March 18, 2013
Okay, here I go, here I go again. Girls, what’s my weakness? Beyoncé, okay then. Beyoncé’s new track “Bow Down \ I Been On” is awesome. For several reasons. It’s just the kind of rap that we might expect from Her Highness: simple and melodic with a message of female financial independence and empowerment.
Sure the lyrics aren’t that clever; she’s always rhyming girls with world: “I know when you were little girls\ you dreamt of being in my world \ Don’t forget, don’t forget it \ Respect that \ Bow down, bitches.” But, that’s not the point with Beyoncé. Her message is that little girls shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Ever. Every young person has Queen-of-the-Mountain material inside. Her message is a product of a particularly American class-mobile ideal of independence and the free market narrative of merit-based value. Deal with it. She not only deals with it, never misrepresenting her comfortable, middle-class upbringing and loving and doting parents (see the picture of a young Beyoncé in pageant attire surrounded by trophies and awards on a suburban fireplace mantle that she included as the cover image for this track on her website), but she embraces her success within the capitalist music system.
In the “I Been On” section of the track, her revelling in financial success (and her Southern drawl) is loud and clear: “Gold every-thang\ Gold-ass chains \ Gold-ass rangs.” At least she is spending and recirculating her money, not psychopathically hoarding it. In the footsteps of many before her, she identifies as a Southern, Black, female, “self-made” millionaire, and she’s enjoying her lifestyle and using her fame to try to inspire others. She’s a straight-forward, non-subtle, mainstream, pop star. And mostly, we are missing out if we expect anything else from her. But, she delivers something more – her own brand of womanist feminism – anyway.
The opening rap subverts the stereotypical representation of women in relationship to other humans, most commonly as wives or mothers: “I took some time to live my life \ But don’t think I’m just his little wife \ Don’t get it twisted \ This my shit \ Bow down, bitches.” Her recent status as mother and the naming of her “Mrs. Carter” tour has been read by many as a loss of her independence. Motherhood has even made her a target of strange moralistic criticism. Considering B’s recent family-centered life choices, one womanist blogger was compelled to critique “Bow Down” for its lack of “age appropriateness.” What is this, Sunday School? Let’s also remember that marriage for Black Americans has a history parallel to the story of slavery and emancipation, so the fact of her naming her most recent tour after her legal, married name is a celebration of equality for Blacks. And, considering that she – Beyoncé – will keep every single penny of her earnings no matter what name she goes by or performs under is a marker of a significant historical feminist victory. Furthermore, the prenup signed by both her and Jay Z includes a clause that he is to pay her for every child she bears with his paternity compensating her for any lost income due to pregnancy, birth, or child-rearing. Um, paid maternity leave? Can you say feminist economic utopia?
Other bloggers, including Sarah Dean from the Huffington Post, read the repetition of the word “bitches” as a put-down directed at other women. Dean even claims that B is taking a cue from Jay Z and the like, using the word “bitches” to dismiss and degrade women. But I don’t hear the rap like that at all. I hear it as reclamation of the term that has been incredibly popular in the rap genre. I read Beyonce’s use of the term “bitches” as a direct shake-off of criticism, regardless of the gender of the person constructing the criticism, aimed at diminishing Beyonce’s woman-made, confident achievements. It is hip-hop hipster irony. Ironic because she, yes SHE, is posturing and swaggering in a traditionally male industry, in a traditionally white and male mega-wealthy club. She is taking the term from the men and re-associating it, not with women, but with critics. And, come on. She’s right: that’s what critics do. We bitch – about pop culture, about music, about film. Call it analysis and evaluation if you prefer, but it’s still bitchin’.
Especially considering in the second portion of the track “I Been On” when she raps in an electronically male voice, this track is all about her having fun in a character and poking at the boys club that her husband inhabits. She has an all-female band and dance crew, she rose to stardom from an all-female group, and she attributes part of her success publicly and repeatedly to her mother: “Kiss my Mama \ Show that love.” She celebrates traditional, hetero femininity but while respecting women’s work and cooperation as non-traditional sources of power. Ultimately, the artificial deep voice that is really her own reveals gender as a mere performance just as much as rap is a performance. Her critique is of mainstream, over-masculinized, rap culture as a product of patriarchy, not at all of other women.
I’ve said it once, and I will say it again. Expecting Beyoncé to live up to a Yankee-made, college-educated standard of feminism is futile. Expecting Beyoncé to rap intellectual like Mos Def – hottie that he is – is just as futile. Nevertheless, she is a more influential feminist, and rapper, than most of us will ever be. So…
October 5, 2012
This chilly morning while driving my daughter to school, Queen’s “Somebody to Love” came on the radio. (Yes, the regular radio. I still listen to it.) Here it is in case you need a reminder:
An excited conversation between my kid and me ensued. Me: “I love how this song is rock ‘n roll plus theatrical plus sweet.” Her: “I know! I love theatrical! Also, the background vocals sound like gospel music.” Me: “You’re right; they do!” And then she went on to tell me about all the new bands she likes.
Last night during dinner, she told me that Mitt Romney wanted to cut funding to PBS. I said that yeah, I heard. She told me that made her mad because she grew up on PBS since we never had cable. I told her about what Neil DeGrass Tyson tweeted in response: “Cutting PBS support (0.012% of budget) to help balance the Federal budget is like deleting text files to make room on your 500Gig hard drive.” We laughed.
