They’ve reigned over the charts and acted philanthropically for years, all while balancing their personal lives. The two have managed to be successful even under the pressure of fame, which I’ve found admirable. Their private moments, including Perry’s divorce from Russell Brand and the birth of Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy, were both media fests. Yet they’ve stayed grounded.
I believe these two artists have been well-intentioned in promoting what it means to be a powerful woman. My concern is that their recent Grammy performances represent larger issues about the way women are perceived in the music industry. What worries me are the messages these famous females send to our generation.
I admire the messages of Perry’s “Firework” and “Roar” that in my opinion communicate a sense of self-worth and confidence. I’ve been inspired by Beyoncé’s rendition of the National Anthem sung at President Obama’s 2012 inauguration. To me it spoke volumes about broken racial and gender barriers.
While they may have inspired a sense of “girl power” through their songs in the past, some of Beyoncé and Perry’s recent actions seen at the Grammys are not so empowering.
Beyoncé opened the show with wet hair and a skimpy body suit, straddling a chair. Things got even more scandalous when her husband, Jay-Z, stepped on stage with her for a duet. It was uncomfortable for me and the other 28.5 million viewers at home to watch the couple kissing and dancing against one another.
Beyoncé, dubbed “Queen B,” tells us to “Bow Down.” In response, fans and the media defend her every action. She has always received praise from women for singing about feminist values in tracks such as “Run the World (Girls)” and “Pretty Hurts.” After viewing her Grammy performance however, I’m beginning to question if she’s forgotten what she’s stood for in the past.
“Men [have] the power to define value,” Beyoncé said in her Feb. 2013 interview with GQ Magazine. “They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine, it’s ridiculous.”
It seems to me that she recently embodied exactly what she had called ridiculous.
In addition, “Drunk in Love” had to be censored in order to cut out lyrics that, according to some, may be promoting acts of domestic abuse. The controversial lyrics were in Jay-Z’s verse on the song: “I am Ike Turner, eat the cake Anna Mae,” a line from the 1993 Tina Turner movie “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” The scene Jay-Z borrowed a line from depicts spousal abuse as Turner’s husband, Ike, shoves cake in her face in public.
Whether or not Beyoncé intended for the lyrics to be perceived in such a way, it is just another reason women like myself are questioning her feminist perspective. Even if other feminists found nothing wrong with her recent performance, no one can argue that violence against women should not be an element of entertainment.
Beyoncé, or any woman for that matter, shouldn’t be valued for her ability to straddle a chair. Her lyrics shouldn’t call into question a lack of sensitivity toward subjects such as domestic abuse.
Neither of those things should be celebrated, but her talent and her success as a woman of color should be.
Beyoncé’s performance wasn’t the only female Grammy performance that caused me to call into question an artists’ feminist perspective. What stood out to me as being unnecessarily suggestive in Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” was her pole-dancing on a broomstick while wearing fishnet tights. I just didn’t really see the purpose in Perry dancing provocatively in order to illustrate the meaning behind her lyrics.
I’ve always been less impressed with Perry’s outrageous costumes and theatrical performances and more in awe of Perry’s raw vocal talent. To me, her dancing in a sea of flames, sporting a black leather outfit took away from the fact that Perry is a respected artist. Instead, it reinforced the idea that female vocal performances depict singers as sex symbols.
What I found ironic were Perry’s comments about how she perceives the choices of her female pop counterparts.
“Females in pop — everybody’s getting naked,” Perry said to NPR in an October interview. “I mean, I’ve been naked before but I don’t feel like I have to always get naked to be noticed.”
Perry added that it’s difficult to not fail audiences when you’re considered a role model to young people, especially women. Although this is true, I still believe that future performances should be altered to send a different message to females. Messages that say to use our brains and talents instead of our bodies.
The images young women see inevitably affect the way they see themselves. While I think it’s all well and good that artists like Beyoncé and Perry have the self-confidence to give a glorified striptease on stage, it gives young women false expectations regarding what they need to do in order to gain attention from the opposite sex.
I realize that sexuality has been embraced by the music industry, and that’s not going to change. We almost expect Grammy performances to push the envelope. I know that these women act on their own free will, but I believe the industry itself has become so warped that we as viewers and listeners don’t even notice the impact it has on us.
“Singing about the same old things in music is so overrated,” singer Jennifer Hudson said in an interview with the Huffington Post “Ain’t you too old for that kind of thing? Can you talk about something else?”
I agree. Changing the way the music industry treats sex will ultimately change how females are perceived in society. Most girls can sing along to every word of these songs that tell our generation that sex without consequences should be glorified.
So I tend to side with women like Hudson: can we please sing about something else?