“You gangster motherfucker, boy, you growin’ on me
I just wanna touch you, I can feel it through those jeans…”
“I want, want, want what I want, want”
“She gon’ shake that ass and them pretty tig ol’ bitties”
“Ass getting bigger, Racks getting bigger, Cash getting larger”
Working her way with diligence through female icons (see earlier Blog on Beyoncé as The Madonna) Queen Bey arrives at Lady Godiva (her album cover). Now, there may be unintended but tragic irony in that. Lady Godiva was wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia in Anglo-Saxon Middle England. Some time in the 11th Century he had imposed taxes on his tenants which she tried to persuade him to relieve. He – so the legend goes – agreed to lift the taxes if she were to ride naked through the streets of Coventry. She did, while decreeing that all stay at home with windows shuttered.
Now, this act of sexist exploitation of the woman’s body and privacy, and the attendant humiliation at merely owning a woman’s body, is written throughout Beyoncé’s lyrics on her new album, Renaissance. Some of these lyrics are interpreted as Beyoncé wielding her sexual power to ‘finally’ emancipate herself, but her emancipation comes with protestations of love, need and desire and wild advertising of those women’s attributes that Lady Godiva was so humiliated for. Yes, Beyoncé finally admits she has large breasts and a big bottom. And, yes, her emancipation is accomplished mostly through winning sex with men who mostly take and sell drugs and have large penises – or who agree to lower taxes.
See, this ‘redemption’ album is widely taken to be a modern protest song. Protest against what? Well, apparently against the gilded prison she reminds us of throughout, with references to Prada and Balenciaga, high-end restaurants, San Tropez, her $millions, diamond watches and her own successful brand of handbags. But, even so, it is the (yet again) liberated woman that Beyoncé and her PR team are selling to young women. The tone is one of protest, if the content itself is specious. The tone says, ‘be who you are – no matter’: the lyrics implore women to ‘shake your booty’ (if possible, with a degree of irony) at a boy until he takes his mind off drugs and violence for long enough to have sex with you.
All the irony is cruelly dismissive of young women’s realities and the pathological world that young women live in with so frequently dysfunctional men-friends. Well…hardly irony – it’s pretty explicit. Whether through accidental crowd-sourcing or intricate PR work Beyoncé’s fan-base is called the Bey-Hive, and that is meant to signify their drone-like, unbending loyalty to the Queen Bey. Submissiveness runs through the layers of the Beyoncé world like a word written through a stick of rock. It’s the other side of the coin to the supposed appropriation of hyper-male gangsta vocabularies: motherfucker, racks, booties, bitch, pimp and ‘nigga‘ – women are finally enmeshed in violent male fantasies, a million miles away from – and yet such close neighbours to – Stepford Wives.
Another tragic but hidden irony is that the Queen Bee in a hive is the one true and forever prisoner, closely guarded under threat of death to ensure her life is spent laying eggs.
Beyoncé rides the wild horse of modern testosterone capitalism – with its myths of ‘we’re all in this together’, ‘greed is good for everyone’, and ‘poverty is unfortunate but to be lived with’. She sells dissatisfaction with one’s self as a means of turning protest inside, rather than mobilising it against dangerous masculinities. In fact, Beyoncé is dismissive of money in a world in which it might not guarantee happiness, but it does, at least, put food on the table – for the dwindling numbers who can afford it.
This new album is as close as we can get to bottling naive cynicism and selling it.