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  1. Beyonce’s Break from the Shell of Respectability | Do.Dream.Aisha

    […] A version of this story appears at Feministe  […]

  2. Lori
    Lori December 17, 2013 at 10:17 am |

    A very well-written piece, and the historical and cultural analysis you provide is interesting. However, I think you and others are projecting much too much of what you *want* Beyonce’s new album to be about/to mean. I think meanings are being given to the album & its visuals than are warranted. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s a great album, but giving it as much meaning as you and others are giving it is going overboard, in my view.

    And if Beyonce’s album launches many future women’s studies papers — and I agree with you that it will , if the nonstop internet talk about it is any indication — I think the authors of such women’s studies papers risk imposing more meaning (their own) onto the album, and not necessarily the meaning that Beyonce intended or had thought about when making the album.

    1. speedbudget
      speedbudget December 17, 2013 at 11:46 am |

      Isn’t what you’re arguing here exactly what makes great art great?

    2. Malaika Jabali
      Malaika Jabali December 17, 2013 at 12:14 pm |

      So what meaning, if any, would you derive from it?

    3. anna_k
      anna_k December 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

      is there some kind of specific ban on applying death of the author to this album? because otherwise, don’t see how this is any different from pretty much all art criticism in the modern day.

  3. Jenna
    Jenna December 17, 2013 at 11:26 am |

    And if Beyonce’s album launches many future women’s studies papers — and I agree with you that it will , if the nonstop internet talk about it is any indication — I think the authors of such women’s studies papers risk imposing more meaning (their own) onto the album, and not necessarily the meaning that Beyonce intended or had thought about when making the album.

    That’s hardly new. People have projected meanings onto things forever. Beyonce’s album has made a well deserved splash, and the ripples will be rippling for a long while. Not everyone’s seeing the same things because we are standing in different places, but, I want to hear the different viewpoints. Sometimes those views will tell us more about the writer than the album, but, that’s useful too. I want to see and hear it all.

  4. Athenia
    Athenia December 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm |

    Ratchet is a word that undoubtedly induces rolled eyes at its very utterance. But the mainstream’s discovery of the term and attempt to squeeze out all of its life doesn’t preclude us from embracing our cultural expressions. We can still appreciate what it means for Beyoncé to be openly embracing it as well. In essence, it’s the opposite of respectable. These two terms are seeped in southern politics and cultural norms. On one hand are the debutante balls. The Jack and Jills. The yes ma’ams and no sirs. The trappings of middle-classness aimed at distinguishing refined black folks from the stigma of poverty. Of the hood. Of slavery.

    Since we’ve been “graced” with Miley Cyrus’s appropriation of ratchet culture recently, I’ve been very curious to know how others feeling about Beyonce taking on that mantle as well. I’m not sure what to make of it. I mean, I suppose if Beyonce is shedding her respectability, she is doing it in a way that reminds people that she is whole person (hence consuming her album as a whole), and not merely trying to use a certain Black culture to be edgy.

    1. Malaika Jabali
      Malaika Jabali December 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm |

      Well, I think you answered your own question :).

      As I referenced, perhaps implicitly, is that Beyonce being a black woman raised in the south, from where “ratchet” derives, has likely been influenced by it to some degree.

  5. kittehserf
    kittehserf December 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm |

    The world was shell-shocked when the Beytomic bomb exploded on the musical landscape.

    The world? Really? US pop-music-listening centric, much?

    Ratchet is a word that undoubtedly induces rolled eyes at its very utterance.

    Right, because everyone uses US slang.

    1. miga
      miga December 17, 2013 at 3:01 pm |

      This album is number # 1 in over 100 countries and counting. I think it’s safe to assume she has dropped a bomb on the global music scene.

    2. xenu01
      xenu01 December 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm |

      Perhaps she was a little bit hyperbolic, but is it really necessary to be such a cranky-pants about it? This is a feminist of color speaking from a marginalized viewpoint who perhaps isn’t familiar with discussions of US-Centric privilege that have happened on this site. I would read the article and decide how you feel about her take on this album, maybe?

