This is a question I have been asking more and more since she dropped her surprise self-titled album last October. The album received critical and popular acclaim unrivaled by any other other musical creation in recent memory. Her image is everywhere; her daughter, Blue Ivy, is beloved; her marriage to Jay-Z, while the subject of much speculation, is widely admired. She is no longer merely human, she has been deified. The pop cult has made her their goddess.
However, there are some people, myself included, who find it hard to see Beyonce as the way, the truth, or the light. To me, she is a mere prism. Her power does not come from any personal character trait or innate ability, but from her ability to reflect the light generated by her millions of fans. She is not a goddess because of her beauty or even her voice; she has ascended to the pantheon of musical icons because of a feeling she creates.
It's a feeling of empowerment. Her fans feel strong, bold, ready to take on a world that isn't necessarily ready for them. For several decades, “feminist” has been a dirty word. Woman and men alike have been scared to identify with the label because of the negative historical baggage it carries. However, millennials are increasingly aware of social injustice, and there has been a resurgence of feminist ideals, if not of the term “feminist” itself.
In a few short months, Beyonce rehabilitated the term: first, by sampling from African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists” in her hit single “Flawless” and then by performing in front of the word “feminist” at the 2014 Vh1 Music Awards. Now, young women, and especially young black women, have adopted the label and, should they choose, rally around it.
The light Beyonce refracts, while capable of casting rainbows across the stage, also has the potential to blind her fans, and perhaps even the Queen herself. There is a general impression in the hive that Beyonce is a “low-profile” humanitarian. While she did recently donate $7 million in aid to help the homeless of Houston, she does not engage in public outreach nearly as much as she could. For example, Princess Diana, a cultural icon on par with Beyonce, was photographed hugging an HIV-positive child in the 1980s, thereby humanizing victims of the disease and bringing attention to the epidemic. Beyonce, the focal point of thousands of photographs, is photographed alone or with her well-dressed Hollywood contemporaries, not with victims of disease or civil or human rights abuses. By not publicizing these social issues, she is denying the suffering a sliver of her substantial spotlight.
What exactly Beyonce's fans are empowered to do remains to be seen. Empowered to be themselves? To be openly sexual, like Beyonce was on her most recent album? Or to take substantive action and work to affect real change in the world?
At the moment it seems the only thing Beyonce’s fans are really empowered to do is live their life in the image of their goddess. Part of Beyonce’s message is that no matter how much she empowers you, she will always be inherently more powerful than you. If you are more generous than me, you might say that members of the Bey Hive are empowered to live the lives they want, but does it matter if the only life they want is hers?
Read my friend and former editor Zosha Millman's response to this post by clicking HERE.
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