Administrative Note: I am honored to post the first “real content” on AWF. As art criticism is one of my passions, I hope to use my Wednesday posts to refine my technique as critic, theorist, and fan. Because I can talk forever about this stuff, I try to break it up into sections below. I would love feedback, particularly if you think I’m missing a crucial section in my analysis.
When we were reviewing all the endless papers for college admission four years ago, my father told me that he would know I’d earned my degree when I could successfully explain to him the difference between “sex” and “gender”. (Our college cannot legally discriminate on the basis of either one; I cannot find a good link, because the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is for disabilities.) Daddy, I knew the difference then, but I couldn’t figure out how to tell you.
Would you mind if I let Beyoncé take over?
LINK TO SOURCE: YOUTUBE VIDEO
I am not even going to touch on the music video here, although I encourage you to watch it on your own. That fascinating piece of sociological art absolutely merits its own post, which will probably go on my personal feminism blog when I get it up and running.
ARTIST BACKGROUND (THANK YOU, WIKIPEDIA)
If you’ve listened to pop music in the past two decades and have a memory larger than a goldfish, you know who Beyoncé is. In the ’90s she was famous for headlining the R&B act Destiny’s Child, and in the ’00s, she started her solo career. Rather than recap all of that, I’ll just highlight some things I didn’t know about her until very recently:
- ·”In June 2010, Knowles was ranked second on [the] Forbes list of the 100 Most Powerful and Influential celebrities in the world, and first on its list of the Most Powerful and Influential musicians in the world.”
- ·She has won 16 Grammy Awards – 13 as a solo artist and 3 as a member of Destiny’s Child. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), also listed Knowles as the top certified artist of the decade.HYPERLINK \l “cite_note-13″
- ·Her father Matthew managed her career from 1995 (including the Destiny’s Child days) until March of this year, when she decided to self-manage. Her mother Tina was responsible for most of the costumes for her stage performances until recently.
- ·Her first name is an alternate spelling of her mother’s maiden name, Beyincé. Her father is Black and her mother is Creole.
- ·She has been with the same romantic partner for nearly a decade. In 2002, she began dating the rapper Jay-Z, and they secretly married in 2008. (I have noticed that she very rarely talks about their relationship in interviews, and never in detail.)
- ·In November 2009, Miley Cyrus was quoted as saying the following: “[Beyoncé] is the ultimate woman. You look at her and you don’t think, I wonder what her personal life is like. You look at her and you go, that girl on the stage is a superstar. You don’t care about anything else; you only care about her music. So I would hope that would be me in the future.” [[you bet your BUTT there will be a separate Miley Cyrus post coming]]
- ·In April 2011, Beyoncé joined FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s campaign against child obesity. “Knowles reworked “Get Me Bodied” (2007) and renamed it “Move Your Body” for the Let’s Move! Flash Workout initiative.” You can watch an adorable video of her surprising a school dance team here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgHY53dOZ-U
The “battle of the sexes” is a trope in popular culture that seems to stretch back endlessly, and I haven’t done proper research on it yet. If you’d like some definitions, here are some working ones for this post [[please note that I am not a gender studies major; this is how I understand the distinction]]:
Sex –the categorical noun, not the act of intercourse — refers to the biological/physiological nature of a human, which most [Western] scientists divide into two major categories: male and female. Sadly, there are cases where one’s genitalia do not match one’s hormones, creating the intersex paradigm and posing huge philosophical concerns for these individuals, their families, and society at large. This is different than being trans, and I won’t talk about that now.
Gender refers to the social/psychological expression of sexual identity –again, not referring to intercourse/orientation. The majority of Westerners have a one-to-one correspondence between their sexual identity and their gender identity (male:masculine and female:feminine), but not all of them. Also, while one’s sex is largely determined physically at birth, one’s gender is determined over the course of a lifetime, through performative acts in dialogue with one’s society. That is to say, a person may be born male and agreed (by his superiors) to be masculine at birth, but even if that accepts the gender identity his family gave him, what his masculinity looks like will be continually defined as he ages and begins to act in accordance with or in contradiction to established conventions and norms regarding his gender. (Whew, long sentence!) And yes, there is more than one non-Western society that recognizes a third gender.
If you have more information/literature about this, particularly the history of the “battle of the sexes”, please comment below or send me an email: yaelgodiva at gmail dot com.
ARTISTIC CRITICISM: GUT REACTION
If this song doesn’t get stuck in your head for at least 10 minutes after your first listen, then Beyoncé hasn’t done her job. Go and tell her so; I’ll wait here. 😉
Leaving aside the content for now, I’d say that Beyoncé has produced an excellent dance-hall single in “Run The World”. It’s full of literal hooks in the music and is a total earworm. She uses enough profanity to be provocative (and therefore noticeable), and she employs the bleeps in unexpected places, making the listener sit up in surprise. The bass is out of control.
In short, if you don’t start dancing/feel your blood pulsing when this plays through your speakers, you either have a horrible sound system or are pretty damn white.