    3. kasabian224
      kasabian224 December 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

      I don’t think it’s insane to suggest that black popular culture has global significance and influence.

      1. anna_k
        anna_k December 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm |

        Yep. I’m US-based but not from here, and I and my friends in various countries i) have been all over this new album and ii) did the work (i.e. google, reading) to be a bit more clued-up on what ratchet means after Miley’s appropriation of the same *did* make worldwide news earlier in the year.

      2. xenu01
        xenu01 December 17, 2013 at 3:50 pm |

        Yes, this too. Thank you.

    4. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune December 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm |

      I dunno, kittehserf, Beyonce was pretty big in India the last I checked. (Admittedly I haven’t heard more than a couple of songs by her but that’s more my tendency to hermit than any lack of access!)

    5. Angel H.
      Angel H. December 17, 2013 at 3:49 pm |

      Damn. Black women can’t have anything, can we?

    6. Malaika Jabali
      Malaika Jabali December 18, 2013 at 8:27 am |

      Despite sharing a perspective that tends to be marginalized, I’m not precluded from understanding ethnocentrism, particularly since I’ve been a long-time reader of feministe (that’s why I sent them a piece to begin with). My experience studying abroad has made me keenly aware of how US-centric American thinking tends to be.

      But that’s not what this piece is about. So for the original author of the comment to cherry pick a throwaway line at the beginning of the piece suggests he/she didn’t bother with the substance of the material.

      As to his/her actual points, they’re wrong. The album’s impact goes beyond the U.S.: http://hellobeautiful.com/2013/12/14/beyonces-album-hits-no-1-in-100-countries-first-2-singles-revealed/

      Also this: The red dots are geomapped locations of where the album was tweeted about over the weekend: http://blog.marketwired.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/geo2.png

      1. xenu01
        xenu01 December 19, 2013 at 6:13 pm |

        I just wanted to apologize for being condescending and a little bit racist. Respect.

  6. Lateef
    Lateef December 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm |

    [Trigger Warning: violent sexual imagery, rapeyness]

    Jay-Z’s whole presence and impact on Drunk In Love are so disturbing I’m struggling with a way to talk about it.
    He puts her back in her place. With sex. Using violent imagery including references to Ike Turner and Mike Tyson. Beyonce seems to think this is all great.

    Friends, I need help unpacking all of this (and I’d like women to be at the center, in any case).

    Drunk In Love video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1JPKLa-Ofc

    Jay-Z’s lyrics (italics mine):
    Hold up
    That D’USSÉ is the shit if I do say so myself
    If I do say so myself, if I do say so myself
    Hold up, stumble all in the house tryna backup all that mouth
    That you had all in the car, talking ’bout you the baddest bitch thus far

    Talking ’bout you be repping that 3rd, wanna see all that shit that I heard
    Know I sling Clint Eastwood, hope you can handle this curve, uh
    Foreplay in a foyer, fucked up my Warhol
    Slid the panties right to the side
    Ain’t got the time to take drawers off
    On sight
    Catch a charge I might, beat the box up like Mike
    In ’97 I bite, I’m Ike Turner, turn up
    Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake, Annie Mae
    Said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!”

    I’m nauseous, for y’all to reach these heights you gon’ need G3
    4, 5, 6 flights, sleep tight
    We sex again in the morning, your breasteses is my breakfast
    We going in, we be all night

    1. kasabian224
      kasabian224 December 17, 2013 at 3:29 pm |

      …do we have to talk about Jay-Z’s lyrics in an article about Beyonce?

      1. kasabian224
        kasabian224 December 17, 2013 at 3:30 pm |

        Ugh. That sounds really shitty. Ignore my last comment.

    2. anna_k
      anna_k December 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm |

      I’ve seen references to dislike for the Ike reference, particularly given it’s well known that Tina is one of Beyoncé’s biggest inspirations. I don’t like that lyric either.

