Beyoncé has traveled a complicated road toward the surprise release of her self-titled fifth album filled, but at the end of that road is a work of art filled with progressive, forward-thinking female ideals.
Remember when the pop star said this about being a feminist in a Harper's Bazaar UK interview?
"I don't really feel that it's necessary to define it. It's just something that's kind of natural for me, and I feel like… you know… it's, like, what I live for.
I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious."
I died a little in that moment because I really wanted her to assume the power and meaning in the actual definition of feminist, rather than dodging the word (presumably out of fear with its negative, angry man-hating associations). But with Beyoncé there is no denying that Bey understands what feminism is all about, whether she personally wants to adopt it the label or not. She has come into her own as an artist, mother, business woman, and an icon. And I am here for it, all of it. Let's pick out the high points, shall we?
In the "Pretty Hurts" video, Beyonce breaks a stack of beauty pageant trophies in her bedroom. The message is clear — accolades one might receive based on physical beauty are less important than being a fulfilled, thoughtful and happy person. And us civilians might think that Beyonce’s life is amaze balls — and parts of it definitely are; when’s the last time you and your boo took a yacht out in St. Tropez? — but it’s hard to be judged by the world on a daily basis. You or I would probably flip out and pull a Bjork-style meltdown, but Bey never does. That alone deserves a clap.
On "Flawless," Beyonce samples a portion of "Half of a Yellow Sun" author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's famous TEDtalk where she breaks down how women are taught to make themselves small and not to be too ambitious or else they'll ruin their chances at snagging a husband, among other things. Watch Adichie speak that truth below; your day — and life — will be the better for it:
Also, the whole "Beyonce isn't feminist enough" conversation? Nah, kid. This is an international pop star with influence on innumerable young minds to adopt feminist principles of equality and empowerment. Folks don't have to agree with every part of her record — the Ike and Tina Turner reference "Eat the cake Anna Mae" is problematic, and I have zero idea why Jay-Z decided to cherry pick a cinematic What's Love Got to Do With It? moment where Ike is brutalizes Tina — but to tear Beyoncé down for not being feminist enough is judgmental and annoying. And actually, the idea that feminism is for everybody? There's a whole website for that. Bey's feminism is a big-picture sort of feminism.
In "Haunted," Beyoncé's gives the viewer a view of her body doing its thing on a bed, while she sings about foreplay, spankings and being pinned in a doorway.
Not that Bey was ever shy about her ample ass, but she usually kept it covered outside of tasteful peeks. But in the "Haunted" video, there are straight shots of her behind coming up, coming dooown… Bey is a sexual being and she's celebrating that. There's nothing to be ashamed of there, nothing to hide. There's more of the same in the "Partition" video, because, hey, it is Beyoncé's ass, she can showcase her goods if she wants to.
Elsewhere in "Drunk in Love," Beyonce is talking again about sex — wanting it, loving it — and owning not only her sexuality but the fact that it rests happily alongside her “baby daddy" and husband, Jay-Z. She’s not saying she’s sexy because he loves her, rather that she’s empowered by their love. Some black church folk — older African-American members of primarily African-American churches, a crowd that has historically leaned conservative in its expectations of black celebrities — will probably vilify her for this, but hey, not even gospel singer Erika Campbell of Mary Mary can wear a form fitting dress without catching derogatory comments from that community.
Side note: Though I personally have zero desire to see Jay-Z nude or nearly nude — just not my thing — I had hoped that for all his cameos in this "Beyonce" video batch, she would've turned the gaze on him a bit more.
“Blow” immediately made me think of my favorite Lil’ Kim song ever “Not Tonight,” which was basically shorthand for “I Don’t Want Dick Tonight So Give Me Cunnilingus Now, Thanks.” On “Blow,” Beyoncé, whose more sexual lyrics have tended to veer away from the explicit, has done a 180. She's blunt about what she wants — “Can you eat my skittles, it's the sweetest in the middle. Pink is the flavor, solve the riddle" — and she's not going to shy away from asking for it.
The video for "No Angel" is filled with snapshots of her Houston, Texas hometown and some of its subcultures. She's got the regional music scene covered, featuring MC's like the UGK’s Bun B, and the Geto Boys’ Willie D and Scarface, along with acknowledgements of the late Pimp C and DJ Screw. Her footage of strippers preparing to perform wasn't glamorized or amplified; it was about a group of women going to work. The frank realism made the scenes and the workers in them human.
In another nod to "Black is Beautiful," there is the black supermodel parade that is the "Yoncé" video. Full disclosure: When I started watching the clip, I screamed out loud. In my office. To myself. It's like a brief 2013 version of George Michael's "Freedom 90" with supermodels Jourdan Dunn, Chanel Iman and Joan Smalls. Get into all of this black beauty y'all, ALL OF IT.
(Also, someone get me a white fur and I’d like to wear it while walking home this evening, thanks.)
After her multi-song celebration of sexytime, the singer strips all of that away and celebrates motherhood. “Each day I feel so blessed to be looking at you ... My heart beats so damn quick when you say my name,” she sings on "Blue." The best part of the video is the footage we get to see of Beyoncé as simply a mom with daughter Blue interacting. It’s adorable.