so after my initial reaction to Beyonce’s album, i was still flabbergasted and needing to process. i asked on facebook if others needed that. some people said yes. at 5 am last sunday I set the call up. in half dream, i made it a public event, and it grew. the conversation was lovely, grounded in shared pleasure, featuring other writers, artists, burlesque dancers, mamas, organizers, academics, women and trans participants. not everyone spoke up but those that did were honest and nuanced. here are the notes, plus some more thoughts below.
remember how you felt first experiencing the album
open the floor for discussion in response to the question ‘why are you loving this album?’ (1 hr)
discussion, ‘what are the questions or concerns that are raised for you on this album?’ (30 min)
opening comments from adrienne: k
i said a lot on my blog, that was my first reaction. since then i have been watching, listening, inviting others to watch.
drunk in love and flawless, which seem to be the two most controversial video songs on the album, were actually my two favorite for the first two days. those feelings felt familiar, that love, that power – and to put them in the public sphere excited me.
the totality, the scope of the project also excited me. i can’t remember the last time i listened to an album as a whole on repeat with no need to edit the playlist or skip. and the videos work as a visual offering, coherent.
today i finally made myself listen to the songs twice through without the videos to see what stood out to me. jealous, haunted and superpower took up more space in my heart when i was just listening.
the work has me feeling sexy, massive, seen. i love the arc of growth i see in her. my partner called her the last jackson, and i feel like other folks have made some jackson references in terms of the scale and scope of this project. seeing someone groomed from childhood for this fame, the lightening of the image, pop music capitalism, there are parallels. but with this i feel like she shows us what happens when the child star reaches sexual maturity. and it is thrilling to me to see that growth, that claiming of adulthood.
what are you loving about the album?
onome: i came to it through flawless on facebook, saw chimimanda’s name and that drew me in. i recognized the bow down line from earlier, and hated it. and i loved that she and her team had the humility to go back to the drawing board and turn it into this masterpiece. i have never seen anyone do that. i thought it was just a single, then saw it was 14 songs. by the time i got the 11th video i felt overwhelmed. by her…generosity. what went into creating on this scale. my critical eye was not turned off, i still saw what was problematic, but that didn’t stop me from being floored by her artistry and vision.
tarana: i am brand new, i used to use beyonce as an example of what is wrong with pop music. her being with jay-z really shifted it for me. when the album dropped my daughter and i were reeling from scandal. i woke up to watch it, and to all of the backlash. i’m a raunchy mf, i love sexiness, i love it. all of the sexy, see me stuff: partition, drunk in love, those are my favorites…seeing her with her husband like that, this is so dope. when i heard the line mike tyson, ike turner, i thought it was corny, i thought it was a cultural reference. eat the cake i have said to my friends as a shut the hell up. came off as an off color personal thing between a couple. i get why people are turned off by it. i don’t think it’s her best album, i think it’s really sexy and hot.
toni: unless an album is in the vein of a certain vibration i normally don’t listen to the whole thing at once, i choose a song and listen to it for a while, and then the album. so grown woman appealed to me, i love international music, makes me want to travel, i know where those dances are from. i also relate as a grown woman, i have spent the last ten years trying to grow up, owning my own mind, owning my own choices, my own tribe, my own family, letting the activist community i have been part of for 25 years not choose my actions. i share a birthday with beyonce, so i have understood her, respect her work ethic, her willingness to make mistakes in public. i listened to the whole album today so i could be in integrity with the conference call. i listened twice, and i like it. i don’t believe in judging that which you like within the first 20 listens, it cuts off your joy. why critique, just enjoy it. why does it have to be this analytical process? i am still in the honeymoon phase. had a lot of folks tell me what is wrong. but i like it. (chorus: yes!)
adrienne: the pleasure of listening to music you like is so powerful! i thought it was so amazing and then folks said it wasn’t powerful. and i was like, well i love it, so i can examine that. cause it works for me.
autumn: i can only be on briefly because my daughter is still awake, but i am not on the internet like that, what are people critiquing?
adrienne: her use of the term feminist, with jay-z saying eat the cake. and her sexualization. and her claiming to be powerful and independent in the realm of capitalism.
