Tag Archives: music

What will assuredly not be last thoughts on Beyonce

Last week I wrote about my confusion and discomfort with the “Anna Mae” reference in Beyonce’s terrifically catchy and hot-as-hell song “Drunk in Love.” A few commenters wrote some insightful things and I read a few more essays and collectively we have assembled a few other theories. Two, in particular, we should add to the list:

The duh-this-is-about-oral-sex argument: In my last post, I was too overwhelmed by the violence of the reference (it’s taken from the Tina Turner biopic about Ike’s abuse) to observe the super obvious oral sex reference. Although some have pointed out that he’s the one telling her to “eat the cake” if you watch the video, you’ll catch Bey in the background mouthing the direction herself. Though this still raises some problematic conflations of sexual violence and sexual pleasure… well, that shit is nothing if not complicated.

The not-all-hip-hop-is-biographical,-you-idiot reminder: I’m just going to start with a great comment:

“I would say with Rap/Hip-Hop, we tend to assume that artists are depicting themselves, or who they would like to be (exaggerations of themselves). But I would argue this is not always the case, even with Rap/Hip-Hop, and it could maybe not be the case with Drunk in Love. 

She’s totally right. I think I mistakenly assumed some degree of biographical integrity, which is a ridiculous place to begin when you’re parsing lyrics. There was a great interview on NPR the other day about prosecutors using lyrics to try to sway juries into guilty verdicts when rappers are accused of crimes. See? He rapped about murder, so he obviously committed one…

The interviewed expert on the show pointed out that the credit we give other artists to be able to sing non-biographical lyrics and emote non-biographical emotions we don’t extend to hip-hop and rap artists. As he pointed out, we don’t assume that Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

If we then do extend the same courtesy to rap artists, it’s possible to read “Drunk in Love” as a depiction (not an endorsement) of a certain kind of relationship. The commenter above continued:

Is Beyonce singing about herself here, or as a character who is experiencing a brand new, passionate kind of love? If Beyonce is playing the woman who is drunk in love, Jay Z, likewise, could be playing the man who equally drunk in love, not necessarily playing himself. And unfortunately, there are men out there for whom passion and violence are intertwined, like Ike Turner.

In case you missed it, here’s Bey and Jay’s Grammy performance of it:

Got any more theories to add to the list?

Related Post: Beyonce at the Superbowl

Related Post: Guest post, the problem with “Blurred Lines”

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Some very inconclusive thoughts about Beyonce and “Anna Mae”

beyLet me preface by saying three things:

1. I have read a zillion essays about Beyonce’s new album, Beyonce. Especially this one (Nico Muhly), this one (on bottom bitch feminism) and this one (New Yorker). I have also had many conversations about it with people who know a lot more about hip-hop, music history, black feminism, and other relevant topics than I do.

2. I really, really love the new album from a purely “this is my jam and it feels good in my ears” perspective. I have listened to very little else since it came out, and I find it is the perfect gym accompaniment. Also the perfect cleaning accompaniment. Also the perfect putzing around my apartment accompaniment. It is not good for watching TV, but otherwise, it satisfies most of my musical requirements.

3. I don’t really have any answers to the question below, but I have a few ideas. What I am hoping will happen with this post is that one of you people will have much better ideas than mine and you will write them in the comments and all will be clear. So, what is the question:

What is up with the “Anna Mae” reference?

For background, in the song “Drunk in Love,” Jay Z (Beyonce’s husband and mega-mogul musician, for those of you dwelling under boulders the size of New Zealand), jumps in with a few lines, among them, this section:

Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…

I’m like Ike Turner

Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Anna Mae

Said, eat the cake, Anna Mae.

“Eat the cake, Anna Mae”, is a reference to the Tina Turner biopic (she was born Anna Mae) about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband Ike. In the movie, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Ike forcefully shoves cake in Tina’s face at a restaurant and than hits her, knocking her to the floor while their friends and other diners look on. Watch the scene here, if you feel up to it.