      However, I didn’t read “puts her back in her place with sex” from the lyrics, where you did from the italicised lines. I also think that the video (playful, loving, joking) and wider context they’re referencing (follow up to their 10-year-old song about being “crazy in love”, committed marriage, entire album where Bey owns and confidently asserts her own sexual desires and actions) contributes to me not reading it as an imposition but as a mutual desire.

      1. Miriam
        Miriam December 17, 2013 at 6:37 pm |

        He’s referencing a convicted rapist and a domestic abuse scene. How is that not implying putting her back in her place with sex?

        I want to also see it as a fun, playful, loving, sexy video and song, but I don’t see how to reconcile those lines with that.

        1. anna_k
          anna_k December 17, 2013 at 7:08 pm |

          I know the references. I said that was not what I took from the lyrics, not that my reading was the objective truth of the lyrics – I don’t think putting her back in her place is a necessary implication, but others can and clearly do disagree with me.

          On my $0.02, as someone with ample personal experience of a rapist and abuser (not as a one-upping of other listeners, obviously, but as my personal context observing the verse), that was not how the verse came off to me.

          That bit did make me go “hmm” when I first saw the vid, but didn’t for me negate the rest of what I saw as playful, sexual banter. I think it helps that I watched rather than listened, as I think what’s on screen (playing around, laughing, pulling funny faces, Bey’s casual dancing, affectionate touch, just what came off as their general comfort level with each other) influenced my perception of the lyrics, and how the (M)Ike references affect the rest of the verse. I heard it as a discrete stupid reference, rather than a reference that coloured the description of their sexual encounter(s).

          I think others should absolutely feel free to reject attempts at a reconciliation if they want – no one should have to try to gloss over references to abuse that they can’t/don’t want to deal with.

        2. Safiya Outlines
          Safiya Outlines December 18, 2013 at 7:54 am |

          I am boggled at the attempts to explain away what are really, clearly dubious lyrics.

          Is Beyonce one of the most talented and smart performers/artists in the game? Yes.

          But it is a game. Her last album (comparatively) underperformed sales wise, as have some recent albums by her contemporaries. The current ongoing trend is moar sexiness equals more airtime equals more sales and I would argue that Beyonce’s “break from the shell” has considerably more to do with this then people are considering here.

          Also, this is just a more explicit playing out of the dynamic played out between them in Deja Vu back in 2006, even on her own song, she doesn’t get to be the boss, nor arguably even an equal partner.

        3. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles December 18, 2013 at 8:32 am |

          To Safiya/Miriam,

          That’s totally valid, and I’m kind of wishing I hadn’t posted my hare-brained theory on what Jay-Z might have meant/not meant. My mea cupla stems from 1) How the lyrics affect women is nth more important than my half-assed theories on rap lyrics, and 2) My take now (again, what i think is merely academic here since the lyrics aren’t speaking to me) is that this is a clear-cut case of the intent being largely irrelevant. Taking into account the massive cultural/social influence Beyonce and Jay-Z wield, and the implications those lyrics will have for many listeners regardless of what Jay-Z meant by them, I don’t think he should get a pass on this. But I’m taking up more space here than I am comfortable with, so i’m going to bow out and just enjoy the discussion.

        4. anna_k
          anna_k December 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm |

          Hi there. If you’re directing that at me, I suggest you go be boggled in response to someone who is trying to explain away these lyrics for you, rather than explain how these lyrics come across to them. As I’ve already said, no one has to read them the way I do.

          Equally, you don’t need to be boggled at me not sharing your interpretation and enjoying a piece of music that did not trigger or upset me personally. Again, as I said, others should absolutely feel free to reject attempts at a reconciliation if they want – no one should have to try to gloss over references to abuse that they can’t/don’t want to deal with.

          As to your other argument, really? How much more of her break from the shell needs to be laced with explicitly feminist lyrics for you to give her some credit for it as something more than a marketing strategy? Because feminism from WOC is totally what you use to sell your no-publicity album, yeah? Is Beyonce the one person who can’t critique a system she’s also part of and benefits from now?