?: i see all that, but…i have been a fan, and i see this is a married couple talking about being in love. usually i think he brings down the video, but this time i was excited to see him and see their love and her sexuality and owning it.
adrienne: yes, i think beyonce answers how she feels about critiques generally on the album, ‘daddy taught me to love my haters’. and we will talk more about questions, concerns critiques in a bit. what did y’all love?
laura: as soon as i saw the album my body started having this amazing reaction to it, i feel like she brought my sexy back. i am a burlesque dancer, and i just saw this as bdsm realness, and i felt like yes. give me some time to just feel this in my body, it feels good.
autumn: the visual part, beyonce always strikes me as being so earnest that it almost bothers me. this makes me see how funny she is. i tried to be a beyvangelist and show blow to someone and they didn’t get it. how hilarious the aerobics in blacklight is, or rubbing the heads of white anarchists in flawless. some of these pop stars take themselves so seriously, its nice to see someone so on top of it that she can be funny.
tiffany: i am from detroit originally, stay in dc now. growing up me and my friends worshipped at the altar of trina yelling stuff that wasn’t part of our catholic girl lifestyle. (chorus: laughter) this was the first time i listened to a song that was like…this i can share with my young cousin and it won’t be a white woman gloria steinem feminist voice, it will be a black woman, beyonce, presenting something that fits into her world, being young, learning sexy, hearing trap music, altogether. being able to love all these parts of myself, its – i don’t know where to put this joy! i wasn’t a fan, i bow down now.
cherry: i was saying that beyonce had my second chakra woke. so many narratives that spoke to my working class femme heart. i just appreciated everything.
stepheyne: i watched the videos first without listening to the tracks. it was a visual album i wanted to take that in, i have been a fan since no no no. she said feminist, that was enough for me, girl power, it was simple. listening, it brought me back to that simple place, a feminist because i AM. and i want to sit here and twerk it a little bit, on a wall, even if it’s not for anyone. i also do burlesque, and partition, flawless, drunk in love stood out. i feel sexy, want to dance with my boo. afterwards hearing no angel. enjoying it, and proud, feel really good.
laura: no angel is very chola-ish too.
tarana: she is put out as a porcelain doll but she is connected to home, to her folks, paul wall, etc. she doesn’t have to associate with those people, but she chooses to.
adrienne: i love the wholeness! she is owning so many parts of herself. for many of us that do social justice feel we have to leave part of ourselves at the door or the club on fridays. i referenced her in my facilitation of a room of black organizers, that i wanted to bring beyonce level excellence to my work, and my whole self is necessary for the work. i feel this is multi cultural in a way, a multi-class presentation of identities, staying connected to your whole story.
k.c.: on the marketing, i am in marketing, i was impressed. usually people hype it up, do so much promotion beforehand. she didn’t do that. just dropped it and had it go directly to her fans. so i respect that. and then drunk in love, felt like i was looking through a keyhole at their love and seeing black love, it looked and felt authentic!
maryse: i heard some folks talking about burlesque, and yes, what resonated with me was feeling like yes this is what i want to grind to. but also as a former sex worker, it was so good seeing this woman who doesn’t have to show herself or her body to be successful, to make the choice to show herself in this way, powerful and liberated in her sexuality. she draws on stripper culture but in a way that is also respectful of people who actually do the work. while also at the same time being critical of all the things people have to go through to get to that place to do that work, to be desired.
nakisha: I stayed up til 2am downloading and watching all of the videos the night it dropped. I’ve never been a Beyoncé fan and was really surprised by my absolute love of this album – I’ve been listening to it on every single one of my devices and playing it on repeat at work, which is probably inappropriate. Two things stood out. One is the education Beyoncé does on this album. The multi class piece feels powerful, seeing real people at Coney Island in XO and no angel, and her with them, is powerful. and the intro to Chimamanda is great – so many people who had never heard of her are familiarizing themselves with her work. As the granddaughter of West African immigrants, I grew up with an appreciation for our literature and now seeing people listen to African scholars and open to that excites me – I love the idea of people going to the library to learn but they don’t, and Beyoncé uses her power to introduce folks to one of us. (chorus: yes)
marcia: the album was pure fantasy, i don’t have that life but thank you. a catapult, inspiration. a lot of access points in there for dreams. it was inspiring. i have been in a rut, not moved, not inspired. and i have a 17 year old daughter, so that didn’t hurt, something to share. i like seeing her as a grown up. felt like she made an album for me. as a pop star, people trying to emulate that.
