We need to talk about Beyoncé.
More to the point, we need to talk about the album Beyoncé and 'Yoncé. We're used to heaps of sexuality and she's had alter egos in the past, but this is not the same. Ain't no fuckin' ballpark, neither. What we had before was the foot rub and this, now, is sex. Uncensored and unapologetic sex.
'Yoncé is not an alter ego like Sascha Fierce. She's the girl from Houston's rough 3rd Ward who grew up to be called "Queen" by millions and "hottest chick in the game" by one of the best and most successful rappers. Somehow, she's been defined by her talent more than her looks, though that gets plenty of attention, too. It's not like she's shied away from being sexy. Hell no. Knowing how much she controls her image, it can't be said that she cut loose -- instead she's saying, "here it is, deal with it," in her own calculated way.
Forget the unbearably sexy videos (like you could). "Rocket" is a bedroom play-by-play, and it's got nothing to do with love or playing coy. "Drunk in Love" is not the tension-filled club scene that precedes drunk sex, the kind of thing we hear all the time, it is the drunk sex. She forgoes pretending to feel bad about it or blaming it on the alcohol. There are absolutely no apologies on this record.
"Partition" is the crown jewel of it all. She's dripping with confidence when she raps, "I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker / 'Yoncé all on his mouth like liquor." Then she sings about blowjobs and cum stains, and it still sounds empowered. And it's not a thoughtless mistake that a few tracks later comes "***Flawless," which features Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talking about how girls are taught to "aspire to marriage" and not "be sexual beings in the way that boys are." Then 'Yoncé instructs ladies to "tell 'em I woke up like this." She's not suggesting that her beauty doesn't take effort (see: "Pretty Hurts"). She wants women to own it, whatever it is and however they got it. If you got it, flaunt it and get nasty in the car if you want to.
The message can get muddled because no one is really flawless. Feminist ideals can falter for a lot of reasons. We're just human, as Bey points out. But what Beyoncé says is that a woman can admit to getting dressed up for a man, get on her knees if she wants to, declare that her "shit's so good" and revel in blackout-drunk sex, while also taking some shots at beauty standards as well as absurd rules and expectations. She can and should say that because this shit isn't black and white. It's confusing and difficult to function in a world of mixed messages about how to look and act.
No brand of feminism is perfect, especially in music, but as long as we're worshipping Queen Bey, this is worth our consideration.