From Janet (1993) to Beyoncé (2013), the media response to female sexuality is horror.Beyoncé: Feminism through Yoncisms
While the #bebossyandproud hashtag takes over #banbossy – Mrs. Carter has been the tour that Beyoncé, the boss, has been leading since 2013.
Her fifth release, a self-entitled visual album with 17 videos, swept the entertainment world when it was released unannounced in December. Selling a record-breaking 828,773 copies in just three days, Beyoncé completely smashed the previous title holder for first-week sales on iTunes, Justin Timberlake, who sold a measly 580,000 in comparison for 20/20 Experience in March.
It became obvious that Beyoncé is the most forceful presence in pop music. She always pays homage to her heroes and has said that the visual album was inspired by her memories of watching Michael Jackson’s Thriller video premiere in 1983.
She said: “I miss that immersive experience. Now people only listen to a few seconds of a song on their iPods and they don’t really invest in the whole experience”.
It was 2009’s super anthem Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) that elevated Beyoncé to a superstar stratosphere. Toddlers did the Single Ladies dance and grandparents learned Beyoncé ‘s name. It also means that she has since been scrutinised more than ever for her image, her lyrics and her feminist credentials.
“I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman.” – Beyoncé, British Vogue (May 2013)
But the feminism debate has meant that some other interesting themes on this album have been overlooked:
Beyonce’s breakthroughs – losses and wins
The album begins with Beyoncé’s strive for perfection in Pretty Hurts and later Rocket and Flawless demonstrate her becoming comfortable with who she is on the outside and in. A clip of her former group Girls Tyme losing a Star Search competition on TV in 1992 is sampled around Flawless to signify her failures and her hard work to succeed.
The penultimate track Heaven is also about loss, the video is based on one of her mother’s best friend’s passing. The album is concluded with the gorgeous ballad Blue about how Blue Ivy Carter – who features on the track – has changed Beyoncé’s life.
Aside from sexuality, the album affirms Beyoncé’s pride of Creole roots and of course her hometown Houston, Texas. Visual symbols of fire and trophies seem to be key references in the videos which tie in with themes of failure, success and self acceptance in the music.
Beyoncé the Business Woman
The new approach to this album dropping quietly was a risk. Since becoming a mother in 2012, Beyoncé has directed her own documentary; performed at the Superbowl, sung for President Obama’s second inauguration and starred in Pepsi ads. The only hint of a new album was the premiere of Bow Down on Beyoncé’s website in July to announce the first leg of the Mrs. Carter Show tour.
With the album’s release, Beyoncé not only showed she was on the pulse with music but in tune with social media and brought out her own brand of Yoncisms.
The album is full of hashtag friendly buzz words. These are Yoncisms ready to be merchandised. Even Madonna has been pictured wearing one of the slogans.
Yoncism: a word used to describe your feelings like Beyoncé would describe hers.
Yoncé is as good a businesswoman as she is a performer! Like the album, the Mrs. Carter Show is a visual feast and a hard-kicking , female dominating concert.
Since the album’s release, new songs have been added to the Mrs. Carter Show set-list. The build-up begins with huge visual screens that light up and run a tour promo of Beyoncé entering a court dressed in full Marie Antoinette regalia to a drum procession. A female band forms, marching onto the stage and finally the actual Beyoncé rises before the live audience to adulation. Her hand is firmly on her hip and her gaze is defiant to everyone. She channels a superhero quality, dressed in her white bodice and thigh high boots as her blond locks flow magnificently in the wind.
Beyoncé: She has the (super)power
She could be anywhere from the UK to Japan – she raises her fist as she launches into her anthem “Run the World (Girls)” and she rules over the only two men in the show – Les Twins the dancers.
While the lyrics on the album have been dissected to debate Beyoncé’s role model status and her previous apprehension at being labelled a feminist; the Mrs. Carter Show makes it clear what her beliefs are. “We Should All Be Feminists“, the TedxEuston talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which Beyoncé samples for Flawless is blasted on stage and the lyrics flash bold on the screens.
“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TEDxEuston (April 2013)
Popstars like Beyoncé advocating control and independence tend to face backlash when they express their sexual and relationship desires as a woman. Janet Jackson went from Let’s Wait Awhile to Anytime Anyplace to much of the same appalled, up-in-arms, shock-horror response by the media.
It’s interesting how despite a 20 year gap between Janet (1993) and Beyoncé (2013), the media response to females enjoying their sexuality – especially giving/expecting oral sex can result in a response of horror.
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TEDxEuston (April 2013)
Beyoncé, much like Jackson created a name for herself associated with anthems for female empowerment and has now grown up to include singing about the joys of sex. While their journeys may be different it points to there being a very human connection between the struggles for womanhood, independence, love and desire. They are both good role models for singing about a woman’s worth and for singing about sex.
They both bring empowerment to people no matter the gender or background.
Beyonce’s causes include CUFA (aids the education and development of children in Brazilian ghettoes); the Kolacho School of Hip Hop (removes gang members and rehabilitates them through music and dance skills); Life Standard (supports children in Mexican orphanages) and that’s just a fraction.
She donated her salary from Cadillac Records to programmes for the Phoenix House, a drug and alcohol treatment centre after she visited them for research.
Find out more about her causes:
“Sisterhood means everything to me. All the charities I’m involved with are special, but I find any organization that focuses on women and children really motivating.” Beyonce, Self Magazine (August 2010)