The machinery that is media is perfectly encapsulated in Kanye West’s music video for Famous. Pop culture is the biggest distraction of the century; a vehicle that tramples on the female body and voice, over and over again. Kanye West is in my view a lyrical genius and talented producer; his lyrics speak to the frustration of being black everywhere, especially in Hollywood, but in the same breath Kanye vindicates black women and their personhood whilst giving praise to their genetic proportions of their bodies; black women are only good for sex but their personhood is totally vanquished whilst their aesthetics are relished and even more on lighter pigmented women, case and point the Kardashians.
In 2011 Beyonce declared that girls run the world in a song and music video that captured the attention of the world. Beyonce in the video was sexy and danced with other sexy womxn; lions, horses make an appearance as well as two dancers from Mozambique whose styles she infused into her own choreography.
Before Beyonce was a solo artist she was in Destiny’s Child; an female group which at times had more reshuffling of members than the South African members of parliament; they had the song Survivor which was empowering but not as much Run the World- “survivor” satiated for that era.
Her self-titled album Beyonce was released two years later in 2013, a sexually explicit and aggressive album; singing about fellatio in the back seat of the with her husband and giving him a private show; everyone thought of the album as brave because it was perceived only men could boast about how good they are at sex in the music industry and Beyonce, it was said, had changed the game. My male friend begged to differ and we fought tooth and nail about how Beyonce was regardless still a feminist; empowering women economically, emotionally and otherwise.
“You cannot play to the male gaze and call yourself empowered” he stated. We fought about Beyonce being a feminist while hopping from club to club, until we passed out and woke up with hangovers- the topic of Beyonce still on our tongues. We agreed to disagree. His stance: Beyonce was not a feminist, mine: Beyonce was feminist and knew how to profit from the male gaze and he returned by stating that if she were a feminist she would find other ways to profit from her talent other than getting naked, gyrating enacting and replicating what the male gaze requires and I volleyed back stating that sexual empowerment had nothing to do with the male gaze. Beyonce was saviour for all who needed shelter from the likes of Kanye, who was talented but did not possess the capacity to empower and liberate women and homosexuals.
We all sang praises for Beyonce forgetting that she most probably ate at the same table as Kanye and slept in the same metaphoric bed.
This year she released Lemonande, an album that answered the burning question of why
Solange was beating Jay-Z in the elevator; in it she co-opted the feminist movement to the
fullest extent, even reciting British Warsin Shire’s prolific poetry. Bell Hooks wrote a piece on the capitalist hijacking of feminism by Beyonce but everyone including her fans and critiques were in the same boat about the album and branded Hooks as a bitter feminist.
Following the waves of unnecessary deaths of black men and women at the hands of cops, Beyonce decided to invite the mothers and female family members of the deceased to the music videos awards; they were also featured in some of her music videos for Lemonande. I decided a while back to stop watching award shows of this nature because they are a machinery of media built only for distraction- this is not to say some artists are not deserving of accolades and awards- it is to say these awards do absolutely nothing for my well-being but I digress. I watched the awards via Twitter and when I saw that Beyonce was performing on stage, a piece inspired by the killings of young black men and womxn, my point of contention with her feminism rose. It just did not sit well with me; taking black pain and putting it on stage for viewers who probably do not care, only those involved and engaged with these killings would be touched; otherwise for most it was pure entertainment.
The question is who is allowed to perform on feminism and socio-political issues and on
which stages? Do these performance stem from good intentions or are they solely for profit and the sake of performance? Why does Beyonce bring these issues to her music, do they help garner attention to the racism in the USA, do they aid in changing the narrative of African Americans and what effect does it have on those struggling to walk every day without getting shot? Who is to say which artist can perform on this subject and which artist can’t?
If we go back to the Famous music video, the questions posed above are answered. The
media only controls the lens, what and who you focus on is your choice and how you act after being embroiled on those people’s lives is up to you.
Is your feminism bettered by Beyonce’s performance, or do you believe that the struggle
really does not care for famous bodies?
Beyonce may title herself as a feminist but she must not forget that she is also a capitalist
who does not think twice before encroaching and co-opting feminism for financial gains. She unlike Kanye may not care for the aesthetics of a black man but she must be reminded she is the epitome of the aesthetics popularised and sought for in women and this specific gaze is what runs the world and not girls.