          And, as others have explained much better in this post and elsewhere in about a million analyses of this album, “moar sexiness” is an idea that’s applied to black women in a load of fucked up ways, and Beyonce is making a powerful statement about it here. See e.g. Trudy at Gradient Lair:

          It’s sensual. It’s sexual. It’s incredibly fucking sexual and I ain’t mad at her. The thing is, it’s not only sexual. This will be hard for her critics to understand because to many people, a Black woman’s celebration of her own body, emotions, thoughts, ideas, choices, decisions and perspectives can only be sexual (and even so, sexuality is not inherently degrading solely because a Black woman has agency; It is misogynoir to think so).

          (http://www.gradientlair.com/post/69871028815/beyonce-new-album-itunes-music)

          Also I see your Deja Vu and raise by an Upgrade U, which I guess means Jay and Bey’s irl dynamic also includes a lot of really fabulous drag on her part, which yay, great. But I’m guessing your real meaning was that you don’t want to entertain a more complicated dynamic between them. As Bey just told you, though, “[d]on’t think I’m just his little wife”.

    3. Malaika Jabali
      Malaika Jabali December 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

      In general, I wish she would have left off Jay’s verse altogether. I don’t think he adds anything to the song thematically or musically.

      About the lines you reference in particular, I think that’s a bit of lazy thinking on Jay Z’s part. The word “beat” is a slang term often used to refer to sex. It’s not the best choice of words, but both men and women use it. It’s similar to the phrase “I’ma hit that.” So a continuation of the metaphor is Ike Turner. It’s just such an obvious metaphor, so I would have expected Jay to do better.

      But I do agree it’s a lot about their back and forth banter than him trying to put Beyonce in her place.

      1. Lateef
        Lateef December 17, 2013 at 4:30 pm |

        Are you familiar with the “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” movie scene where Ike Turner’s character shoves cake in Tina’s face, slaps her female friend in the face, calls her names, throws something at her; meanwhile Tina tells her “It’s alright” and sits back down with Ike?
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DadlLq2yrBw

        In the scene, Tina throw water in Ike’s face, so there’s a bit of back and forth there too.

        1. Malaika Jabali
          Malaika Jabali December 17, 2013 at 5:02 pm |

          What’s Love Got to Do With It is a black people staple. And I’m probably the only one who hasn’t seen it. My black card can be revoked now. Shall I pick it back up tomorrow or next week?

          But of course familiar with the reference since y’know, black people staple and all.

          Interesting that Tina responded; I never hear about that part. Still could do without the reference though.

      2. Lateef
        Lateef December 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm |

        I guess when she and Jay sing “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” it seems to glorify domestic abuse. Others may disagree.

        1. S
          S December 30, 2013 at 3:46 am |

          Beat the box, beat it up, and all those aren’t typically used to mean abuse, they mean sex, particularly good sex. I’ve heard girls use like “he really beat it up last night” which is like putting it down. Good sex. And I think eat the cake means to perform oral on a girl, so I think it’s a playful but strange to me way of referring to oral sex on her. I know for sure that beat it up or beat the box don’t usually mean violence.

      3. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles December 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm |

        Can’t/won’t speak to the Ike Turner stuff, but I would echo Malaika that “beat” is definitely referring to sex here and not assault; when you take into account what “box” is slang for i dont know how you could read it any other way.

        1. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles December 17, 2013 at 7:47 pm |

          And after re-reading the comments I just realized that’s not the lyric at issue here, so I will shut up.

        2. Computer Soldier Porygon
          Computer Soldier Porygon December 17, 2013 at 10:50 pm |

          And after re-reading the comments I just realized that’s not the lyric at issue here, so I will shut up.

