“Beyonce doesn’t MATTER.” I happened to tweet that simple sentence offhandedly last week and was besieged by a wave of protest from people—mostly the gays, of course—who couldn’t believe I had the audacity (how could she dare!!?) to dis the princess of hip-pop. But you know, she doesn’t. Matter, that is. Not really. Or rather, she does, but she shouldn’t. Despite her bootylicious behind and reputedly wild, out-of-control dancing style (children, do a search for Gwen Verdon or Sheree North or Ann Miller on YouTube if you want to see some really insane sexual dancing. Ask your gran.), Beyonce is probably the most reactionary star who has come down the pike in quite some time. She so easily plays into the tiresome heteronormativity (yes, I said it) of the tired empire of hip-hop with her songs about female victimization, monogamy, and marriage. While her husband, Jay-Z, throws down raps like “99 Problems (But a Bitch Ain’t One), one of the most irritatingly sexist pop anthems to emerge in the last decade (yes, sexism is a real concept), Beyonce sings its obnoxious corollary, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” a paean to marriage that includes the lyric “pull me into your arms/Say I'm the one you own.” Can "love," "honor," and "obey" be far behind?
Destiny’s Child never had the radical female dynamism of En Vogue, the black girl group who immediately preceded them with their trenchant feminist anthems “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” and “Free Your Mind” (also a song radically supporting interracial love), which may go a long way toward explaining why Beyonce surpassed them: in terms of sexism and the reinforcement of traditional gender roles, hip-hop has developed into one of the most conservative forms of music going, giving even country and western a run for its money. (Like Beyonce’s DC songs “No No No” and “Say My Name,” which portray black women who define themselves primarily through their clingy relationships with philandering black men.) Janet Jackson’s early career—particularly her first two breakout albums, Control and Rhythm Nation—was full of songs of feminist verve and irreverence. (“No my first name ain’t baby. It’s Janet. Miss Jackson if you’re nasty,” to quote only one example.) But I suppose it’s a sign of the regressive times that such salient sisterhood is only a memory now. If you really want to hear some blistering female power and anger, take a time machine back to the early 90s, when black rappers like Roxanne Shante and Bytches with Problems were calling out their male counterparts. (BWP’s “Two Minute Brother” and “No Means No (Motherfucker)” were two particularly delicious misandric diatribes.) Now we have Beyonce coyly revealing her baby bump at some glitzy award show, neatly tying together the package of marriage, monogamy, and motherhood, the nuclear family made whole, and all before 30. How quaint. If only Grace Jones had come bursting out of her stomach like the Alien. Oh wait, that was Gaga’s number.
Beyonce is the post-feminist posterwoman nonpareil: she may have the outward appearance of dangerous female sexuality and power (her forced alter ego, Sasha Fierce, ain’t that fierce!), but the content is strictly conventional, and even somehow obsequious in its capitulation to the dominant ideology.
But I don’t want to pick on Beyonce. After all, she’s only a symptom, not the cause of the global disease. Advanced hip-hop, with its emphasis on material status, luxury, and capitalist aspirationalism, along with its rigid adherence to gender stereotypes, is the real culprit. And beyond that, advanced capitalism itself, which can only market its star money-makers after they have been put through the ideological de-flavorizing machine. (And no, “aspirationalism” is not code for racism, considering that which is aspired to is grotesquely unjust and itself full of inequalities and prejudices—in America you only have to look as far as Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain to understand that.) But just because things are fashionable and make a lot of money doesn’t make them good. The problem with the black, gay, and feminist movements—which all had their roots in Marxist thought, espousing ideas based on social parity and class consciousness—is that they’re getting exactly what they wished for: a place at the dinner table. The problem is, the dinner party is really tacky.
Previously - Things I Love to Hate