I will pretty much talk about Beyonce to anyone who is willing to listen. Actually, I will also talk about Beyonce to those who aren’t willing to listen. I will even talk about Beyonce to those who are actively trying to escape listening; for example, my mother, when she says to me, “Catherine, I love you, but I’d really like to talk about something other than Beyonce.” I talk about her so much that I had been at my current job for under a month when my boss was prompted to deem me a member of the “Beyhive” (with which I fervently agreed.) I just can’t help myself.
But today, on her birthday, I feel as though I have free reign to talk about her, so I would be a fool not to take that opportunity.
My love for Bey runs deep. I obviously loved her as the lead singer of Destiny’s Child, and have fond memories of lip synching to “Say My Name” at summer camp while my friends and I made beaded bracelets and played card games. But my allegiance to her probably truly began when she emerged as a solo artist. I remember flipping through glossy pages of the cover booklet of the Dangerously in Love CD, my preteen self utterly mesmerized by Beyonce’s glittery top and general coolness. I jammed to “Baby Boy” and cried at “Daddy” and thought “Dangerously in Love” was the most beautiful song ever composed. I considered “Yes” to be wildly underappreciated and still do.
B’day is forever my favorite era of Beyonce. It’s a true R&B album, saturated with soul and fire and energy. It gave us “Deja vu.” It gave us “Freakum Dress.” It gave us “Upgrade U”, the lyrics of which I have decided will make up the entirety of my Tinder bio if I ever give in and sign up. And don’t even get me started on Dreamgirls. When I saw it in the theater with my cousin and sister, a man actually stood up during Beyonce’s performance of “Listen” and spread his arms out like he was being touched by the Lord. He was clearly insane, but like, I fully understood his instincts in that moment.
I Am…Sasha Fierce is rarely anyone’s favorite album, but I love it. I was obsessed with it the summer after I graduated from high school and listened to it on repeat as I rode the bus to and from my job as a summer camp counselor. I loved the music videos and her decision to bring in those two backup dancers for nearly every single one, a nod to her Destiny’s Child days. “Ego” is still my favorite track off the album. My Dad once scoffed at “Diva” as it blared from my iPod dock one afternoon and I still haven’t forgiven him for it.
I have mixed feelings about 4. It wasn’t my favorite era, but the album gave me not only some of my favorite Beyonce songs but some of my favorite songs of all time. I mean, COUNTDOWN. NEED I SAY MORE. I have made it my life’s mission to master her riff at the top of that song. I want my tombstone to read, “Beloved mother, wife, sister, friend…revered for her ability to positively slay that ‘Countdown’ riff.”
And that brings us to Beyonce. Some people think it’s weird that waited until her 5th studio album to name one after herself, but I don’t think it could be more perfect. Because it’s the most accurate representation of her so far. The album is Beyonce. Let me explain.
Historically, women have been represented in the media as either the “nice girl” or the “bitch”, the “slut” or the “virgin”, etc., and rarely as dynamic, complex human beings.
In I Am...Sasha Fierce, Beyonce divided her album, and consequentially herself, into two parts. One side featured songs that were softer, stripped down, and emotion-filled, while the other was an expression of her self-proclaimed diva alter-ego, “Sasha Fierce.” At first listen, my teenage self saw the split as nothing more than a creative and interesting way for her to present her work. But as I got older, I slowly began to see it as incredibly problematic.
While this division was certainly an acknowledgment of the different sides of her personality, it was somewhat of a limited representation of them, both as an artist and as a woman.This record, while musically fantastic and multi award-winning (I mean come on, this is the album that gave us ‘Single Ladies’), was merely a compliance with the narrow-minded categorizations of women that had previously been put into place. She clearly felt the need to define and separate the different facets of her personality.
But since then, Beyonce has openly recognized the problematic nature of Sasha Fierce. Beyonce is an all-encompassing, unapologetic representation of who she is as a person, and the 17 music videos that accompany it are a clear example of this expression. She strolls on a beach with her daughter, dances in a strip club for her husband, dons body paint, and makes powerful statements about beauty standards.
She shows women that we can be whomever and whatever we want – and that we should reject the notion that we are meant to fit into a particular box. She shows us that we are more complicated than that. We can be good mothers and still embrace our sexuality. We can challenge society’s expectations to look a certain way, and still care about our appearance. We can be poignant, intelligent, and well-spoken, and still have a sense of humor.
Women can be both vulnerable and strong, kind-hearted and anger-filled, confident and insecure, all at the same time. And we should never be pigeon-holed, harassed, or judged for expressing any one or combination of these traits. We should never feel forced to divide ourselves.
Most people probably wouldn’t consider Beyonce to be the most relatable celebrity. This makes sense, since the majority of us have not been in the public eye since age 13 or are married to a famous rap mogul. But her journey in finding herself is extremely recognizable to women, and her openness about it is admirable.
So yeah, my Dad might still refer to one of her songs as “noise”, and my boss might still fight me on the cinematic value of Dreamgirls (despite my highly logical and extremely well-researched rebuttle), but this fact simply cannot be denied. Yonce is moving mountains, and she’s probably not even breaking a sweat.
Happy B’Day, ya’ll.