When Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album dropped in December, it seemed like mainstream pop culture was about to experience a feminist breakthrough. Beyoncé’s sample of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk outlines how our patriarchal world teaches girls to “shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.” Adichie’s voice stands strong against a dramatic instrumental backdrop: “Feminism: the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” The visual album exhibits Bey being empowered by her sexuality and rejecting the stupid misconception that women don’t like sex. She even wrote an essay for the Shriver Report titled “Gender Equality Is a Myth!”
But Beyoncé’s performance of “Drunk In Love” at the Grammy’s has the media up in arms with the classic good feminist/bad feminist debate. We’ve seen it with Taylor Swift (are you a feminist if you’ve spent most of your career singing about boys?), we’ve seen it with Miley Cyrus (are you a feminist if you wear skimpy clothes and shake your ass on stage?), and now we’re watching this debate as it questions whether Beyoncé “embracing her sexuality” is more demeaning than empowering. Her performance at the Grammy’s with Jay-Z is being criticized not only for featuring PG-13 dance moves on prime time television, but for Jay’s “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” reference to domestic violence.
Beyoncé’s fame, which has reigned for over a decade, is perhaps attributed most to her show-stopping performances (hello, duh!). Everybody knows Beyoncé can dance (further proof). So why did she spend the majority of her Grammy’s performance grinding on a chair and writhing on the ground? Does this sexy dancing mean she’s a bad feminist?
The thing is, Beyoncé is always hot as fuck. Her dancing is sexy because Beyoncé is sexy. What set this performance apart is that choreographically it was less than perhaps expected. She could have done so much more, but she didn’t.
Miley Cyrus got infinitely criticized back for her performance at the VMA’s– it was the twerk heard round the world. The media branded her as a no-talent, attention whore, with a small butt, and just another child star on the brink of rehab. Now, with Beyoncé’s raunchy performance on prime time television, people are asking if it’s equally inappropriate.
The answer to that question is no no no no stop talking. Beyoncé’s career absolutely cannot be compared to Miley’s, nor almost any other woman in the game. She has established her presence in the public eye, and earned her respect as an artist over the course of the past ten years by leading a scandal-free and boundary-pushing career.
That’s why, for me, her performance at the Grammy’s was so confusing. As Forbes writer Anushay Hossain put it, “2013 was ending on a fabulously feminist note, but our feminist wet dream may already be over.” Whyyyyyyy Beyoncé?! What is going on?! I don’t want to have to wake up from that wet dream! I love that wet dream!
I’m not going to let Beyoncé’s performance at the Grammy’s ruin her new album nor the deep respect that I have for her. But it is definitely making me question that respect. Let’s all hope that Queen Bey will find a way to explain all of this.
University of Michigan