To Beyonce or Not To Beyonce?

That’s the question on my mind this week as I ponder what life has in store for America’s most famous new Mom, Beyonce Knowles Carter. I wonder what kind of nanny she’s going to hire. A drag queen, as suggested by some pseudo-reality-celeb? A reformed thug aka Memphis Poppins, from mediatakeout.com?

It’s a crucial hiring decision – one of the most important she and Jay Z are likely to make this year. So, in the spirit of rockmom solidarity and experience, I’ve drafted a sample want ad. Bee, feel free to use this verbatim. I believe it conveys your Super Couple lifestyle needs and requirements while conveying the aspirational ethos you live by.

Tell me what you think:

I can also help with interviews. Call me!

Much has been written about the low sales figures of Beyonce’s latest album, 4. Some speculate that marriage and pregnancy have been a natural pull on her ambitions, and after fifteen years in the spotlight who can blame her? I’ve never felt that Beyonce was anything more than a professional, and I mean that in the sense that she doesn’t betray any desperate need to be loved (yo, Britney) or to spread the ‘Beyonce’ message a la Madonna or Lady Gaga. You get the feeling she would do a great job at anything she tried – business, politics, teaching – and that the Beyonce we see and hear is nothing more than her public persona, not a window in to a tortured (Je suis une artiste!) soul.

I’m not ragging on her by any means. I’d prefer that my daughters listen to a true vocal talent like Beyonce or Adele, rather than a cartoonish, cynical vamp like Katy Perry or Ke$ha. It’s funny how you can watch Beyonce’s videos, with their full-on displays of sexuality, and yet not be offended by them. To wit:

I wonder why this is so. Is it because she is so physically superior that we can accept her bodaciousness the way we marvel at and appreciate the talents of a great athlete? Maybe it’s related to the lack of scandal in her private life. She works hard. She sings for Obama. She’s a humanitarian in stripper heels! Again, I think the key word here is professionalism. Beyonce covers all the bases: a feminist with an all-girl backing band and girl-power anthems; a woman who honors her roots by sporting afros and playing Etta James in Cadillac Records; yet edgy enough to appear in a weird ol’ Lady Gaga video. Not much there to cause insult or injury. So while we might prefer our rock stars to speak to and for our inner selves – Radiohead seems to fill that role for me these days – we can also swim at the shallow end of the pool and enjoy a good beat and an amazing voice.

Just once I'd like to be this fabulous. Photo courtesy thirstyroots.com

Yet I still can’t answer the question: is Beyonce a good role model? Since my girls reached an age where pop culture is a part of their lives, I feel I have to consider these things, whether the girls understand the lyrics or not. Maybe I’m overestimating the power and influence of Sasha Fierce here. Who knows? My litmus test for tween music has always been: what’s the message and is it a good one? Is it harmless and fun like Camp Rock or spunky and friendly like Taylor Swift? If it’s subversive, is it rebellious in a healthy way (think Pink or Kelly Clarkson)? Are the women on equal footing with the men? Or are they being degraded, exploited or abused in the name of so-called sexual freedom? Rihanna, I’m talking to you! The funny thing with Beyonce is I’m still not sure. Back in the ’80s, Madonna grabbed her crotch, sang out ‘Express Yourself’ and we teens thought: right on! These days, Beyonce grabs her breasts and hollers, ‘Girls! We Run This Mother!’ and I honestly don’t know what to think beyond: well, I can’t put this on our Beyonce playlist because she’s basically saying ‘mofo’ in the chorus.

There was a rock critic named Ellen Willis; she wrote for The New Yorker from 1968-75, covering the heydey of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, etc. I’ve been reading a collection of her writing called Out of The Vinyl Deeps and have been struck by so many of her insights in to rock stars, especially one of her favorite performers, Janis Joplin.

Putting multiple rings on it. Photo courtesy musiqueray.org

She writes, “unlike most female performers whose act is intensely erotic, (Janis) never made me feel as if I were crashing an orgy that consisted of her and the men in the audience. When she got it on at a concert, she got it on with everybody.”

Willis wrote those words over thirty years ago. Now how many female performers can you name who are truly like that?

It’s a short list.

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Posted on February 3, 2012, in feminism, music, parenting, pop culture, rock-n-roll and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What a great read. Music and parenting is definitely new for me and you hit the nail on the head with the Ellen Willis quote. Thanks.

    • Thanks for reading! I’ve really enjoyed the Ellen Willis compilation, though I do skip over the extended, worshipful essays on Bob Dylan. Not my thing!

  2. I’d love to be Beyonce’s nanny! Cool post!

  3. Ha! Well questioned. I’ve had this same indecision about B, but usually always land on the plus side for young girls. Thanks for this.

    • You’re welcome & thanks for reading, Rob! We haven’t quite graduated to listening to some of the newer songs (ahem, Blow) in mixed company but she is a great Super Hero.

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