Beyoncé's Sexy Performance Renews An Old Debate

We won't claim to be surprised at some of the outrage that swirled around Beyoncé's rendition of "Drunk in Love" at the opening of the Grammys last night (on Twitter and in our own, real-life social circles). After all, it was only 8 o'clock on a major network. While we will point out that children these days are exposed to a lot of pretty horrific things that far surpass the sight of Beyoncé's gyrating bottom and chair-straddling antics, we're in no place to deny parents the right to be upset if their children stumble across the show.
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However, we will say that her performance last night, and the reaction to it, brings up a lot of salient points about Beyoncé's role as a maker of potent, influential imagery and other media. Most of these points — her legitimacy as a feminist, or the morality of her sexuality, for example — were already picked apart at length upon the release of her new self-titled album. Which is exactly the problem.
We are personally of the opinion that Beyoncé's latest work of videos and tracks was an entirely modern interpretation of what it means to be a strong woman, a powerful woman, and a woman who is in control. While it might not jive with a more intellectual, scholarly version of feminism, it's still just as valid. In fact, the importance of understanding and recognizing a more visceral, even emotional feminist movement is only underscored by the amount of controversy there is around calling the album empowering at all.
But, all of this subtlety and depth comes through when you view the album as a whole and complex work. In a one-off performance at the Grammys, there is a real risk that all of that gets lost, and we end up just wondering why Beyoncé is wearing a thong when Jay Z is fully dressed in a suit. It's the "Blurred Lines" problem all over again, which is unfortunate, because the album itself is so much more self-aware than that. Oh, and of course, in any context, Jay Z's Ike Turner references leave a terrible taste in the mouth — a problem which is even more upsetting in a live performance, and which is still very difficult to reconcile.
The outrage of parents comes along with commentary that if Miley had done this, she would've been lambasted beyond belief. If you think about it, this performance is in a way more sexual than what Miley did at the VMAs, which was so ludicrous that its resemblance to any actual sex act kind of feels like a stretch. While Beyoncé did engender criticism for her raunchiness, it was in no way as harsh or widespread as the flack that Miley shouldered after that infamous show. We should all be examining why that is. Is it because, for all our progress, we still don't really approve of premarital sex on some deep level? Or, is there really a difference in class between Beyoncé's performance and Miley's? Moreover, should "class" really be a factor when it comes to a woman's individual choice to express her sexuality?
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Ultimately, the fact that Beyoncé, with her particular brand of sexiness, was chosen for a performance in prime hours on CBS is indicative of just how pervasive and permissible her sexuality is in comparison with similar exhibitions by other artists. Whether or not this is problematic for children to see is something for every parent and family to decide, but Queen B in this particular context still raises a lot of food for thought, with consequences that reach far past an early bedtime.
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