So. Why does Jay-Z rap a violent, misogynistic lyric about the other most famous black musical couple in the middle of his wife’s triumphant (and explicitly feminist) new album? I don’t know, but I know it makes me really, really uncomfortable. Here are a few possibilities:

  • The If-it-walks-like-a-duck… theory: What do I know about the inner workings of Bey and Jay’s relationship? Nothing. If you take him at face value, Jay’s line is bold, in-your-face power move. She may have the fastest selling iTunes album of all time, but in their world, she’s still just Anna Mae. It’s a put-down, and a masterful one because it’s right in front of us and we just go on giving her feminist props. How much more belittling could you get? With one line, he undermines every girl power-laden “bow down, bitches,” she issues. She ain’t got nothing on him, record sales be damned.
  • The Y’all-know-nothing-about-us theory: Sasha Frere-Jones for The New Yorker writes, “I won’t pretend to know how this potentially ugly reference works between Jay Z and Beyoncé, but it’s her album and they look pretty happy on the beach, so some sort of inversion is at work.” Now that’s bold. To flaunt a famous instance of another woman’s abuse in your sexy beach video with your husband is to say you’re so far above that shit that you can joke about it. You are so far removed from that life and those problems that you get to make “Eat the cake, Anna Mae,” mean whatever you want.
  • The Watch-what -I-can-do theory: If you are the queen of the universe, like Ellie Torres on Cougar Town, words do not define you, you define words. If you say that “Eat the cake, Anna Mae,” is not, in fact, a repulsive piece of misogyny, but is rather a love poem, then so it shall be. Change approved.
  • The Pay-closer-attention,-bitches theory: Really masterful fiction writers sometimes shake up a sentence just to make sure you’re still on your toes. They invert a verb, or select an off-putting word that catches in your throat as you murmur to yourself, just to make you wake up and pay closer attention to the language that they chose so carefully. It’s a wake-up call to the reader to signal that everything shouldn’t be taken at face value. Early in the album, “Drunk in Love” could function as the wake-up call to listeners. Lest you glaze through the dramatic feminist acrobatics (see the Adichie TED talk featured on “Flawless,”) Bey complicates the album up front with the Anna Mae reference to make you attend to the lyrical layers that much more carefully. Feminism is not simple, marriage is not simple, race is not simple, sexuality is not simple. “Anna Mae” reminds us of all of those things, and consequently casts a complexity on the album that might otherwise be deemed froth. Do we think she’s that masterful?

What else you got? I’m kind of at a loss.

Related Post: My Role/Reboot on Beyonce’s Superbowl performance.

Related Post: When I got called out for unintentional racism by some friends. 

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Guest Post: The Problem With “Blurred Lines”

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Remember when Thicke looked like this?

Guest post today from my girl Bri, a fellow Chicago friend who had an epiphany about the controversial Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines.”

Background: Thicke’s song received a lot of attention for being a tad rape-y and coercive with lyrics like, “And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl/I know you want it” and for his GQ interview in which he said, “We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’ People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.'” Other people claimed that “we” were reading too much into a damn catchy beat and looking to get upset (which, yes, sometimes we do).

Bri wrote an awesome post today on FB about a street harassment incident where a group of guys used these lyrics to intimidate and objectify. She makes some excellent points about how the “blurred” space between good times and sexual assault can be the most dangerous space because of the erosion of boundaries and the expectations that some people have about “good times.”  With her permission:

“I was walking from the red line stop to the green line stop. And, as feels inevitable at this point when walking anywhere, a group of guys verbally harassed me along the way, even following me for a bit at one point. It was nighttime, but I wasn’t really nervous/scared per se, since there were a ton of other people around, but it was still obviously obnoxious and embarrassing and shitty. So they’re yelling things like “that’s it, bitch! that’s my bitch!” which, whatever. (For men [or women I suppose] who maybe haven’t experienced this… it’s really not super out-of-the-ordinary for a lot of women in a lot of places… keep that in mind through the rest of this.)

But then they started singing Blurred Lines. Now, I understand that there’s both been a lot of people offended by Blurred Lines, as well as a lot of people totally confused by and antagonistic towards people who are offended by Blurred Lines. I was pretty offended when I first saw/heard the video/song. But as I talked through it with people, it was really hard for me to actually pinpoint a concrete reason that it made me so uncomfortable. It’s about a guy seducing a girl, and he’s using sexy language to do it – what’s so bad about that? I wondered what it was that made me uncomfortable. I read articles depicting the terms “good girl” and “I know you want it” as rape-y, which didn’t really seem fair. Sexually dominant? Sure. But that’s not a negative thing, people are entitled to be into whatever they’re into. So I set my discomfort aside and tried to enjoy this song that the rest of the world seems to love.

Until this event last week. 8-10 guys singing “you’re a good girl, you know you want it” at me cleared up very quickly why this song makes me, and many other women, uncomfortable, and why that’s totally justified, and why much of the world and Robin Thicke probably don’t get it.

