Is The Meaning Behind Beyonce's Music Misunderstood?

Illustration for article titled Is The Meaning Behind Beyonce's Music Misunderstood?

I'm not sure if Beyoncé identifies as a feminist, but I've always considered her to be one. The singer/songwriter-whose album, I Am…Sasha Fiercewas recently released-constantly revisits themes of independence, strength, self-worth, and confidence. ("Independent Women" is undeniably as anthemic as Aretha Franklin's "Respect," as far as female battle cries go.) Although her new single, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" has some shifting in their seats at the idea that marriage is the ultimate goal of a single woman, it's important to remember that critics have been misinterpreting Beyoncé's overtly pro-woman lyrics as being anti-feminist ever since 1999's "Bills, Bills, Bills."Remember when people were all up in arms about the lyrics, "Can you pay my bills? / Can you pay my telephone bills? / Can you pay my automo' bills?" thinking that they promoted the lifestyle of a kept woman? If you pay closer attention, you'll discover that the song is really about a deadbeat who is running up debt in his girlfriend's name.

And now you ask to use my car Drive it all day and don't fill up the tank And you have the audacity to even come and step to me and ask to hold some money from me Until you get your check next week…Now you been maxing out my card Give me bad credit, buying gifts with my own ends Haven't paid the first bill, but you instead you heading to the mall Going on shopping sprees, perpetrating to your friends that you be ballin'.


Similarly, although the title of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" suggests that single women should be angling to land a man, in fact, the song is really about having a good time after breaking up with someone who didn't want to make a commitment but bugs out when she talks to other men. Speaking to him she says:

Cuz if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it Don't be mad once you see that he want it If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it I put gloss on my lips, a man on my hips Hold me tighter than my Dereon jeans Acting up, drink in my cup I could care less what you think I need no permission, did I mention Don't pay him any attention.

Another track off of I Am…Sasha Fierce, "If I Were a Boy," has Beyoncé observing that although gender is an at times unfair construct, on the plus side, the nature of being on the shit end of the gender schtick means that women often become much more socially adroit than men:

If I were a boy I'd put myself first And make the rules as I go Cause I know that she'd be faithful Waitin' for me to come home It's a little too late for you to come back Say its just a mistake Think I'd forgive you like that If you thought I would wait for you You thought wrong But you're just a boy You don't understand Yeah you don't understand How it feels to love a girl Someday you'll wish you were a better man You don't listen to her You don't care how it hurts Until you lose the one you wanted Cause you've taken her for granted And everything you have got destroyed But you're just a boy

Some heavy shit, right? Back in 2005, before things got so complicated with Jigga, she was crazy in love, and wanted to shower him with affection, which she reflected upon in "Cater 2 U."

Baby I see you workin' hard I wanna let you know I'm proud Let you know that I admire what you do Don't know if I need to reassure you My life would be purposeless without you If I want it, I got it When I ask you, you provide it You inspire me to be better, You challenge me for the better Sit back and let me pour out my love letter Let me help you Take off your shoes Untie your shoestrings Take off your cufflinks Do ya wanna eat boo? Let me feed you Let me run your bathwater Whatever you desire...I'll supply ya Sing you a song, turn your game on I'll brush your hair... put your du-rag on You want a foot rub? You want a manicure? Baby I'm yours I wanna cater 2 U boy Let me cater 2 you Cause baby this is your day Do anything for my man Baby you blow me away I got your slippers, your dinner, your dessert And so much more Anything you want Let me cater 2 u I promise ya i'll keep myself up remain the same chick, you fell in love with I'll keep it tight, I'll keep my figure right I'll keep my hair fixed, keep rocking the hottest outfits When you come home late, tap me on my shoulder I'll roll over Baby I heard you, I'm here to serve you If it's love you need To give it is my joy All I want to do is cater 2 U boy


I can totally see why that song would have some women reacting with a, "WTF?" But, as a love letter, I think it's really beautiful, and the same women who would cringe at that idea would probably think it was sweet if it were written by a man for a woman. We're quick to get pissed at ignorant assholes who assume that feminism is all about hating men. So why are we just as quick to say that wanting to dote on one is anti-feminist? There's a giant difference between wanting to do something for a man and having to do it. Wanting to be appreciative of someone you think deserves it is totally okay, regardless of what's between either of your legs. And as far as the whole "I'll keep my figure right" thing: Look, I'm about to get married, and I'd be psyched if my fiancé said something like that to me. Besides, Beyoncé's music obviously draws on her personal experiences, and I think she's gonna keep her "figure right" no matter who she's with, so I think she's just reminding him how hot she is. But momentary waves of euphoric love haven't kept Ms. Knowles from being grounded. In "Me, Myself, and I" from her album Dangerously In Love she intimates that, in the end, she doesn't need a man. (Last week, when she was on Oprah discussing her marriage, she said, "The most important thing is to make sure you have your own life before you're someone else's wife."):

Cuz I realized I got Me myself and I That's all I got in the end That's what I found out And it ain't no need to cry I took a vow that from now on I'm gonna be my own best friend


Words to live by. Related: Oprah: Beyonce Still Won't Talk About Being Married To Jay-Z



I have no problem with the "keep my figure right" line. Just because one (famous) person has the desire to keep a body she likes doesn't mean she's setting a standard for every single listener. If she wants to be visually sexy to her partner for decades, then go for it! Of course sex isn't the bedrock of a long term relationship/marriage. But that doesn't mean it has to be unimportant either. Just because someone chooses to make lust a lasting factor doesn't mean she's shallow... or a non-feminist.

Isn't "third wave" supposed to be all about letting women make their own choices? If so, then we shouldn't be claiming that every artist/performer is trying to push her values on everyone else.