Tre Johnson writes at Dearth of a Nation.
Lemonade Stand: What Beyoncé Will Be Bringing to the Linc
When Beyoncé lands at Lincoln Financial Field tomorrow night, she’ll bring with her hits, legions of fans — and about a dozen reasons for them to give each other the side-eye.
For the last three years Beyoncé has mastered the side eye — that sidelong look that says “oh, really?” Her last album, the amazing self-titled Beyoncé, was the most sexually alive album from an artist you increasingly got the notion worked so hard at her presence and her music that she may not even be familiar with a bed. With it, though, came the notion that despite a nigh-undisputed attractiveness, she was still viewed as virtually asexual. Not even giving birth to Blue Ivy could dislodge the idea that Beyoncé was not a sexual being; to the most deranged detractors (and some fans) Ivy seemed more likely an immaculate conception — or at least a surrogate pregnancy — likely part of the reason why “Beyoncé fake pregnancy” is such a popular Google search. Even after birthing Ivy, her music (largely) hasn’t wavered, and both Beyoncé and Lemonade have felt like organic, important entries into her impressive catalogue. It has been business as usual for Queen B.
Because of that, too, Beyoncé raised the discourse and standard of how we view women in pop culture; “Beyoncé-sex” — the idea that Beyoncé is a sexual being — seemed inconsequential, helping to empower women to express an independence that left many insecure men (which is to say many men) out. Her songs — on the radio, in the club, overhead at your Whole Foods — have been female anthems, empowering not because they were adversarial to men, but rather because they just weren’t terribly preoccupied with them, calling women into formation.
In that sense, her music has actually always been undeniably black. Her rally songs have an intrinsic call-and-response element to them — “who runs the world?! Girls!; “…all the single ladies (all the single ladies!)”; “…get me bodied… get me bodied!” — that echoes black church service, with Beyoncé at the pulpit. It’s bold, empowering and spiritual — a great phenomenon is watching these songs come on at the club and watching women gather together, limbs akimbo (and often coordinated), eyes rolling back, voices raised high — men don’t get that you don’t sidle up when these songs come on because at those moments the women are all at church.
Her music has come to underscore the idea that women understand with each other, and the rest of us might too if we cared to listen: Sometimes the best sex is with yourself. Beyoncé isn’t the music you slide up to someone on to close-grind on lest you suffer the side-eye.
But then Beyoncé arrived, unexpected in both content and delivery, with “Drunk in Love,” “Partition” and “Blow” giving us an updated definition of Beyoncé-sex and with it, a returned (albeit misinformed) side-eye from many a male partner, while even vexing some of her fans: If Beyoncé can get down in the kitchen, in the car, change her plans and be late to get down with her man, hell girl, let’s get down in an Uber and get us a two-star rating. Side-eye returned.
Discussion of her latest album, Lemonade, has been a mainstream misdirection regarding Jay’s fidelity that Beyoncé had already laid bare; go back now and create your own Lemonade multimedia prequel by looping the infamous “elevator video” to the album’s songs for a fun game of “Spot-the-Lemonade-Seeds.” No, what hasn’t been fully embraced is the idea that Lemonade is actually Beyonce’s blackest album, signaled by the lead single, “Formation,” opening with an image of Beyoncé atop a NOLA police cruiser in a Katrina-sunken New Orleans. Not long after, her Super Bowl halftime performance was a field assemblage of black women clad in Black Panther-like uniforms.
Along with songs like the racially conscious “Freedom” — which speaks on wading through waters, rioting your borders and the breaking of chains and featuring poignant bars by Kendrick Lamar — have been other great, important, conscious entries into her discography, explicitly calling out to demographics her music has shied from: blacks and more importantly, black women.
For a fan-base that’s largely bled Bey all these years, having this Beyoncé has been an awkward revelation, giving everyone from SNL, to police unions to bell hooks something to say about an artist who’d come be to seen as transcendent of something as inconvenient as blackness.
So if you go Sunday night, watch for the side-eyes when these songs play couched inside of her wider female anthem discography. By the time service is over, all the intersectional identity call-and-responses will make something clear: When it comes to the question — “Who runs the world?!” — in pop music, as Lemonade now makes undeniably clear: a black woman.