There's been a lot written online about Beyoncé in the last week and a half. Between the initial frenzy of the release of her new album, the delight over her overtly feminist messages and the almost instantaneous backlash that Beyoncé the woman (and the body of work) was both anti-feminist, or simply not feminist enough, we've all had Beyoncé on the brain. While I did write a essay about her song Partition and had plans to write another piece examining the album as a whole, I've realized that many other writers have already done a much better job than I ever could have. There is already an amazing canon of work that critically analyzes this new album. Here are a few of my favourite pieces in approximate publication order:
That Time Beyoncé's Album Invalidated Every Criticism of Feminism Ever by Christina Coleman
Beyoncé's New Self-Titled LP Is The Feminist's Album Of 2013 by Hayden Manders
Beyoncé's New Self-Titled Album Is A Manifesto of Black Womanhood And Freedom from Gradient Lair
Beyoncé Drops Her Feminist Manifesto from The Melissa Harris Perry Show
5 Reasons I'm Here For Beyoncé, The Feminist from Crunk Feminist Collective
Beyoncé's New Album Should Silence Her Feminist Critics by Mikki Kendall
Beyoncé Samples Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TEDx Message On Surprise Album by Kate Torgovnick May
On Defending Beyoncé: Black Feminists, White Feminists, And The Line In The Sand by Mia McKenzie
Flawless: 5 Lessons in Modern Feminism From Beyoncé by Eliana Dockterman
Why Beyoncé's Feminism Is The Same AsYours: Unconventional And Flawed by Mikki Kendall
All Hail The Queen? from BitchMagazine
Beyoncé's New Album Is A Feminist Manifesto by Sarah Ditum
What I love about this album is that the feminist themes run throughout; they are not just limited to the one song in which she explicitly invokes it. The album deals almost directly with the many criticisms that Beyoncé has fielded this year, and tackles them head on.
BEYONCÉ the album is also amazing because it approaches feminism, through music, from an intersectional perspective. The songs and the visuals deal explicitly with the experience of black womanhood. The tracks on this album allow Beyoncé to cycle through every emotion imaginable; which is a big deal when we consider that black women are often not permitted access to the full spectrum of emotion. From struggling with body image in Pretty Hurts, to being madly in love with her husband in Drunk In Love, to openly exploring her sexual desires in Blow and Partition, to revealing her vulnerabilities in Jealous, to embracing her feminism and politics in ****Flawless, to mourning a friend in Heaven; this album presents Beyoncé, a black woman, as a full and complete person who fully explores and embraces the many facets of her personality. Not once does Beyoncé shy away from her true self in order to adhere to commonly understood rules of propriety.
Much has been made about how explicitly sexual this album is, but to me, it's one of its shining points. Dealing with the Jezebel stereotype is a daily struggle for black women. So much so, that people have difficulty even with the idea that a black woman being sexual could be doing so for her own satisfaction, rather than with the intent of gaining male attention. Here, Beyoncé throws all that away; she sheds the burden of stereotype threat entirely, deciding to do what she wants, when she wants, and to hell with those who refuse to understand. This album is sex-positive in a very powerful way, and that's an important message for black women to receive. It's incredibly important that black women know that they do not have to shrink themselves or deny themselves access to pleasure in pursuit of respectability.
The general public has this impenetrable image of Beyoncé as a flawless, immaculate being who never missteps or makes a mistake. It's not a hard theory to support after all; we're talking about Beyoncé. But with this body of work, she goes a long way to knowingly and willingly shatter that image and show that she has a lot of the same identity struggles as we do. Being famous and rich changes her specific perspective on her intersection as a black woman, but with this album Beyoncé invites us to see how she's figured out how to deal with them.
This album is like a love letter to black women everywhere. It's a call to arms; it is musical permission to embrace ourselves and each other unconditionally. It is a manifesto of self love, self-assurance and self care. It is a statement of joy that she has invited us to be a part of.
For me, it's the best album of the year.