beyonce-videophone1Recently, Beyonce released the video for her single “Video Phone.”

M. Dot took the opportunity to look at Beyoncé’s lyrics in the context of the societal position of African American men and women. In the comments to her post, commenter Luna put up a link to theory friction practice, a blog that is definitely being added to my must read list. With the tagline “queering everything” the unnamed blogger (who I will refer to as TFP) throws a wrench into existing feminist narratives surrounding Beyoncé by pointing out subversive elements in “Video Phone.” As a refresher, here’s the video:

In a post titled “(m) Beyonce’s postmodern politic: feminism and videophone,” TFP writes:

The sheer number of pop culture, art, and political references TPF catches is astounding: later in the piece, he refers to both Bettie Page and Abu Ghraib and how those types of images/iconography play out in the visual landscape of the song. However, one point in particular jumps out about TPF’s analysis:

Beyoncé is actively engaged with the gaze of the camera in “Video Phone,” and as TPF states it is both subversive and conservative. The act can be seen as conservative because the poses and costuming in the videos reinforces the dynamics of the dominant media narrative about women, sex, and agency. In Dreamworlds 3, Sut Jhally explains how the language of the dreamworld in music videos is clear – women are to be viewed as consumables, available for the enjoyment of the male gaze.

As Jhally explains:

This paradox is where Beyoncé has carved out her career.

I enjoy Beyoncé as a performer, and as someone who consistently churns out club hits. However, the race/gender analyst in me tends to work overtime when consuming the media she releases, as much of her body of work plays – deliberately? – on that complicated border. While the images in “Video Phone’ may be subversive, Beyoncé’s videography paints a detailed picture of gender relations in a heterosexual context – one which is applauded by mainstream culture. Generally, her singles are about attracting male attention (for the first time, in a relationship, or post break up), deeming that she does not need male attention because she has money (which, by extension, represents freedom), or props up the idea of a woman’s role in the relationship as being subordinate to a man’s. For every ‘Survivor,” (which has lyrics that are not gendered) there are faux empowerment anthems like “Independent Women,” “Single Ladies,” “Bills, Bills, Bills,” which focus on cash flow being central to a relationship or to a woman’s independence.

Many of her collaborations follow the same script, like her vocals on “I Got That” with rapper Amil, which has a chorus of “don’t need you ’cause the rent is due/ you can be outta here baby/ because I got it.” Beyoncé’s presentation makes this sound like empowerment – telling someone else where to get off is always fun and she laces her honeyed vocals with a heavy dose of swagger. But underneath the lyrics, the fact remains that the woman Beyoncé portrays always defines herself against a man, and any empowerment she receives is from severing herself from one man into the arms of another (See: “Irreplaceable”) or attracting more male attention.

With that being said, it is hard to separate Beyoncé as a performer from those around her, such as video producers, directors, and choreographers who may find a way through her presentation to articulate a different type of gender politic.

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  • DEE

    I am so happy that I found this article. I try to bring this topic up several times with friends on an intellectual level, but they all shut me down like I am some hater. I am 22 years old and I am not hating on Beyonce, because I do love her entertainment from time to time (((trini whining is in my blood))), but I always felt that she contradicts herself constantly with her image as an entertainer and “Beyonce”.

  • If u wanna see genuine female empowerment in music check out Beyonce’s all female band during her live performances. They’re practicing their craft well without using their sexuality. It’s interesting that these women are in the band, and in the background, while the diva cavorts in the foreground

  • French n’ Fries

    To The Empress:

    Since you wanna address me, maybe you should spell correctly. I read that crap 5 times trying to piece and decipher what the hell you were trying to say.

    Amazing you only chose IIWAB out of all the songs I listed and nothing else. And I can defend Beyonce all I want just like you can be against her all you want. I get sick of all these people getting mad at Beyonce for being sexy and over the top and whatever .Yet they never listen to her music and never watched her perform and wanna compare her and wish she was like their favorite artist i.e. Alicia, Mary, Erykah and whoever else. Beyonce should do as she damn well pleases which Im glad she continues to do. So get over it.

    • K

      To French n’ Fries: I want you to know that I am not a hater. I respect Beyonce for her talent, her hard work ethic and her beauty and I did party off a few of her joints. Yet we cannot let those attributes decieve us. Please… do your research on her and the organization she is working for. In these last days during spiritual warfare we have to make a decison which side are we standing on God or the devil. Its truly horrifying and sad but we must continue to keep her in prayer.

  • i’ll say it again and again. I love Beyonce. Yeah, i agree that her image is quite contradictory but not like the women here are saying…
    Beyonce is an african american, black chick from texas who loves to sing and worked her [email protected]@ off to get to where she is today. Her songs are ANTHEMS for women. So for anyone who says she doesn’t write for women..they are talking ish. Don’t make uneducated comments when you don’t really the lyrics!

    Beyonce says herself, her songs are to empower women, her all-female band is a live example of what women can do when they come together, and her sexuality?? as much as it is pleasing to makes us as women very uncomfortable. I think its time we start looking at ourselves..because we will be the first to hate on any girl if she has got the package. I look up to Bey and love her costumes..and her dancing. She is just up there having fun and looking good doing it. And making her own dough. So please black people lets support one of us.—You’re gonna have haters everywhere if that was you too. If you are a woman today who continues to bash other women for how sexy they look then you are just plain ol’ shallow.

  • faymous fya

    I wish people would talk about how ridiculous this “scholar” sounds with her Analysis of Video Phone. That analysis was so bugged, SOOOOOOOOOO bugged.