Beyoncé Introduces Politics to Pop

In 2013, Beyoncé blessed the world with the surprise release of her fifth solo album self titled Beyoncé. Usually, the artist’s debut album is self titled so it is interesting for the world famous superstar to title her fifth album with her name when we all clearly know who she is. Beyoncé does this to indicate that she is redefining her sound. After listening to the album, it seems as if in a way Beyoncé is indeed making her musical debut. This album is not like the other albums we have heard from the pop singer in the past; it is filled with political and feminist messages. Beyoncé is not afraid to speak her mind and we can feel the anger and passion behind her new, redefined sound.

Along with the fourteen new songs, Beyoncé also released seventeen videos and her “Flawless” music video perfectly embodies the essence of what her fifth album is all about. It is a feminist anthem that preaches for girl power and demands equal rights. It is not in the traditional sense a “sexy” or “glamourous” video like many of the other music videos we have seen from Beyoncé (although she is still looking fierce like always); the focus instead is on her power, confidence, and the message she wants to convey to the world.

The music video begins with a clip from Star Search, a talent discovering TV show Beyoncé appeared in as a young girl. Her group “Girls Time” is the challenger to an all male group. The use of intertextuality in the music video (referencing to one media via another source of media) shows that Beyoncé has been fighting against the patriarchy her whole life. She and her all girl singing group had to challenge the undefeated boys to prove they were worthy of being stars.

The TV screen turns off and the video quickly cuts from the colorful image of Beyoncé as a child to a black and white shot of the current Beyoncé. This shot shows that she is not a little girl anymore; she is a powerful woman, and she is full of rage. Shooting the video in black and white adds to the dark edginess of the song. This is different from the other music videos we have seen from Beyoncé where she is depicted as the ultimate symbol of beauty and sex. The fire symbolizes the anger she feels and her emotions are also clearly shown through the facial expressions she makes. She is frustrated with the sexist roles present in today’s society as shown when she snarls and pushes two men’s faces away from her and also when she sings the line “don’t think I’m just his little wife.” Beyoncé wants to be seen as her own person, not someone’s property. She doesn’t let being the wife of famous rap star Jay-Z take away from her spotlight. She is making it clear that she is the “queen” and she rules the music industry. “Bow down bitches!”

The music slows and we hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an award winning author of novels including We Should All Be Feminists, deliver the following speech: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” The speech ends with definition of feminist: “the person who believes in the social political, and economic equality of the sexes.” During this powerful last sentence, Beyoncé is shown in a crowd of males raising her fist. This symbolizes her fight for equality and promise to take a stand with her music. This is the best part of the music video and Beyoncé’s message is being made loud and clear. We should note how Beyoncé has Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deliver that speech rather than do so herself. By doing this, she is stepping out of the spotlight and not making this about her; the focus is on all women, not just Beyoncé. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s voice is captivating and demands attention; you cannot ignore her powerful message.

When Beyoncé resumes singing, she is dancing with all females now. The tone of the music has changed from rage to empowerment as Beyoncé sings “we flawless, ladies tell ’em.” Her facial expressions change from that of anger to confidence; she is a woman who knows who she is and is proud. Thanks to Beyoncé, the terms “flawless” and “I woke up like this” have become terms that women use to empower each other and themselves. These phrases even started trends on Instagram of girls posting selfies with no makeup on and using the hashtags #Flawless and #IWokeUpLikeThis. Beyoncé’s lyrics make women feel confident and beautiful in their own skin. While some women feel they may need to look appealing for men, these terms regarding beauty instead promote self love and girl power!

When the song ends, the music video returns to the Star Search episode featured at the beginning of the video. The female challengers have lost to the male reigning champions. Beyoncé is making another political statement here. In modern society, men are still seen as superior to women instead of seen as equals. For example, men are currently still being paid more than women for the same jobs and a male candidate who was under qualified was elected president over an over qualified female. Beyoncé wants to encourage women to keep pursuing in their fight for equal rights in America.

What makes this song so great is not just the message behind it, but the interesting arrangement of the music. The song begins with an angry, moody tone, then takes a pause with the speech, and finally when the vocals return, it transitions into an upbeat party song. The music video embodies each of these components of the song and tells a story. It follows Beyoncé’s struggle from when she was a little girl to an adult. Her body language changes from rage at the beginning to empowerment to total confidence by the end when she’s dancing with her squad.

Beyoncé continues to create this type of political music with her next album Lemonade. This has become a common trend in the music industry today among not only Beyoncé but other artists like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and of course YG with his famous song “FDT.” What’s unique about Beyoncé though is that she is bringing these themes to pop music when we tend to only see this trend in rap and hip-hop. Pop music reaches the broadest audience and dominates the radio. By making pop political, societal issues are being presented in a way that cannot be ignored. I have personally never been a fan of pop music because it seems robotic in a way; there is often no real meaning behind the lyrics and the artist is usually just trying to make a radio smash hit that will make a lot of money. Beyoncé is showing true artistry with “Flawless” and her other recent records; she is not afraid to push the boundaries and change what we see as pop music.

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