It’s a trigger. Those words immediately trigger horrifying memories for a lot of women, myself included. A group of men singing those words at me brought back the EXACT sensation that I’ve had during horribly traumatic points of my life. “You’re a good girl” – instant horrible flashback. “You know you want it” – another horrible flashback, and the memory of someone justifying a terrible act they’re committing by convincing themselves that I want it.

And I don’t have statistics on this, but I would venture to say that not just mine, but a SIGNIFICANT number of cases of sexual assault occur when people are having a good time – at a party, being flirty, etc, after which things take a dark turn. So for Blurred Lines to be doing just that – blurring the line between a fun, upbeat, sing-a-long-style song that’s flirtacious and dirty and whatever, and a song that triggers such horrible, dark memories for me, is another trigger in itself. It totally mirrors some fun times that quickly turned into awful experiences.

The purpose of this post is really just to say: I understand more fully now why people are offended by this song, and I also get why people think people who are offended are totally overreacting. Because “you’re a good girl” and “you know you want it” should just be sexy, dirty, fun, with-a-wink language. In a perfect world, Blurred Lines would be a fun, dirty, sexy song, and that’s it. But it’s not. To a lot of women, those words (and consequently that video too) don’t just mean that. That’s not Robin Thicke’s fault, and I understand why he and most men and a lot of women can honestly and thoroughly enjoy the song. I’m just saying that it’s okay, too, to not be able to enjoy the song. I get it now. And I’d hope that everyone might understand a little better why being offended isn’t necessarily an overreaction – it’s a reaction to something that really has little/nothing to do with Thicke and has everything to do with words that trigger memories of horrible things that people do to other people.”

If you want more of Bri, follow her on Twitter here

One other thing, the video for Blurred Lines has been “gender swapped” by  Mod Carousel. How do we feel about fully clothed ladies and gyrating naked men? NSFW:

Related Post: On Ta-Nehisi Coates, street harassment and “Real Men”

Related Post: Guest Post: Dude, I Don’t Know If You’re a Player or a Slut

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Sunday Scraps 107

Sunday106

1. GENDER: Dude writes for Quartz about adding a Mr. to his gender-neutral name and suddenly having doors open. Kind of a duh piece, but reassuring nonetheless.

2. BOOKS: Highly useful and equally addictive tool that recommends books based on other things you’ve read.

3. INTERWEBZ: Fun game from MIT where you map all of your email over all time and see how you email the most.

4. MERMAIDS: Excellent NYT essay from the excellent Virginia Sole-Smith on mermaid shows.

5. ART: Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls is awesome in her musical rebuttal to the idiotic Daily Mail who ragged on her for an exposed breast (NSFW).

6. MILLENNIALS: CNN.com comic by Matt Bors about why ripping on millennials is a) old news and b) boring.

Related Post: Sunday 106: Dustin Hoffman, Sex Ed, and Roxane Gay on a race-based VIDA test

Related Post: Sunday 105: Bodies that matter, isolated islands, literacy tests, etc.

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Sunday Scraps 104

Screenshot_6_24_13_11_00_AM

1. MUSIC: The sign-language interpreter steals the show at this Wu-Tang performance (Gawker). 

2. DATING: If you’re familiar with the sniveling “Nice Guys” who are very upset that their “niceness” doesn’t make girls want to sleep with them, you might enjoy this bit of satire from Insert Literary Reference.

3. HEALTH: Why is a colonoscopy 26x more expensive in the U.S. than in Canada? It’s complicated, says Mother Jones. 

4. BRO: What exactly is a bro? Venn diagrams to the rescue! And who is at the middle of it all? Lochte, of course.

5. VOWS: I thought nothing would top the wolf wedding announcement, but I was wrong.

6. BOOKS: Publisher’s Weekly explains some big name books in pie-chart form.

Related Post: Sunday 102 – Founding father pin-ups, rich kids of Instagram, authors annotating their first editions.

Related Post: Sunday 101 – Soldier portraits, cartoons about depression, Rihanna’s hairdresser

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Beyonce: World Domination or “Gyrating in a Black Teddy”?

True confessions: I didn’t watch the Superbowl. My book club obliviously picked Sunday to discuss Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and it turns out that we’re nerds who would rather talk about the ethics of Western reporters covering Indian slums and journalist “truthiness” than watch the Ravens and that other team.

That said, of course I had to watch the Beyonce half-time show, and of course I had to see which commercial out-misogynyed all the rest (Go Daddy, was the answer, by the way). So this week, for Role/Reboot I wrote about Beyonce, owning your sexuality, Peggy Orenstein, horrible ads, and National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

Why Beyonce Made Me Proud To Be A Woman

I would like to note, for the record, I did not choose the title.

