Some Further Thoughts on Beyoncé and ‘Beyoncé’

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On Friday, I wrote a piece about the new Beyoncé album, under the rather ill-advised headline “Why ‘Beyoncé’ Makes Me Want to Die.” The piece cataloged my frustrations with the record, and especially with Beyoncé’s brand of feminism. It’s fair to say that it’s has been rather controversial — the responses I’ve received so far have ranged from the positive to the very, very negative. In particular, the tone of the article has been the subject of plenty of debate, and it’s something I want to address briefly here, along with some background about the piece, and also what I’ve learned from it.

The article was an instinctive, first-listen reaction to the record, which as we all know was released without warning or advance copies for review. Nothwithstanding my longstanding dislike for Beyoncé’s music, I went into listening hoping to be convinced otherwise. Clearly, this wasn’t obvious from my piece. I listen to plenty of bad records every year, and none of them rouse any great emotion. It’s that I wanted this album to be good that catalyzed such frustration.

I don’t want to go too much further into my problems with Beyoncé’s brand of feminism here, beyond to say that this album is relevant to them, which is why my article discussed Beyoncé herself more than the music. I certainly understand why people find the idea of a white male criticizing a black female to be inherently problematic. And I’m aware that black female sexuality is a very complicated topic, and that writing on the message that Beyonce’s music presents in relation to other women could be seen as a critique of black female sexuality in general. (Several people have tweeted at me suggesting exactly that.)

I’ve thought long and hard about criticizing Beyoncé in print for exactly this reason. Clearly, the decision to do so is one I’ll have to live with. There was no intent to oppress or denigrate, nor to draw any generalizations about race or gender, but in retrospect, my criticisms were presented in a manner that was unnecessarily inflammatory, and the language I used was unnecessarily vituperative. If the way I write undermines the points I’m trying to make, that’s on me as a writer. Complex, emotive issues that are bound up in the history of race and class are not best addressed by closing your eyes and jumping in with both feet.

If people find Beyoncé’s music inspiring and empowering — and judging by the reaction to this album, many, many people do — then that’s undeniably a positive thing. As a friend said to me on Facebook about this same topic, “what’s conservative to you is radical to others.” That is, of course, 100% correct, and I don’t doubt that Beyoncé and her music have on balance been a force for good. Ultimately, the fact that the #1 pop star in the world is a black woman with at least somewhat feminist views is the cause for celebration. In focusing on the negatives, I rather lost sight of the positives. It’s one of my pet hates when writers do this, and I’m guilty of the same thing here.

I don’t want this to sound like a sort of weaselly “Sorry if I offended anyone” — clearly, I have offended people, and I apologize wholeheartedly to anyone who felt oppressed or upset by my post. I was frustrated and angry, and in retrospect, I’d make the tone of the article less polemic and more constructive. My view on the world in general is that progress of any sort is achieved by compassion and engagement, and clearly what I wrote on Friday didn’t fulfill either of these criteria. I can, and should, do better.