Her songs will start playing and girls will grab each other to dance in tight, elated circles. It doesn’t really matter what she’s saying, but who she’s saying it to.
I don’t dance. It’s a language I don’t understand. It’s Swahili. It’s pollen. I am allergic to the dance – when I listen to music, I like to sing along and occasionally raise my head, like a dog enjoying the wind through a car window. I’m a still person, content when stretched flat on a banquette. I don’t dance, can’t dance and won’t dance. There is, however, one artist whose songs always make my legs twitch. And my arms. And slightly my nostrils. When I saw Beyoncé’s new video “Run the World (Girls)“, yes, I wanted to dance. Specifically, I wanted to do this shaky thing with my shoulders that I find, after Googling, is called the “Eskista”. So that was the first thing I thought: I want to wobble my shoulders like a flickering screen. And then I thought: in a song about female empowerment, why are all the dancers wearing suspenders and sheer basques?
Soon after this, I was forwarded a link to a YouTube video that, in the time it took me to watch, went viral. Amber (online as NineteenPercent) provided a sassy, articulate, fabulous feminist critique of Beyoncé’s new single. This anthem, with its accompanying video of an army of (be-basqued) women, claims that girls run the world; Amber says she’s selling listeners a bill of goods, “lulling girls into a false sense of achievement”. Who runs the world? Girls? “95% of domestic abuse victims are women,” she points out. “We’re not even running our domiciles.” Analysing the lyrics, she splinters Beyoncé’s faux-feminism underfoot, then sweeps it away neatly. To Beyoncé, Amber says, it’s somewhat “premature to be making victory anthems”.
Beyoncé (she of “Independent Women” and “Survivor” fame) is often held up as an example of a strong female role model, but this week blogs are questioning how well her lyrics sit with her influence. Until now, few people have had a bad word to say about her – her choruses stick in the mind like Post-it notes; her thighs keep most men transfixed.
But does some of her appeal lie in the fact that, in interviews, she says so little? She keeps herself hidden, a blank. Like Kate Moss, whose “cool” evaporated as soon as she started talking to the press, is Beyoncé’s implied authority a result of her silence? Watching a T4 interview with her a couple of years ago made me crumple; she spoke the language of inspirational posters. I return to the videos, jiggling in my seat. All her “Go, girl!” songs, I realise, pivot on a transaction: power measured by the weight of a wallet. The distance between feminism and “girl power” (as heard on Radio 1) is interesting, I think – I picture a busy dual carriageway littered with Coke cans. But could it be that Beyoncé’s songs (the lyrics of which, while focusing on the experience of being a woman, do so from her particularly business-led perspective) take listeners a little way along that road? While “Run the World (Girls)” may not be accurate, I wonder if its confident message, rather than kidding listeners, instead inspires them to fight for small changes.
I spend a happy hour revisiting Destiny’s Child singles, and the glorious gale force of the “Single Ladies” video, and the recent footage of Beyoncé gatecrashing a middle school in Harlem, dancing along with the female students, grinning blondely throughout. It’s this image that burns brightest for me. One that, as a non-dancer moved from my seat only for a Beyoncé song, has the most impact – you see it at discos, at teenage parties, on the sticky floors of a suburban pub. Her song will start playing and girls will grab each other to dance in tight, elated circles. It doesn’t really matter what she’s saying, but who she’s saying it to. Because her songs talk to girls, her songs make girls talk.
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