Opinions Are Not Safe Spaces.
I am not a fan of Beyoncé or Jay-Z.
There. I said it. Out in the rest of the world.
I am saying this out in the rest of the world that has become obsessed with them as individuals, become obsessed with their children, her pregnancies, more obsessed with these two personalities than they are with living their own lives in general. In a world that has become obsessed with only spending time with and interacting with those who only ‘like’ what they like. In a world that has become obsessed with ‘safe spaces’ and a lack of intellectual discourse on why we might individually disagree on why coffee ice cream is the best and agree to disagree having heard each other out.
Sure, I like some of his beats and whoever she has chosen to do the styling and choreography for her videos have powers on the creative scale that are pretty amazing (Pharrell is wondrous), but I am not a fan. I don’t know Beyoncé Knowles-Carter or Shawn Carter. Not personally. So what I am not a fan of are their public personas; Of what they are putting out into the world that will stand as their legacy. This is something every artist has the opportunity to choose and painstakingly craft for ourselves. Our brand. Our public persona. Don’t we? Most of us don’t have a team of 20 to help us do it though.
I remember a while ago, I said I wasn’t a fan of Beyoncé’s public persona at an art show during a conversation, before I became a little more leary of how obsessed others become with the lives of others. After I said, it there was a sharp intake of air from the guy I was talking to. He choked and sputtered a little bit, gave me a very suspicious once over. His response was not unlike someone overhearing some foolish character in Harry Potter saying ‘Voldemort’. Isn’t an art show of all places a space where we can discuss what we aren’t quite in alignment with and why? Isn’t this where discussions with obnoxiously, pompously smart people happen? Oh… Ok. No? I was obviously mistaken. Pardon my ignorance. Keep my real opinions to myself. Right.
We didn’t talk again after that. Not being a part of the Beyhive to him meant we were incompatible, even as just friends. Call me crazy but I think that’s weird. Since when don’t I have the room in any relationship to not like exactly what you do? Is this who we’ve become as a country. Just joking. That’s obviously rhetorical. Look what’s going on with us politically.
#Sad | #Genius
For the first time, recently, I saw all of the “Apeshit” video. (Sure I’m a little late on this but does it matter?) Heard all of the lyrics. I came to understand that fame is a disease. It is really a monster. I don’t know who said it first but Gaga made it famous: Fame is a monster. It’s dirty. It changes things. The lyrics writhe and revel in the idea of fame and public validation:
“I said no to the Super Bowl: you need me, I don't need you
Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too
Last night was a fuckin' zoo
Stagedivin' in a pool of people
Ran through Liverpool like a fuckin' Beatle
Smoke gorilla glue like it's fuckin' legal
Tell the Grammy's fuck that 0 for 8 shit
Have you ever seen a crowd goin' apeshit? “
Have I ever? Umm…well, first I don’t every really refer to anyone really in terms that compare them to animals. It insults animals and people at some point and then you know the history of brown people being referred to as apes and such? Right? Have I ever seen a crowd going ‘crazy’? Sure. For me? No. That group of people is relatively small. Most of us have no experience with playing stadiums. Of course you don’t need the NFL, but you do know what they use those stadiums for right?
If this is all for the sake of being ‘ironic’ or if this is a caricature or parody of a self-centered, self-contained universe and I didn’t get it, well, what can I say? But if it isn’t…
My only question would be if this was all anyone ever heard about you, heard from you, experienced of you…Would you be satisfied? Is this what you’d want others to know and remember?
I loved the video (I am honestly a fan of most of Beyoncé’s videos). Love. What’s genius: juxtaposing yourself (as artist) with some of the most famous and recognizable pieces of art (even for those who don’t study art). Genius: being posed as royalty in a world where the worth of brown skin seems to have taken a sharp nose dive (prison industrial complex anyone?). Genius: cinematography, choreography, styling. Genius: having dance leotards correspond to the color of each dancers’ skin. Therefore giving it value and importance. Genius: using an institution ( the Louvre) that houses some of the most famous works of art in the world, where most of said works of art have those of us whose skin is on the darker side of brown, usually just depicted as slaves or servants and rarely in positions of power. Baby? Haven’t we arrived? Insert The Jeffersons (or something more recent and relevant) theme song here.
It takes bravery, even when you’re already loved and accepted as a certain type of artist to do something conceptual and different. To play the long game and go a little deeper. Like any other artist, it’s taking a chance that some will get what you are attempting to convey and others won’t.
What’s sad for me though: the lyrics; for both of them. Their work together and separately. That’s it. Nothing else I really don’t like. But isn’t that all? Aren’t lyrics everything? Or at least a huge part of the music experience? A great beat has its place, but I digress…I believe in everyone’s right to express themselves and not give a sanitized version just for the sake of public consumption. We are multifaceted beings. But. You have to take a bath a some point don’t you? Clean your house at some point, right? Face the sun at some point. Or don’t I guess…But I say show your smart self. Use the vocabulary that some don’t believe brown people possess. Evolve. Do more. Be more. Be something other than a stereotype. Being something other than a stereotype does not mean becoming something that is simply easily digestible and that doesn’t shake people.
Here is a word puzzle/analogy/SAT word association: Painting is to hanging on someone’s wall behind their coordinated sofa as Popular Music is to elevator music.
What artist strives to simply hang on the wall in someone’s kitchen (I guess it might depend on who’s kitchen to some) or be Muzak? Not many. It depends on what your goals are. Most artists want to be relevant. Not just part of a conversation but the entire conversation or those who change the conversation. When I think about music I think of playing it in my car and the people next to me hearing it, am I proud of what I am playing at eardrum bursting decibels? I think of young impressionable children being influenced by it. Are they encouraged to change the world, be creative, love…or “go apeshit"? It is the same way I feel about the art I create. I want to meet people where they are and take them on a journey. When people ask me to explain my work and speak about it intelligently I need to be able to do so without putting up walls that others can’t see around or get over don’t I?
A pet peeve of mine with other artists though is feeling that you have to put negativity into the world in order to add gravity to its meaning. In order for people to understand that darkness exists you don’t have to use the vocabulary of darkness or inject it into everything. For people to pay attention. Not only the dark side is meaningful. The balance is the meaning. Negative is already there. It always is. Without me or anyone else creating more of it.
The words! It’s about the words! You can’t change history. Even something as powerful as art can’t change it. You can paint it differently. That’s all. It is just a fact. Just like you can’t erase slavery or turn it into something positive, you can’t take n**** and turn it into a ‘positive’ word. It’s not my word. It’s not your word. It is hate manifest as a word. For me it affects the way I absorb anything.
Be More Than The Brand.
What I am a fan of as far as Beyoncé being and entity unto herself, Jay-Z, and The Carters as a partnership is the business sense. The branding. The polish. The vision. Magnificent.
My challenge to them and any artist honestly is to forget about the hubris, fame and all of its trappings. Do your work. Do good work. Be more than the brand. Be deeper. Be more than the polish. Understand the legacy. Be more than the words. Convey meaning. Be more than just Hip-Hop royalty, the manifestation of a bygone era that benefits from hierarchy, caste, women bumping and grinding/staying in their place, and stepping on the neck of someone else to validate a sense of self-importance. Be regal and be artists with a conscience and a true understanding of how what they make affects the world around them.