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Upgrade U: What We Can Learn From Beyonce

Beyonce performs during the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009, in New York City. (Brad Barket/PictureGroup via AP Images)

Beyonce performs during the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009, in New York City. (Brad Barket/PictureGroup via AP Images)

Beyonce’s  Thanksgiving special airs this week, and I know there are plenty of folks hating.  Had I not seen the light, I would’ve been one of them.  A few weeks ago, I was checking my Facebook account, and a friend’s status message read that she intended to write a negative (feminist) critique of Beyonce.  Of course there were the co-signers with their expected “This is so necessary; can’t wait to read it,” responses.   Whatever.  These people probably bowl with bumpers in the gutters, and celebrate when they roll a strike.  Either exercise is about as difficult as convincing a 4-year-old that there are monsters in the closet.  The implicit position, the crux of “Beyonce makes feminists nauseous,” argument, I imagine, might be described as something about Beyonce failing to meet certain expectations–her apparent lack of depth, her music, her relationship to men, her skin tone in those makeup ads.  Such critiques are ironically similar to a Tyler Perry movie: you’ve seen the tropes before and you how that it’s going to end.

I think some folks hate (on) Beyonce for expecting her to be what/who she isn’t.  Face it: Beyonce is not going to burn her glittery leotard for anybody, any movement.  And being upset about that is probably equivalent to getting mad at the above mentioned 4-year-old for wetting her bed because of the nightmare she had about the boogieman trying on her Dora shirt. Granted, I used to be slightly annoyed by her presence, but with the help of God, my sister (who once held me hostage in a hotel room until she’d shown me that she knew all of Beyonce’s choreography), and watching the “Video Phone” video eight times in a row last week, I’m proud to say that I am an occasional citizen of the Beyonce Nation.  I bow at the stilettos of Sasha Fierce.

I have come to appreciate Beyonce. She’s featured prominently on my work out mix.  (Admittedly, I should probably re-evaluate that.  Beyonce makes me run too fast.  Half way through, I can barely Naomi Campbell walk.)  And that’s all I expect from Beyonce: some mindless jams to keep me from counting city blocks.  Put simply: Beyonce is awesome because she does her damn job.  And she does it well.  She has read the job description for diva and worked it.

Are she and that wind machine blowing her horsehair all over the stage unnecessary and annoying?  Hell yes.  Did all those summers spent out on the family deck practicing dance moves preclude the cultivation of the intellectual acumen we like to see in our sheroes, thereby making watching her interviews more excruciating than a root canal? Of course.  But that’s what a diva, a pop star does: she annoys you, but you just can’t stop watching. Beyonce is exactly who we should expect her to be.  Beyonce looked at the diva requirements and said emphatically, “I will do that.”

Let’s consider it:  She is beautiful.  Anyone who says otherwise is a downright hater.  As my friend Rachel says, “Ain’t a mark on her.”  Indeed, she is flawless in the Western sense of the word.  She was the breakout star of a girl group.  She later shook Kelly (who?) and Michelle (who?) in exchange for a more lucrative solo career.  She’s known by one name; even her social security card just says Beyonce. That’s right.  No last name.  No nine digit number.  Just Beyonce. She’s married to Jay-Z, arguably the slickest dude in the game, and if that doesn’t work out, the only other guy she could even think about dating probably owns an island and the copyright to the word the.  Even the Amish are aware of her alter ego.  According to my sister, she puts on a show.  If I had money to waste on omniracial superstars, I’d go see a Beyonce show, because I’m sure I’d be thoroughly entertained.  She acts terribly in terrible films.  When she speaks, she says unimaginative things, seemingly able to only describe things as “amazing” and “incredible.”   The kids love her–and if you’re not a gay icon, if there isn’t a drag queen at The Baton or somewhere else lip-syncing to your songs, you are not a diva.  The aforementioned wind machine?  Charge it to the game.  That’s just part of the diva kit, y’all.

All of this to say that Beyonce can check off every item on the diva checklist with enthusiasm.  She’s a pop star.  I for one expect her to act like one.  A friend of mine emailed me a critique of the “Video Phone” video.  The writer didn’t appreciate the blank backgrounds and booty shaking.  Why was he watching a Beyonce video?  I’m not sure.  That’s like going to a gentlemen’s club, and being disappointed that the strippers took off their clothes.

I paraphrase a friend’s boyfriend: Beyonce is excellent in her field.  And that field doesn’t require anything beyond plasticity.  She is portrayed as empty and vacuous because we couldn’t project things upon her if she were actually substantive.  When I want substance, I change the channel.  I don’t sit staring at Beyonce waiting to be empowered or enlightened.  I sit there in awe of the fact that she just did what she did in 4-inch heels.  If I anticipated something different it would be my own fault.  Do I wish the criteria for pop icon were different?  Absolutely.  Until that happens I’m not going expect Beyonce to act differently.  I’m going to praise her for being the apotheosis of diva.

Can you imagine a world where people did their work as well as Beyonce did hers?  There would be no wars, and I’d have a job.  Ask yourself: Have you done your job as well as Beyonce has?  That’s what I thought.  Now go get something done.  Sasha is working, and working hard.  Why aren’t you?

Do you still doubt her greatness?