adrienne: yeah it feels good to be positively inspired, not kanye pure controversy, or miley twerking badly, but feeling moved and inspired positively. and then the grownness! to see a black woman, quoting an african woman, being on top, talking about pleasure, her body, her love, her motherhood, and also saying pretty hurts, also being vulnerable on jealous. it’s grown.
marcia: yes, and there is no sad love song, it is just powerful, be mommy, sexy, matronly, financially on top of your game. i want to write her a letter! i have been concerned that people can’t just see her, and congratulate her, she shut it down. a black woman, shut it down. (chorus: yes! laughter)
mahogany: i just want to say this is great you are having this call, to get together as women and process a woman’s success and also have a safe space for talking about all this bottom bitch feminist piece pardon my french. i love that she is talking about being sexy and being married women. (chorus, yes) a lot of times sex is not explored in a safe space to be sexy. i get to show you how i love you, and i get be a freak with the person i am committed to. and yes, there are some contradictions.
??: and i love that there are no other men in the videos, just her and her man, all that sexy is with him.
adrienne: except in yonce where it is her and gorgeous women and one licks her and she gave me some of the fantasy i like with no men or monica lewinskying involved. (chorus, mmhmm)
?: i am calling from trinidad. i watched it all and have taken it all in. i have been taking in some of the dialogues and pieces on facebook, but being outside the u.s. context has given me space to see how i enjoy this album. there is something i feel being spoken through her in a spiritual and ancestral way. i haven’t seen in my lifetime a black woman’s sexuality being expressed in this way in the world stage and world platform. at this time. there is so much, it is so powerful that it is happening in an age of social media. there is a dynamic of theory from academia, and praxis coming from those who don’t operate in that space. (chorus: yes!) i feel like one of the things, from being outside the academic space, just emerging and immersing myself here, as a dual citizen, having this album speak to me from outside of that academic space, which had limited my ability to feel these things, happy about my sexuality, in my body, that maybe my sexuality and the ways i express it is mainstream. i feel that somehow there is something larger happening.
adrienne: yay trinidad! i want to just affirm, a lot of the women i have heard of loving this are saying that in the academic realm, the activist realm, even the artist realm, that what beyonce is expressing is a resistance to being told we have to fit in a certain constraint. that a powerful academic looks like this, a powerful activist like this, and artist does this. and saying no i will be all of this. when she says on rocket, i feel good in my own skin. that is such a powerful feeling. took me 35 years to get there. but it feels damn good.
tarana: also remembering this is not new, madonna, janet came out with their sex albums, the turning points. janet came out with her husband holding her breasts. and it was a sex album and folks critiqued her. it isn’t something new, she just did it well.
jazzi: akeema and i have been talking about this album non-stop since it came out. i am 24, and as i sit down to write my critique to the feminist critique, i think of young girls, listening to this. what will you get? the first thing you hear is pretty hurts. on what album do you have a black woman singing about objectification, about the pressure to be beautiful, that really captures people when you put it on? that really hit me. my favorite song is jealous, for reasons i am not even sure why, but i can play that song over and over, the visuals – it is so vulnerable, it isn’t an apology, this is where i am and who i am right now. listening to that while also being bombarded with the new r. kelly stuff..i think this album is so important for where we are as black women, for women in terms of how we are being diminished. this album has been very influential to me.
marcia: my daughter is 17, she just moved here from paris to ny and she was yelling out loud, ‘a black woman, yes a black woman did that!’ she has been going through culture shock, she felt it was so important to scream it at the top of her lungs. people are asking about the sexy piece. it isn’t beyonce’s job to teach my daughter. it is my job, this opens the conversation.
