I remember as a kid observing my dad’s reaction to pop music. Whenever the family piled into the old van and dad got behind the wheel he would immediately turn the volume down to an almost inaudible level. If our collective groanings had any sway he would turn it back up and writhe in his seat as if his brain couldn’t possibly register the sound coming from the speakers as ‘music’.
I would think to myself, ‘I never want to be a cranky old fart that can’t keep up with the times!’
Scenes like this still haunt me today.
I’m not completely out of the loop when it comes to pop-culture but I’m stunned to find that whenever I’m in someone else’s car I’ll be barking at the radio, ‘What’s this song?’ or ‘Who’s this?’or ‘Are they new?’, baffled by what I’m hearing.
One such track went: ‘I want to see that bubble yum bum, buram bum budaum’. (I verified the spelling of those lyrics through a website called ‘Rap Genius’. True story.)
This leads me to discuss one of the alleged ‘Queens of Pop’: Beyoncé.
Or, more specifically, that everyone is bat-shit crazy for her.
Did I miss something?
Admittedly, when I first became familiar with ‘Halo’ I would retreat to my bedroom and play that song on a loop as a guilty pleasure. I was also quite a fan of those hand gestures in the ‘Single Ladies’ video that Kanye West was probably right to defend. And I remember as a fifteen-year-old feeling too intimidated to have my ‘first kiss’ while Destiny’s Child’s ‘Lose My Breath’ played on the radio.
But I completely failed to notice Beyoncé’s exaltation as ‘Queen Bey‘.
When did this happen?
Before I dig into her latest album, looking back objectively on her music catalogue I see an R’n’B popstar. She had four records since going solo in 2003 and a run of singles ranging from number ones to moderate chart success. For the most part, you could argue, her songs lyrically milled about the same prosaic subject matter as most other pop tunes, namely boys and relationships, unimaginatively dividing boys into two categories: dickheads or angels.
It’s also no secret that in the pop world, girls are expected to be ‘sexy’ – an issue as contentious as it is old – and can anyone really say that Beyoncé’s marketing ever presented an alternative?
And now, with her fifth release, Beyoncé has cranked the sexiness into the realm of ‘explicit’, all with the intention of empowering women.
But I question how dependable Beyoncé is as a leader. On the one hand, with her album opener Pretty Hurts she cries,
‘Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever’s worse, perfection is a disease of a nation…’
Then throughout the album and its accompanying videos we observe a woman, who is, in all respects ‘perfect’ until we arrive at the closing song, Grown Woman, where she spells out this contradiction with…
‘You really wanna know how I got it like that? Cause I got a cute face and a booty so fat’.
Something doesn’t add up for me when I look at this epidemic of ‘Beyoncé worship’.
Doesn’t her lyricism and the image she pushes further glorify a mainstream vision of beauty? If this album is a healthy celebration of sex, how wide is her vision exactly? I wonder how Beyoncé can empower one’s self-image and sexuality by exclusively brandishing her own, yet all the while denying the existence of other body types or less vivacious sexual appetites? How does this not apply pressure and ‘shine a light’ on the issues people already struggle with thanks to pop culture?
And why then did I still practically squeal when I unwrapped a Christmas present from my sister to find that very album?
Rewind to Beyoncé’s dance-battle Pepsi commercial last year. I ended up watching it about ten times. Ok, maybe twenty.
I know nothing about dance but something resonated with me in the choreography. They weren’t dance moves for the sake of dancing, nor were they sexy for the sheer sake of being sexy. To me these bold and daring gestures presented a compelling, creative expression of power; a distinguishing mix rarely balanced in pop.
Later I learned more about Beyoncé as an artist, such as her move to manage herself, effectively taking full charge of her career and the ideals she wants to represent. It made me reassess the purpose behind such staple pop themes, realising they weren’t trite but rather fully intended to encourage self-respect in women (and I keep that in mind even with this problematic new record).
Beyoncé’s self-management makes an important distinction in saying that her sexuality is not an ‘exploit of a record label’ but a personal expression entirely within her ‘own control’.
I eventually figured out that any bias I might have had regarding Beyoncé was misguided due largely to my heated feelings about mainstream pop music itself – an industry Beyoncé is fighting to make a positive impact on. Just look at your alternatives: you have Flo Rida for example, who tastelessly writes an entire song about chewable derrières saying its ‘okay’ because he ‘likes stereotypes.’ Or Robin Thicke, blowing smoke in a girl’s face because he looks suave doing it. Or Britney Spears who reappears and takes a shot at inspiring female independence and completely misses the mark with a song like ‘Work Bitch’.
And let’s not forget Miley Cyrus felating a hammer in the misguided hope that sexualising herself to the point of being a cartoon will strip away her Disney image, or Lana Del Rey continually fanning the idea that women are lost without men. And of course there’s Gaga who has the gall to dub her less-than-daring music ‘Artpop’, while countless other producers of fleeting artists drip-feed singles without an actual album to promote just to sucker kids into spending a buck on another fugacious whiff of shit before they get the next ‘hit’.
Glimmering through all this is Beyoncé: a self-managed, hard-working, freakishly talented, humble yet rightfully proud, righteous woman, wife, mother, businesswoman and artist, restlessly pushing herself to create good pop music and to use that platform to challenge the social climate with her whole heart, mind and body.
Sure, she might have made a dud move by sampling that audio clip from the space shuttle disaster for her song XO – but lets not forget that this rare bit of bad-press came mere days after that video of Beyoncé dancing with a child cancer patient at one of her shows. With the exception of the Rodgers family, you’d have to be a miserable, bitter bastard to think her heart isn’t in the right place!
I might never ‘Bow Down’ to Queen Bey, but as I push through the white noise that pop music has stirred in my ears throughout my slow and steady progression towards jaded-old-man-dom, I can remember that Beyoncé is out there kicking butt and taking names.