Why I don’t want to be Beyoncé’s bitch
Say what you will about Beyoncé, but this is a woman who throughout her phenomenally successful singing career, has nailed the powerful, sassy superwoman act down to a tee. So much so, that none other than Barack Obama hailed her as being the perfect role model for his two daughters.
First there were the good old days of Destiny’s Child, when the Beyoncé-fronted group regularly dominated the charts with songs such as Bills,Independent Women and Survivor. These were masterful pop creations about women refusing to put up with men who let them down. They contained, hardly profound, but nonetheless brilliantly empowering lyrics such as, “you thought I would be stressed without you, but I’m chilling”. You go girl, was the general message.
Then came Single Ladies, the feel-good song that pretty much acted as a call to arms for the global sisterhood, with Queen Bey again urging all her single ladies not to put up with useless men and presumably learn the dance moves to her song instead (which they did, in their thousands – the choreography to the video spawned a global dance-craze.) Beyoncé then tells the man who messed her around: “If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it” and the song has been compared to Aretha Franklin’s Respect and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive for its rousing, empowering theme.
But in recent months, she’s opted for a change in direction, and a pretty stark one at that. Not only has she decided to call her upcoming global tour the ‘Mrs Carter Show’, ditching her own powerful name to instead take on that of her husband’s, but this week the singer posted a taster of her new single Bow Down on her website, ahead of the release of her fifth album, and it ain’t pretty.
In the song, Beyoncé addresses women as “bitches”, presumably to her rivals within the music industry: “I know when you were little girls / You dreamed of being in my world / Don’t forget it, don’t forget it / Respect that, bow down, bitches”, with the refrain “bow down, bitches” aggressively and tediously repeated throughout the song. We’ve come a long way since the days of “put a ring on it.” Put a sock in it, more like.
This isn’t to say that we should all feign shock and outrage at Beyoncé’s sudden change of heart. Her lyrics should never be held up as an insight into enlightened female thinking (not least because Destiny’s Child released that terrible song Cater 2 U, remember that?)
After all, she’s a pop star, not a role model, a savvy businesswoman who knows how to reinvent herself, gain widespread publicity and ultimately shift huge record sales. We’ve entered into a far less innocent age of pop music, and Beyoncé has to contend with female stars like Rihanna, the ‘bad girl’ of pop whose recent duet with her violent on-off boyfriend Chris Brown, Nobody’s Business, sounded a lot like a warning to fans not to judge her relationship. Is Beyoncé following suit when she sings: “I took some time to live my life, but don’t think I’m just his little wife”?
And would Beyoncé’s lyrics be such a problem if she were a man? Rappers like her husband Jay-Z and Kanye West have always produced hostile, offensive lyrics. No one batted an eyelid when Kanye West sung “bow in the presence of greatness”, in his song, Stronger.
But this will still come as a shock to long-term Beyoncé fans. It seems that overnight we’ve been transformed from Beyoncé’s beloved single ladies, independent women and survivors, into her bitches. From Beyoncé singing, “all the women, independent, throw your hands up at me” to “bow down bitches” a change is underway, and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.