          I know you walked this back, but it’s not ‘beat the box up’ phrase that’s at issue on its face (even though I mean certainly we could go into that) but ‘beat the box up LIKE MIKE’

        3. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles December 17, 2013 at 11:19 pm |

          Yeah totally, i didnt read the lyrics/discussion closely enough before i posted. On the one hand i find the reference reprehensible. On the other, I kind of lean towards Malaika’s point that Jay-Z might be more guilty of lazy thinking than anything else. “Like Mike” can be an allusion to Michael Jordan as well as Tyson, and when i’ve heard that phrase in rap it’s usually referring to Jordan. Obviously here Jay-Z is referring to Mike Tyson. My point is that in rap vibe and meter can be as important as meaning when writing lyrics. “Like Mike” is a common phrase and i can see where if he liked the vibe of the words it might not even occur to him that Mike Tyson was a convicted rapist as well as a famous athlete, and the implications that would have.

        4. miga
          miga December 18, 2013 at 2:33 am |

          I don’t think he even thought about Tyson-the-rapist when he wrote/spat that verse. He’s mentioned Mike Tyson before in N*ggas in Paris, referencing his boxing skills. Intent and outcome are different things of course, and he still should’ve chosen better ones, but I think he meant to reference Tyson-the-boxer and overlooked (or forgot) the rapiness.

        5. Computer Soldier Porygon
          Computer Soldier Porygon December 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm |

          On the other, I kind of lean towards Malaika’s point that Jay-Z might be more guilty of lazy thinking than anything else.

          Yeah, honestly, I do too. But it is a pretty shitty reference – but also one that I don’t think I would have thought about much (since yeah you’re right I would usually take ‘like mike’ as a ref to Jordan) but since it comes right before the Ike stuff it was harder to just roll on by. Anyway, ultimately I like the song and especially in the video I think it’s clear that the overall tone/vibe is loving and playful which makes the Mike/Ike stuff even weirder to me kinda

  7. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune December 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm |

    I really liked this article. That said, as someone who’s heard very little Beyonce (but liked what I’ve heard) and who’s unfamiliar with ratchet culture, I’m not sure I can comment on anything other than style and delivery, which were both very good.

  8. Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet
    Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet December 17, 2013 at 5:26 pm |

    […] Beyonce breaks from the shell of respectability. […]

  9. whistlewren
    whistlewren December 17, 2013 at 8:09 pm |

    Thanks for this article Malaika. As a non-white, non-USian, I really appreciate the insights you have shared here.

    1. whistlewren
      whistlewren December 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm |

      Erk, as a white non-USian. No commenting before coffee :-/

  10. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve December 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm |

    Great post, Malaika! We had a meeting on Monday about which songs of the album we’re going to put in rotation, and during an entire 45 minutes not a single person said anything that even close to being as compelling than any random sentence in your post.

    We’re currently overwhelmed with Beyonce promo material at the station, and I wish I could send you some of this stuff to get your opinion on the sort of marketing materials used to sell Beyonce’s music to radio stations (though sending you a 6ft standee of Beyonce would probably be a bit unfeasible.)

    Anyway, thanks for this. Great stuff.

    1. miga
      miga December 18, 2013 at 2:34 am |

      I mean…you could send that to me…

    2. Malaika Jabali
      Malaika Jabali December 18, 2013 at 8:05 am |

      Thanks for the comments Steve! I’d be very interested in how she’s promoting in traditional outlets as well now that social media has run its course.

  11. TimmyTwinkles
    TimmyTwinkles December 18, 2013 at 8:40 am |

    I really am bowing out, just wanted to add that this was a great article; really enjoyed the prose, sharp and it flowed. And I’m out.

  12. Evbro
    Evbro December 18, 2013 at 8:53 am |

    Great read! I love beyonce and all her ratchet goodness, too!

  13. GayDahlia
    GayDahlia December 21, 2013 at 6:59 pm |

    “Prettyyyyyy huuuuuuuurts
    We shine a light on whateeever’s wooooorst
    Perfection is a disease of a nation.
    Pretty hurts pretty hurts.”

    I think this is so brilliant. It’s like the thesis statement of this album and it sticks in my head. Since Beyonce put this song as the first in the album. She put the rest of the album in the context of this experience of beauty.

  14. Omowale Jabali
    Omowale Jabali December 24, 2013 at 5:22 am |

    Very nice read.

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