adrienne: yes also the other way. my mother is in her 50s and called me like, we be all night! having those conversations about being sexy in commitment. also, i connected with other black women on train, we were bonding about watching it nonstop, about seeing ourselves as flawless women. learning the choreography, embodying that.
sallome: as a social architect i love how she came out with this. it forces me to have conversations my mom didn’t have with me. having conversations with my man and he is looking at it in a different way. my concern is, how many articles do i need to read, or sisters do i need to quote to make sure the message you all are saying is the way the world takes it in?
marcia: in that bottom bitch piece i was like, i will be that. there is all of that in me, that too. i am really trying to move away from shaming anybody out of the love of this album. there is room for everybody. like the pantheon of deities, there is room for everybody, matriarchs, diva, if you have a vagina there is room.
marla: i am late because i just put my daughters to sleep. having a young daughter, i feel validated by the videos and songs. i just saw her in dallas in concert on monday. my partner and i were watching her, she is a grown ass woman now. she is in her power, sexually, sensual. having just seen her, then having it come out, having just seen her in person – it’s because she is fully in that power that the video and music is sitting so well. i have been with my partner for 18 years, you’ve got to have other elements of your sexuality come out or it gets boring. and i have a six year old and don’t want her to see those, how will young girls see this. marcia it is so inspiring to hear you say i got it, from the other side…that beyonce won’t teach her, i will.
marcia: you will find it amazing – your daughter takes it all in. they take it all in. she called me to tell me it came out, so we could talk.
adrienne: yes, and taking in what we see…i study somatics, study of transformation through the body, the whole – the body is so powerful and we model off of what we see. in concert, seeing her power, all the women there pulled themselves up into more dignity. the videos are making me be more sexy, move and walk and grind. i can’t wait to see my partner! its a good thing.
rachel: the power with which she commands the stage. she commands her audience, the relationship, and herself. she is constantly showing you that as a black woman you are constantly remastering how you are seen by others, how you are understood. you do that in the world, in practice. that is what made me a fan, watching her grow from a 15 year old to a grown woman. and it made me relate to my sister differently, see her as a grown up. (chorus: awww)
tk: so exciting to listen to the mamas talking. my son is visiting and we have been super into Beyonce since back in the day, beyond fans. my son has come into his sexual identity as a young queer black man, it’s interesting to see him defend and support black feminism. and my daughter, watching her understand what it takes for a woman to be on her grind. watching her mature, and come into what it means to be a complex woman, and a complex person. i grew up when we had a lot of powerful women and emcees that we don’t really see in the pop world anymore. to see her be an example and really be on her grind, to work every day to make our own way, those of us that are carving out our own work, we know how much work it takes. and to keep showing herself as a young woman that she has been doing this. to give us a glimpse into her own vulnerability. that is so powerful. the one line that concerned me was jay-z’s use of the Ike metaphor… when he’s all ‘eat the cake Anna Mae… I want to to know what y’all think… I want to talk about how to talk about this..
?: what does he mean by that line, what did y’all think?
tarana: i should say here i don’t identify as a feminist, though 90% of my friends do. just felt like a dated line, i have said and heard my friends say as a cultural reference. what was happening wasn’t funny, but has turned into something people say.
?: my daughter said she thought it was cake like a money thing.
?: or like rihanna uses cake? like eating pussy?
onome: i thought it was a poor metaphor for really rough sex. and that he could have kept that whole verse.
maryse: i think it’s like someone was saying earlier, speaking about how the sexuality in this album meant something different to their male partner than to her, sometimes our men need to take a bit longer to develop. she’s in this place where she’s so powerful, she’s more powerful than him – clearly she could have axed it. but it was a weak line, there are better ways to make that point that don’t reference domestic violence.
adrienne: one thing i have considered is the progression of jay-z in her videos, from not being able to talk about her at all on a track where she is spouting her love, but then growing to hottest chick in the game, then to this level of speaking of their passion…and i think he still needed to tell his boys he is still in charge. and she says it with him, like maybe…ok if you need that, cool. it’s her world, he just raps in it. but the beat the pussy thing, that is a whole trend i keep hearing, apparently r kelly has it all over his album that i am not going to listen to. the metaphor doesn’t appeal to me, i am wondering if there are women who really love that and get turned on by that idea. that feels like it could be a whole other conference call!
