Nothing like Beyonce Has Ever Happened Before, or I'm so uncomfortable right now.


 
It's been years since I've written anything about pop culture, but have you guys seen Beyonce's performance from the Video Music Awards?! (Not sure if the embedded post above will work for everyone so click the link to watch it if not.)

1) I seriously can't think of an analogue in pop history!

2) Is it okay to say that Beyonce is my hero?!

3) This is the most powerful pop performance I can remember!
 
4) It makes me so so uncomfortable! 

5) Watch it now!

If you don't know the backstory, basically what you need to know is that a few years ago Beyonce married Jay-Z, who was for a time arguably the most important pop artist in the world. Then he cheated on her, and she wrote an album about it. Then she distilled the essence of that album into the aforementioned VMA performance. And he will never be the most important pop artist in the world again, because she's sitting on his throne.

At one level, especially in the VMA's bullet pointed form, this reads like an uncomfortable public evisceration of the type that you see when friends break up on Facebook and post in the drunken aftermath. I don't know that it's a good model for the average citizen's behavior.  I also don't know what happened in their relationship, and I don't know if the punishment fit the crime.

But as art, while people write songs about cheating all the time, I seriously can't think of anything close to an analogue in terms of impact, and thorough, righteous anger. Because of who she is as a public persona, and where we are in our societal conversations about race and gender, this reads as a public marker that the days of male marital impunity are officially over. The man (Jay-Z) has clearly wronged his wife, and his wife is thoroughly capable of giving him his comeuppance. 
 
The most obvious public example of how things used to work are the Clintons: Bill cheated and basically got away with it. Hillary is publicly humiliated, and attacked for how she handled the aftermath, and for driving him to it. She finds herself humiliated over and over again, having to defend him publicly, and herself for staying with him through it. And people slap Bill on the back like he's their old buddy who just happened to make a few understandable mistakes. This crap is still coming up.

But this dynamic is so much different: Jay-Z cheats, Beyonce publicly destroys: "Who the f*&^ do you think I am?!", "I ain't sorry", "Tonight I'm f*&^ing up all your S&%$ boy!" And despite the fact that she's the aggressor on stage, when you watch her public response to what inevitably became his public betrayal, you come away with the sense that Jay-Z is lucky that she stayed with him (so far), and that she's both the more sophisticated artist and more powerful individual in the relationship. She's a role model, but also a symbol of a bigger social change.  Despite the fact that he's the one being publicly humiliated, you come away with sympathy for her (as a representative of all women who've been screwed over by their spouses), and the sense that he (as a representative of cheating/abusive/negligent men in general) is a fool for thinking he could get away with it. That's not the world we live in anymore.

I'm not qualified to address the significance of this thing from really any perspective, but especially a female/black/cheated on perspective. But my point here is, whoa - this is freaking high level pop art with genuine social import. Beyonce is next level.

Comments

Popular Posts