Sometimes I get down on myself about parenting, as if I’m not good enough, rich enough, consistent enough, full-time employed enough, etc. But all that hogwash doesn’t matter, really, when she has ideas all her own, she expresses her ideas freely, and she has a sense of humor. AND she has appreciation for old music and is a knowledgeable fan of public television. These things make me proud to have been given the task of raising her.
October 10, 2011
My Daughter and I went to see Dolly Parton in concert Saturday night. We took a long while to get ready, about an hour and a half. I polished our boots with my dad’s old shoe polish, and the smell of the leather combined with the polish brought up memories I thought I had lost:
My dad’s boots on the left were custom-made in Texas. Always. He had all of his boots custom-made because not only did he have small, wide feet, but he also had big preferences. For example, he preferred to have a belt buckle that matched his boots exactly. So when he had his boots made, he had a matching belt buckle made, too. The quilted leathers: each individual square is made from a different hyde and specially dyed. Cow, snake, ostrich, alligator, blue, brown, black, tan. That was success to him: being able to pay an American crafter a decent wage to create unique items, and lookin’ good.
The concert was wonderful. Dolly opened to “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” I cried. This was the song that carried me through my first major break-up and relocating with my daughter to a new city by myself when I was 24 and she was 4. The memories that a song can unearth are as strong as a woman giving birth, I think.
The rest of the concert was equally great: I thought about my mom, my dad, my childhood home, the beautiful rural landscape of southeastern Oklahoma where I grew up, people workin’ hard with their hands, where nobody I knew had a cubicle job. I thought about love and loss, life and compassion, musical traditions, community and friends, growing old, and happiness. I realized I have had plenty of happiness. And I look forward to plenty more.
And I realize that Dolly Parton can turn me into a sappy pile of sentimentality.
And that’s okay,
P.S. Here’s a beautiful version of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” by the Wailin’ Jennys: listen.
August 12, 2011
I made an iTunes playlist, otherwise known as a mixtape, that I’m really loving right now. I’ve been in a very contemplative, quiet, alone time kind of mood lately, so that’s the predominant and unifying mood through these songs. Usually the summer begs me for a lively party mix, but I am not feeling in the party mood. Unless it’s a calm, talking party. Maybe it’s the sweet, sweet rain we’ve been receiving here in Oklahoma. Heartswell.
1. This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush
2. Heaven by Brandi Carlile
3. Big Jet Plane by Angus & Julia Stone
4. Just Like Heaven by The Watson Twins
5. Misty Blue by Dorothy Moore
7. Silver Coin by Bridget St. JOhn
8. Oh! My Mama by Alela Diane
9. Wildflowers by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt
10. Generosity by Mirah
12. Forget by Sybille Baier
13. Lover Lover Be My Cover by Dorothy Previn
14. Won’t Let You Leave by Jenny O
For your low-key weekend listening pleasure,
I’m in lust with this song and video for many reasons. First of all, those costumes? The headpiece with the gold dangles crowning her forehead at the beginning of the video almost made me pee my pants! And the yellow, flowy dress with the complete leg slits made me feel like stomping around naked in my office. Really though, if the wardrobe and choreography don’t excite you at least a little bit, I would check to make sure you still have a pulse.
Besides the impressive aesthetics in the video, the militant repitition of “girls” in the context of “smart enough to make the millions, strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business” is an example of feminist language reclamation at its pop culture finest. Beyonce takes the ordinary usage of the term ‘girls’ used to disempower and infantilize women, and she redefines the term as a concept having nothing to do with age or pubescent status and everything to do with inner power and resources.
What do you think, Eden, it’s YOUR birthday after all?
Also, the Lady Gaga and MIA influence? Respect!
January 21, 2011
Maybe you saw Wanda Jackon perform with Jack White on The Late Show with David Letterman last night. If not, take a look-see HERE. It was AMAZIIIING! Wanda Jackson is a lady that doesn’t get near enough credit for her contributions to rock ‘n roll and music in general, so it’s great to see her getting a new wave of attention. The performance on Letterman made me wonder about Jack White’s role in her new album, The Party Ain’t Over, due out this month, but more than that, I though about his role in Loretta Lynn’s 2004 album Van Lear Rose. They won a Grammy for that one, remember? I started thinking about how he worked to bring these two legendary American ladies back to the forefront of our collective American musical mind. And his efforts reminded me of the feminist recovery work done by scholars in the 1970s and 1980s, unearthing under-appreciated treasures.
And I think he’s pretty cool, and I admire his work. As a music lover and as a woman lover and as a feminist. That’s all I have to say about that. Oh, and wouldn’t it be awesome if Jack White made a record with Dolly Parton next to complete the trifecta of amazing music vaginas (the rumor mill says it’s a possibility!!!)?
A girl can dream,
September 25, 2010
I cried today because my mom moved from the little town in rural Oklahoma that I grew up in to a mid-sized city in Texas. Not that far. It’s a good, good thing for her; it’s where her sister and all my cousins live. But I still cried. That’s how strong roots are, I guess.
But isn’t wonderful what a body can do? If Theresa Andersson can be a one-woman band, I can grow more roots.