I Feel Sexist When I Listen To Beyoncé
I’ve spent a week with Beyoncé’s new self-titled album, and after sufficiently gushing over her groundbreaking release strategy I’ve finally come to the same conclusion as literally everybody else who’s listened to it:
Beyoncé likes to have sex. A lot of it.
This isn’t going to be some screed about how female pop stars always end up sexualizing their bodies. I’ve never really cared about whether Britney Spears singing “I’m A Slave 4 U” was demeaning, because she (and Christina and Katy and etc.) always seemed to own their sexuality—as if they were putting their boot down on men who slobber over their music and saying (I mean this in every sense of the word), “Heel.”
Yet while most pop stars dance around what they mean when they’re talking about crossing blurred lines and licking popsicles, Beyoncé cuts right to the point: “Let me sit this ass on you, show you how I feel,” she coos in the opening line of “Rocket”, and it’s the most provocative thing I’ve ever heard on a song.
It’s not an isolated incident, either. Beyoncé throws enough sex—both explicit and metaphorical—into this album that it can make listening downright awkward. I’m sure someone on the Internet has already come up with a list of all the different ways Beyoncé wants to get down, and that’s ignorant, but I understand the impulse. It’s hard not to quote endlessly because the woman puts so much of her sexuality out there.
It makes me uncomfortable. And the fact that it makes me uncomfortable makes me feel even worse.
I don’t know why a woman talking about her sexuality in 2013 still feels like something risqué. Earlier this year, Justin Timberlake released a song about oral sex called “Strawberry Bubblegum”, and it’s one of my most-played tracks. Last week, R. Kelly released an album called Black Panties and the Internet was more than content to laugh at and enjoy songs called “Marry The Pussy” and “Crazy Sex” (an especially troubling attitude given R. Kelly’s legal history). Yet I don’t see myself playing the roller disco jam “Blow” (one of the best songs I’ve heard all year) around my friends without feeling completely awkward.
To be completely clear: I love this record. The songs meander in really unexpected ways, recalling the best qualities from Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience. “Mine”, a sparse duet with Drake, accelerates into a full-on fire dance. “Yoncé” is a stomper that melts into a trap song before its 6 minutes are up. The creativity and originality on display are such a step above this year’s other pop albums that it’s frankly insulting to only compare Beyoncé to other “divas” like Katy Perry, Lorde, and Lady Gaga. She belongs in conversation with Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Eminem—the top-selling artists in the industry.
In fact, my praise for this album is why I especially dislike feeling uncomfortable when Beyoncé sings about sex, as that’s merely one shade of the album’s brave confessional palette. Beyoncé covers all aspects of the singer’s private life, not just the ones that take place in her bed. She completely exposes her marriage insecurities in the vulnerable confession “Jealous” and admits to “not feeling like myself since the baby” in “Mine”. She brings her children into focus; penultimate ballad “Heaven” is a tearful ode to a 2010 miscarriage, and its more uplifting sister song “Blue” is a lullaby about clutching her daughter tight that reverberates long past the album’s final moments.
These are intensely personal songs, ones where I can feel the pain behind Beyoncé’s voice in every line. Yet it’s the physical nudity, not the emotional nudity, that makes me wonder if I should turn the volume down.
I don’t think I’m actually sexist, though it’s hard to read this blog post back and not feel like there’s something wrong with the way the world has wired me. Ultimately, I’m so glad that this album exists as another marker of how great music can help change world attitudes, and hopefully lead to greater social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.
Is Beyoncé flawless? Probably not, life isn’t without its imperfections. This is an adult record in every way, a fully realized work of art that deals with how Beyoncé exists as a proud, black, emotional, famous, and yes, sexual person.
P.S. If you’re interested, here’s an awesome article about Beyoncé and feminism over at Noisey that I spent about an hour reading.
P.S.S. I realize I didn’t talk about the album that much. It should go without saying that the songs are all gorgeous in one way or another—Queen B’s got so many workers in the studio that it’s hard not to have smashes—but the production is on a whole ‘nother level from most of the music I’ve heard this year (only JT and Kanye are on the same level).
I also love the way she tries to reclaim some of her more “urban” edge, calling herself ‘Miss 3rd Ward’ (a nod to her Houston roots) and outraps her husband on tracks like the woozy duet “Drunk In Love” and my personal favorite, “Yoncé/Partition”.
Also, I’m calling “XO” as a big single because it is amazing. It’s like she stole the best song from Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto and locked it away in her dresser for two and a half years.