Related Post: Grantland writes about divas.

Related Post: The power of Amy Poehler

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What if it were an 18-year-old female pop star talking about her sex life?

Remember that plug in Jailbreak the Patriarchy? It’s been too long since we gender swapped the internet, don’t you think?

A few weeks ago, Harry Styles, the 18-year-old member of the pipsqueak band One Direction, was interviewed by OK about his sexual history. He speaks quite candidly his safe sex habits and about how the first time he had sex, he was “terrified” that he might have gotten his partner pregnant (even though they used condoms).

Generally, I think it’s none of my business who celebrities are having sex with or how, but if we’re going to talk about it, I kind of love Styles for talking about it like this. It’s matter of fact, it’s honest, and it reinforces the idea that safe sex can be sexy (at least as sexy as mop-topped teenagers). But just take a minute and imagine the reaction if an 18-year-old female pop star spoke in exactly the same way. Genderswapping in 3, 2, 1….

“She is a bona fide heartthrob with all the male attention any young woman could want. But Harry Styles has revealed that she was not always that confident or experienced with men. The One Direction star has revealed how after the first time she had sex she was terrified she may have gotten pregnant. Speaking to OK! magazine, she said: ‘The first time I had sex, I was scared I got pregnant. And that was despite the fact we were safe. Luckily, we were fine.”

Harry, 18, has built up a reputation as quite a manizer but despite the many rumours she admitted that she always practices safe sex. She told the magazine: ‘I would never risk not [having him] wear a condom, it’s too much of a risk. If you’re not ready for a child, then don’t risk it.”

Can you ever imagine reading that about Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato? Even from the mouth of a 25-year-old actress I would floored to see such sexual candor in print. Here’s what jumps out to me:

  • “Having all the male attention she could want” – Women are expected to shy away from attention, to minimize it, or at least pretend it’s not what they’re seeking. It’s completely acceptable for a male pop star to admit that he enjoys it.
  • “Being experienced with men.” – How many people read this and kind of smirked. “Experienced with men” is code for slutty, right? If a woman were to claim that she was experienced, especially a teenager, she would absolutely pilloried for setting a horrifying example for her fans.
  • “Manizer.” – Ha. Genderswap doesn’t even have a word for this. You know why? It’s because a “manizer” is another code word for “slut.”
  • Safety – When a 18-year-old guy swears by prophylactics, he’s a responsible, stand-up guy (and seriously, if he’s telling the truth, good for him!). If an 18-year-old girl swears by contraception, she gets Sandra Fluked (who, by the way, is 31).

The goal here is not to berate Styles for being sexually active or to idolize him for his avowed commitment to condoms. The point here is to acknowledge how differently we treat burgeoning sexuality among teenaged boys and girls.

Related Post: Genderswapping the Marissa Mayer Yahoo announcement.

Related Post: The week in feminism, Taylor Swift and more.

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Sunday Scraps 80

1. WOMEN: A slew of famous and not-s0-famous ladies (Lena Dunham, Tavi Gevinson, Tracee Ellis-Ross) lip sync to Leslie Gore’s 1963 classic “You Don’t Own Me” to protest the GOP’s anti-vagina policies.

2. ICELAND: Can a constitution be crowdsourced? Iceland thinks so, incorporating ideas and suggestions from Facebook and Twitter into their new document.

3. HALLOWEEN: Comedians Emotistyle have a break-out hit on their hands with soon-to-be-classic Halloween anthem “Things You Can Be on Halloween Besides Naked!”

4. ECONOMY: McSweeney’s, of all places, has a really clear, interesting, well-articulated essay from economist Robert Dittmar on why we’re in debt. I think I might get it…

5. BREAKING BAD: Taylor Swift + Breaking Bad = This parody video on the dissolution of the Walter/Jesse relationship, “We Are Never Going to Cook Together.”

6. COLBERT: God, Stephen Colbert is so freakin’ smart. For Playboy, he’s interviewed about his history with family tragedy, maintaining two personas, and how he still convinces people to be on his show.

Related Post: Sunday 79: The Clintons, Harper Lee and Oprah, and Spanish immigration.

Related Post: Sunday 78: Reddit trolls, Stop and Frisk, Rebel Wilson

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The Week in Feminism: Carrie, Kelly, and Taylor

I’ve written about it before, but feminism has an image problem. Perhaps we just need a well-executed PR campaign, some subway signs, some PSAs, a clever video series featuring a wide and attractive cast of celebrities. We’ll call it, “I’m a Feminist, and You Are Too!”

