Beyoncé is an amazing entertainer. There is no doubt about that. Energetic, precise, focused. But is she original? Not necessarily. Moreover, her message of female empowerment misses the mark.
There's nothing wrong with being inspired by art, but some recent performances seem to be imitations and duplications of other, specific artists' work.
Let's start with the "Run The World" video. Directed by Francis Lawrence, the clip involves Beyoncé dancing in a dusty, sandy location beneath an underpass. Posters cover the concrete columns.
In one shot, Beyoncé stands on a desert landscape, holding hyenas on chain leashes.
The concept is very similar to the work of Pieter Hugo, who shot photographs of "hyena men" in Nigeria. One of his most arresting images involves a man standing beneath an underpass, the columns of which are coated with posters. The man holds a leash made of chain, with a hyena on the end. It's one of several photographs in a series.
It's fairly obvious that the director was familiar with Hugo's work. We can't be sure whether or not Beyoncé realized he was appropriating someone else's vision. But if we assume that she didn't, we also assume she just went along with the idea… Odd for a woman singing about running the world. In February, photographer David LaChappelle sued Rihanna for copying his photographs in her "S&M" video, calling it "willful, wanton and deliberate" copyright infringement. Perhaps Pieter Hugo hasn't seen "Run The World" yet?
There were no hyenas involved when Beyoncé performed "Run The World" at the Billboard awards. She danced against a white background, and timed her choreography to interact with the pictograms and projected images which appeared there. A very cool concept. And incredibly similar to a performance Italian artist Lorella Cuccarini did in 2010. Here, Beyoncé's routine is seen side-by-side with Cuccarini's, and you can see that so many elements — the baton, the flock of birds, the concentric circles, the geometric shapes — are identical.
Beyoncé is a great singer, an excellent performer and a good role model, but these copycat performances are worrying, especially because when ingested alongside her message — girls run the world — the meaning gets twisted. Do you run the world by stealing ideas? If Beyoncé didn't realize she was imitating someone else's art, does it mean that she lets other people pick and choose how she comes across on award shows and in videos? And, in turn, isn't she undermining her own message, essentially telling little girls that it's okay to let other people make decisions for them?
When it comes right down to it, "Run The World" contains very little in the way of encouragement or empowerment. The lyrics:
Boy don't even try to take us
Boy this beat is crazy
This is how they made me
Houston, Texas baby
This goes out to all my girls
That's in the club rocking the latest
Who will buy it for themselves and get more money later
I think I need a barber
None of these bitches can fade me
I'm so good with this,
I remind you im so hood with this
Boy im just playing, come here baby
Hope you still like me, If you hate me
My persuasion can build a nation
Endless power, our love we can devour
You'll do anything for me
Self-described "vlogger and thinker" NineteenPerecent has done a great job of picking apart the lyrics. "Do girls really run the world?" she asks. "First of all, women are universally dominated. There is not a society known where women as a group have decision-making power over men as a group… Who run the world? Girls? A better question would be, 'Name the only American minority group that actually constitutes a majority of the population: Girls.'" She jokingly calls Beyoncé a liar, but the sentiment is valid: Is "Run The World" teach young women anything beyond new dance moves? We know that Beyoncé means well. We know that Beyoncé has a lot of power. She's teamed up with Michelle Obama for the "Move Your Body" campaign, and she supports The Survivor Foundation. But with millions of little girls watching and listening, wouldn't it be great if her performances went beyond copycat moves and hollow club chants about domination? Is it wrong to expect more?