Beyoncé
July 15 at 8
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Michael Hardy:

Beyoncé is one of the greatest pop stars of this or any other generation. She's beautiful, talented, famous, successful, and, most important, a Houstonian. So what's your beef with her?

Peter Holley:

My beef is manifold. Both superficial and substantive. Let’s start with her absurd name—is it even a word? I've always thought it sounded like Tina Knowles’s attempt to bedazzle the English language.

Michael:

It's a unique name, but you can hardly blame Beyoncé for it. If anything, you should blame her for naming her daughter "Blue Ivy"

Peter

Ha, this is true. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. 

Michael:

Let's focus on more substantive matters. You've called Beyoncé "a business who sings." What's that supposed to mean?

Peter:

A few months ago I stumbled upon a GQ profile of Beyoncé. One of the most startling revelations in the story was that since 2005 Beyoncé has employed a "visual director" who "has shot practically her every waking moment, up to sixteen hours a day." She currently has a database containing "thousands of hours of private footage." Her goal, it would seem, is not only to completely control her image for decades to come, but to monetize it as well. 

Michael:

Okay, so she's a bit narcissistic, but no more so than any other celebrity of her caliber. As for monetizing her image, isn't that what all of pop culture is about? Beyoncé is just savvier about it than everyone else. Her husband Jay-Z has been marketing his brand for years. In one of his songs, he raps "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man." That's why they're the first billion-dollar couple in entertainment.

Peter:

I know that Jay-Z line! And they're clearly trading notes on how to attain everlasting fame. But Michael, c'mon…a bit narcissistic? This is a woman who wanted to wipe the Internet clean of unflattering photos of herself after her Superbowl performance this year! That's not savvy, it's Putin-esque! 

Michael:

Well, fortunately it's her friend Barack who's president. (Although he has some control issues of his own.) Let's talk about her actual singing. I understand you aren't impressed.

Pete:

I've always found her vibrato overly aggressive. Is that just me?

Michael:

It's just you. Is that your only criticism?

Peter:

No. My criticism is more about the substance of her music than the style. I think she claims to be a feminist, but her music seems very reactionary to me. As though she's obsessed with men. 

Michael:

Can you cite a specific song? Are you thinking of “Single Ladies”? I guess my first response would be that Beyoncé is far less reactionary than most male artists. Although she may not be a feminist, I'm not sure she's an anti-feminist

Peter:

I was actually thinking "Irreplaceable." 

Michael:

That's an empowering song! It's about a strong, confident woman who isn't going to let a man push her around or cheat on her.

Peter:

She comes across as heartless, clinically romantic: "I can have another you in a minute…in fact he'll be here in a minute." 

Michael:

So you're saying she treats men as disposable commodities

Peter:

That's right. Given her iron grip on her image, that approach to romance doesn't really surprise me. I think the idea she promotes is that empowering women requires them to put men down. 

Michael:

But in her real life, we know that she's fairly traditional. She's been with Jay-Z since early in the last decade. And in her documentary, she doesn't come across as cold-hearted—quite the opposite. And I think you're totally wrong about the putting men down thing. If anything, I feel like she could be criticized for being too subservient in many of her songs. Like "Naughty Girl,” in which she basically sounds like Rihanna. 

Peter:

That's also true. She uses sex opportunistically.

Michael:

I guess the third-wave feminist defense of Beyoncé would be that she's using sex for her own advantage. She's not afraid of her sexuality, and she doesn't worry about frightening men off. Do you think she's a bad role model for young women?

Peter:

I think that's a dangerous position for her to take, to suggest that the only ways women relate to men are through sexual subservience or being aggrieved. It's imbalanced. 

Michael:

That's an interesting point. Are we perhaps putting too much responsibility on her? She's just a pop star, after all, and in my opinion she's damn good at being a pop star. Nobody cared what crazy shit Michael Jackson did as long as he was making great music. It was only when he fell off musically in the ’90s that he became creepy.

Peter:

Michael Jackson was equally responsible, and people really began caring when he started touching little boys, I think. Beyoncé’s a good dancer. I'll give you that. But I disagree. I think she's more than a pop star, she's a cultural icon who has the ability to influence several generations of young women, particularly young minority women. When she lightens her hair, it matters. When she makes statements about political causes it matters. 

Michael:

Anything you want to add?

Peter:

Sure. I think Beyoncé is utterly obsessed with power. In a creepy, Nixonian sort of way. Before people listen to her music they should ponder the kind of egomaniacal drivel that comes out of her mouth. In that GQ article I referenced she said this: "I now know that, yes, I am powerful," she says. "I'm more powerful than my mind can even digest and understand." Now maybe I should lighten up and let a pop musician be a pop musician. But I think it's hard to get into the music of anyone who takes himself or herself so seriously. Especially a pop musician. 

Michael:

I find it pretty easy. Celebrities are all crazy; at least Beyoncé's genuinely talented. In the end, it's all about the music for me.

Peter:

I wish I were as lucky.

 

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