Three cases this week of celebrities discussing their feminism, or lack of it, are worth exploring:

The Good: Carrie Preston in NYMag

Preston, most well known for True Blood and a guest role on The Good Wife, just directed That’s What She Said, a comedy starring three women, based on a play written by a woman, that deals with sex and sexuality and, apparently, subways. She said:

“Movies don’t usually address any of that [references a yeast infection], any of the stuff that we do. Here’s a woman holding up a centerfold, shaving, trying to live up to an ideal, and you know she’s not going to. She represents many, many women in the world that Hollywood will never give a leading role to.

Interviewer: Unless you’re Melissa McCarthy.

And then they make an exception. And I’m glad that’s happening. But it’s very rare. As a feminist and a woman who believes in representing all females in film, I thought the only way to do that is to make it happen yourself. If we sent Kellie’s script to Hollywood, this would not be the cast. They would just want someone who puts glasses on and goes, “Oops! I’m adorkable!”

God, I love her so much. Feminism isn’t just about money, it’s about image, and autonomy, and understanding the pressures we put on women that severely limit what they think they can do and be and look like.

The Not-Great-But-I’ll-Take-It: Kelly Clarkson in The Daily Star

In an interview on why Clarkson, a lifelong Republican, is voting for Obama, she said:

 “I’ve been reading online about the debates and I’m probably going to vote for Obama again, even though I’m a Republican at heart. I can’t support Romney’s policies as I have a lot of gay friends and I don’t think it’s fair they can’t get married. I’m not a hardcore feminist but we can’t be going back to the 50s.”

This is a textbook case of feminism’s image problem. What exactly is a hardcore feminist? Bra-burning? Armpit-hair-growing? Man-hating? Obviously, Clarkson is none of these things, but neither am I, and I’m a feminist. Feminism, as most third-wavers define it, is exactly aligned with Clarkson’s ideals (equality and fairness for all, refusal to revert to the 1950s). She could be a huge advocate for modern feminism, but Clarkson is deterred from proudly joining the club because of her perception that it is full of “hardcore” extremists.

The Ugly: Taylor Swift in the Daily Beast

Swift just released a new album which, by all accounts, will fly off the shelves. In her victory tour, she was interviewed by Ramin Setoodeh. While discussing heartbreak and writing from the heart, there was this:

Setoodeh: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Swift: I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.

Man oh man. So, so many things are wrong with this. On the surface, we’ve got the basic assumption that feminism is about men vs. women (which we know it’s not), that old standby that continues to rear its ugly head. Feminism is about equality and access to opportunity.

The subtext here is more damaging; “work as hard as guys” implies that in the past, women weren’t working as hard as guys, and all they had to do was man-up and equality would be theirs. The fundamentals here are that guys work hard, so they are successful, and girls don’t work as hard, which is why they don’t get as far. Forget centuries of discrimination, forget the wage gap, forget all that jazz. It’s just a question of hard work. This is the same bogus argument people make about black people or poor people. If only they worked harder, like those of us who were born with some advantages, they wouldn’t be quite so poor.

Related Post: Does The Good Wife out-feminist Parks and Rec?

Related Post: Just another story I’ve been ignoring.

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Sunday Scraps 77

1. GENDER: The Stranger has brilliantly skewered Rolling Stone’s annual “Women Who Rock” issue by turning the tables and throwing the dudes a bunch of ridiculous softball questions.

2. WEDDINGS: As a soon-to-be maid-of-honor, I was tickled horrified by this bride’s instructional email to her bridesmaids (Gawker).

3. FOOTBALL: Now that this ref strike is over, hear how it went from the scab side with a Time interview with replacement ref Jerry Frump.

4. POLITICS: Apparently, some foreign governments are learning about democracy through viewings of The West Wing. The Atlantic explains why this is perhaps not the most realistic model…

5. WEIGHT: Author Jennifer Weiner writes for Allure. What’s a fat mom to do when her thin daughter pulls a Mean Girl move and calls another girl fat?

6. RAHIEL: Urban Cusp founder Rahiel Tesfamariam, born in Eritrea, now an internet celeb, sums up her epic tweet series on her path to success.

Related Post: Sunday 76: fast food nation, Zadie Smith, xkcd, and Vice Magazine.

Related Post: Sunday 75: Moms-in-chief, best word ever, library tattoos

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