tk: i grew up around people who say that. i do talk trash with my lovers, i own it, we don’t mean it. it’s fun.. i want to have that conversation about beating up the pussy, we use those metaphors… yes let us talk about it, i would love that convo too cause it is complex. i wonder where the line is between talking that specific kind of talk to each other and then if there is a line where it is just perpetuating dv… how would you draw that line? is there one?
marcia: there is no line, it’s fluid. i am very much like that with my lover. that is the beauty. (chorus: yes!)
amb: i also keep thinking about the haunted video, the scene with the patient and the nurse? (chorus: mmhmm) just feel she is exploring and pushing out the boundaries of what is seen as sexy.
toni: this time, it is an intense time, the economy, these are hard times. it is important to stand in what you feel, to stand strong, in spite of the yellers. the yellers are hurting, as grown women it is a strength being able to feel all this. there is healing, people are judging but under that, healing is needed.
adrienne: i lost track of the time. thank you for staying, and really, i want to thank you all – i feel like i am constantly carving out the space to love things, fighting for my right to shamelessly love first, and from that space to discuss and analyze and critique. i feel like it is cool to have the immediate and thorough critique but i love loving things, i love roller skates in a video about oral sex…and then i am interested in analysing the things i love. so i hope this call gives us all more space to love.
rachel: do these more often!
a few more words of love here from me, the first Beyvangelist as far as I know, as i continue reveling in this album.
i was so pleased by the people who joined this call, and also moved by the people who took care and respected boundaries to let it be a love fest space.
i love art that engages us and makes us talk and think, and i love art that demands a level of diligence to engage it. i am impressed by the rigor of conversations i am witnessing, whether i agree or not. i love that as a black woman with no degrees Beyonce offered a text that, in order to be coherently critiqued, has to be consumed whole.
i feel like for Her to have created something that has us actively talking in the public sphere about feminism, pleasure politics, body love, commitment, working motherhood, domestic violence, artist accountability, capitalism etc is itself a gift. i like the idea of talking deeply while we dance together in skin we love.
i’m excited to be able to receive another woman in her politicization, as an artist, and say welcome, let’s talk. i say this as someone who reluctantly takes on any labels at all, because i am committed to my own journey of transformation more than anyone else’s assessment of my process or politic. and because learning in public is not for the feint of heart.
and…i think women taking the space to direct and demand attention for our love and transformational processes and thinking is feminist. i am concerned with our equality in the realm of ideas, philosophies, more than our economic equality in a broken economic system (within which, keeping it real and layered, i absolutely demand my worth and credit for my work).
Beyonce made something of value for us, because it’s layered, complex, and of immensely high quality, with teams of creatives involved at every level. She worked hard for a long time to embody this project. i’d go as far as saying she a living embodiment of what Octavia Butler talked about: it’s bigger than talent, it’s habit and persistence.
there is a strategic intelligence in leaning into the truth that She is first and foremost a performer – i feel an artist who knows the power of Her visual impact and decided to immerse us in Her area of brilliance as an entry into the music. i love that She reached for a thriller level event in this moment of extreme sub-culture and cynicism.
She took a lot of risks. i love the moments when we choose to take risks and speak our truths. and that’s what I feel watching this album and the responses from women who were really moved by it.
She found Chimimanda Adichie on the internet while researching feminism, isn’t that a vulnerable thing? isn’t it great that She found a door to feminism that resonated with Her through the many bubbles and shields that surround someone cultivated for fame from childhood?
She’s stepping into her sexual realization in a culture that literally can’t see women in their sexual power without casting shade, where pretty is dangerous. She clearly feels safe with that man, and from this great distance i feel grateful for their apparent relational and sexual safety, even if I don’t understand what ike turner possibly has to do with it.
i love all the other musical references She makes. I see prince, michael, d’angelo, madonna, bilal, artists who made content that has lasted so far. i feel Her intention to extend Her reach in time.
and i love that She makes it delicious, but not easy to swallow. that feels grown woman to me.