CONTENT CRITICISM: LYRICAL EXEGESIS
[[note: these lyrics were retrieved from this website and I redid the line breaks, the capitalization, and a few of the words to reflect how the song sounds to me.]]
this beat is crazy/
this is how they made [this]/
Houston, Texas baby /
this goes out to all my girls /
that’s in the club rocking the latest/
who would buy it for themselves and get more money later”
Beyoncé was born and raised in Houston, says Wikipedia. It took me roughly six tries to realize that “this Houston, Texas baby” is one phrase, because the rhythm cuts against it (that’s kind of brilliant; +5 Art Points)
+10 Feminist Points for championing women’s emancipation with regard to their own wallets. -5 Feminist Points for emphasizing the materialism of the feminine gender, a hoary cliché.
“my persuasion can build a nation/
we can devour — /
you’ll do anything for me”
+5 Feminist Points for acknowledging the incredible power and influence women can/do have with regard to policy and government. -10 Feminist Points for implying that this is due to sex and love rather than the innate human ability to reason. -5 Feminist Points for the line “you’ll do anything for me”, which implies manipulation is part of femininity.
“I’m repping for the girls that’s/
taking over the world/
help me raise a glass for the college grads.
forty-one roll and let you know what time it is/
you can’t hold me/
I work my nine to five, better cut my check/
this goes out to all the women /
getting it in/
you on your grind/
to other men that respect what I do/
please accept my shine”
+5 Feminist Points for asserting that women are taking over the world. -5 Feminist Points for sounding vaguely threatening (to the menfolk and other non-girls) about this. +5 Feminist Points for the shout-out to her fellow ladies, particularly the “college grads” (she isn’t one). +5 Feminist Points for using the phrase “nine to five” for women’s work, acknowledging the complex reality of modern-day society. -5 Feminist Points for making women sound selfish/greedy for wanting to get their due. +5 Art Points for the slant rhyme “grind/shine”. -5 Comprehension Points for the phrase “forty-one roll” (is this a drink?) +10 Feminist Points for thanking the men who do respect her.
Lyrics I Simply Don’t Understand
“I think I need a barber (barber)/
none of these b****** can fade me (fade me)/
I’m so good with this/
I remind you I’m so hood with this”
What? No, really — what on earth does this mean? -10 Comprehension Points for confusing the heck out of me while sounding really, really cool.
WHAT THE FANS ARE SAYING/WHAT IT ALL MEANS
Normally I really enjoy the YouTube comments section (particularly the Top Comments), but this time I found them largely unbearable. Nobody can ever really win the battle of the genders in social discourse, but the history of the world — which is the history of the patriarchy — has made all too clear that women may win the occasional battle, but men have always won the war. And it’s unclear to me that this is a battle worth fighting at all. Sure, you get some great music out of it (see the entire score of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate), but I wonder whether the harm is more effective than the good.
Now, I’m no egalitarian (although many of my closest friends are) — but I’d rather see men and women merge the strengths and perspectives of their two genders together to fight true injustice, rather than each other. Also, building a nation is so much more fun/productive if both parties get to help openly.
The only context in which I think this kind of girl-power anthem (deliberately antagonizing the boys) is appropriate is in many Third World countries where women are not just legislated against but physically terrorized. In those societies it can be relevant/morale-building to play a battle anthem that rallies the lady troops, as this one does. But in the USA, where it is [currently] against both the legal and moral code to disenfranchise women, “Run The World (Girls)” actually sets us back a little bit, by challenging the opposing side when it ought to extend a hand, or at least an olive branch.
It seems like the fans also find this song a bit distasteful, if catchy: “Run the World (Girls) peaked at number twenty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100, and became Knowles’ lowest charting lead single as a solo artist.”
For variety and my own amusement, I’m including here an excerpt from the “Featured Meaning” by a user named Alec on the lyrics website:
“So, wait, who runs the world exactly? Sike. [sic] The overt message of female empowerment, although seemingly overconfident and a tad threatening to men, offers yet another strong anthem for women from the lovely Beyoncé…In a pop culture where females in the public eye are endlessly encouraged to be overtly sexual in their presentation…Beyoncé is offering a powerful message that is encouraging and motivating for young women, who will grow up to be in positions of power. Although the song’s lyrics are pretty repetitive, it’s refreshing to hear such a positive message being sung in such an upbeat song!”
Hmm. What do you think of Alec’s analysis?
TL;DR: IN CONCLUSION
My completely arbitrary assigning of Feminist Points yields the following score for “Run The World (Girls)”: 10 (+40, -30). As I do more of these, I’ll begin to develop a meaningful metric. (Or not.)
Anyway, I enjoy this song for its musical qualities and for its badassery, but I’d be wary of playing it for a crowd. Beyoncé is a fascinating feminist figure who I can’t wait to explore in more detail — I have so much to say about that “Single Ladies” video!
The “battle of the sexes” is a trope that makes me nervous, but Beyoncé managed to throw in some lyrical curveballs along with some clichés. Diva knows what she’s doing; I just disagree with her on the right philosophy to preach.
Next Week on AWF Wednesday: I’ll be exploring the slut-shaming problematized in last year’s film Easy A. If you’re a really ambitious commenter, watch it this weekend so we can have fun arguing!