Bey may be the first step in that direction.  Can’t lose your pride if you’ve got none to begin with.  Can’t consider what it means to run the world, and how problematic that is, if you don’t first know that you do.

Beyonce knows how to make a hit.  She knows how to push the boundaries.  She knows how to be paradigm-shifting and remain relevant at the same time.  In her Billboard Awards performance, she did on stage and for the stage what Jay-Z did in his book and for books everywhere–integrate new forms of seeing, being and doing into her art.  I have mad respect for the woman.  She is a souljah.  #ForRealz

I just wish her current paradigm-shift hadn’t included militarizing our young women’s potential.

[Edit:  The lyrics above were off; I gave it another try but if you have a better ear, let me know!]

~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Kismet Nuñez is one of the Skillsharers of the of the 3rd Annual INCITE! Shawty Got Skillz workshop at the 2011 Allied Media Conference!  Help us get to Detroit!  Click here!

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9 thoughts on “Whereby Beyonce Breaks the Internet, and Kismet Drinks (Some of) the Koolaid

    • Maisha & ishi—Thank you for the comments. I agree with being wary (and with being willing to have fun with good music). I struggle so much with both–especially when I am out, dancing, with friends and certain songs are played.
      I think this song/video (not the Oprah or Billboard performance) is going to get a fail out of me, but I’m not one to write her off completely. Not yet.

      The worst thing we can do is stop having the conversation. I enjoyed what you both wrote and the links you provided. Thank you for joining ing.

  1. hey there
    thanks for the shout out about my work. I love this blog. It’s fantastic. Beyonce….. There are no words really. My non african diasporic homegirls are always freaking out about lady B, and I’m not hating, but you know….there are these moments….utter confusion about the sexual politic and it’s cultural core….and then i get even more confused when i see my first lady praising the politic of this woman whom i’m not 100% sure knows the core from which she sprang…. Tho at the same time apparently Dolly Pardon is a flaming undercover lesbian ( here say), so go figure.. and then i look at the craziness rise of a one Niki Minaj and just you know…” don’t hate the player, hate the game?”

    anyhow thanks again. I will link to this blog. I think it’s great.

    • Matana,

      Thank you for dropping by! I can’t tell you how much I love your project. I look forward to tuning in and keeping the conversation going.

      Re: Bey, Dolly Parton (Oh really?) and Minaj–The line between popular music, pop culture and sexual politics is barely there, to say the least. That is to say–no line. Especially not when every hit by a woman of color is always THE hit (*booming voice intones* There can be only one).

      What a lineup though! Minaj is most interesting to me as a recent phenomenon, as a performer of black female sexuality (in good and bad ways) but less as an artist. The different personalities, the different body types…

      I think Bey is beginning to fall into this category for me too which is unfortunate. Could she do more? Does she want to? Is she even aware of what she does and what she represents?

      On the other hand, I haven’t seen it yet, but I hear she did a show-stopping American Idol performance….would love to hear your thoughts on it….

      Best, best,
      Kismet

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  3. thanks so much. Yeah that rumor has been floating around about DP for years. It could be absolute hearsay but the only reason i pointed it out is because its a good example of how things may not always be what they seem with pop culture idols you know? Mayb B is a hardcore black feminist radical under all that lacefront? sister undercover…….. The thing about B for me is I think she is really talented. And from every account I have heard from people that work with her, she works hard. But a few things have always made me wonder about the rise of a woman who is part of the josephine baker continuum in some ways. The pitch in which she sings is always quite duressful ( is there such a word?) i always thought that’s one of the reasons she was more accepted psychologically and culturally speaking, the sound of a woman under duress is appealing to a lot of people–especially in a patriarchy. That’s just my weird personal observation. This sound crossed with the sexual presentation, i find really interesting, especially the way it seems mixed with a mode of black feminist perspective that to me comes from a very particular type of African American middle class bourgeoisie, that non black people will not notice because they know nothing about it. I grew up in a household with chicago Black Radicals whose parents were the supporters of the NAACP and it was tense let me tell you…. so i got an eye and earful most days.

    Obviously i have probably put more thought into this than i wish i have. As a performer who transverses the globe, beyonce’s model of african american female sexuality is thrown around even in avant negro circles….i have also done a lot of youth outreach over the years meeting children whose mother’s named them Beyonce…better in some ways than the child i met whose mother named her Alaze after the round the way liquor or the little boy who named his son alpacino as a one word name because he liked scarface….

    Niki Minaj. Something about her ridiculousness amuses me, probably because her flow is so sick ( in a good way) But she makes me sad too as i feel like she has chosen to smartly hide parts of herself in order to play a man’s game….in the same way that Lil Kim did and honestly I feel like it pushed kim over that reality line. Hopefully this won’t happen for Minaj. ( tho from her i get certain undercover conciousness that I don’t get from B even in the craziness. most female rappers have this because they are boxed around in a way that songbirds are not…)

    Another positive about Beyonce tho is i think she represents at least a different diva body alternative to girls. when i was coming up we had leftover shades of Diana Ross and her cute chicken legs u know? but i still cringe at the Girls run this “mF”. like really? wtf? which is why i loved this post. okay that was mouthful. I can’t really deal with AIdol, so probably won’t see the performance but I’m sure B will tear it up like the B everyone expects….

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