Beyoncé Didn’t Invent Marching Band Entrances, But Taylor Swift’s BBMAs Performance Was Still A Misstep
There’s a single frame from Taylor Swift’s Billboard Music Awards performance that has gone viral. In it, Swift stands confidently in a sparkly pink, silver and gold number, striking a power pose between a line of drummers, all wearing millennial pink uniforms. If that image seems familiar, it’s because you can find a similar screenshot of Beyoncé in almost the exact same stance, flanked by her marching band – also in pink, sometimes in yellow – during one of the many now-iconic moments from her performance at Coachella in 2018.
The side-by-side images – Swift at the BBMAs and Beyoncé during her Coachella Homecoming special on Netflix – have sparked a heated debate online about whether Taylor Swift ripped off Beyoncé’s performance (namely the entrance). If you Google the two artists, you’ll find headlines like, “Twitter accuses Taylor Swift of copying Beyoncé”and “Twitter Is Having a Meltdown After Fans Accuse Taylor Swift of Copying Beyonce’s Coachella Performance” or my personal favourite from Bossip: "MAGAchella: Beyoncé Tether Taylor Swift Used The Unseasoning Stone And A Marching Bland To Gentrify Beychella And Got Banished To The Alabaster Abyss."
That headline is hysterical – albeit a bit harsh – but it echoes sentiments fans were sharing last night. #Mayochella was trending. Lines were drawn. The two most powerful fandoms in the world were going meme for meme, tweet for tweet. As soon as Swift’s performance started with a marching band performing onstage alone, with a drum solo signalling the appearance of Swift, it wasn’t a stretch to connect how eerily similar the entrance was to Beyoncé’s. Almost instantly, Beyhive Twitter went off.
And Swifties hit back:
There are a lot more social media salvos out there, but the gist is the war of the fandoms has officially begun.
So, did Taylor Swift steal Beyoncé’s aesthetic? Putting personal biases aside for a second (I’m a card-carrying member of the Beyhive, I ain’t sorry), let’s break down what we know. Beychella has been lauded as one of the greatest performances of all time. The show was an homage to marching bands of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and featured an almost exclusively Black cast of performers. It was, without question, an unequivocal celebration of Blackness. The event’s corresponding Netflix documentary Homecoming dropped mere weeks ago. If you have a Twitter or Instagram account (which we know both Swift and Beyoncé do) or if you have access to the Internet at all, you know that Homecoming has been one of the biggest pop culture moments of the year – heck, of the last decade. Homecoming is still very much a thing that everyone is talking about, and Taylor Swift is not dumb. Like Beyoncé, she’s one of the smartest and most strategic pop stars ever to grace the Billboard charts. She may have been planning this performance before Homecoming dropped, but she would KNOW that there would be similarities between the performances. So, she either didn’t think other people would notice (HA), knew that they would and did it anyway while anticipating that her stans would stand up for her or she thought people would recognize the parallels and respond positively, which, if true, was… optimistic.
No, Beyoncé didn’t invent drumlines. She isn’t the first person to use them in her performances. Madonna has done it; Gwen Stefani, too. J.Cole, Kanye West and even Destiny’s Child have incorporated these bands into past performances. There’s a marching band in Swift’s music video for “ME!” and in 2008’s “You Belong With Me.” Yes, Swift wore a marching band outfit during her Fearless world tour in 2015, but timing is everything. We are in a pivotal point in pop culture, and in our social landscape where the voices of Black women are finally being amplified more than ever. Beyoncé used the massive platform she has to celebrate how intertwined marching bands are to HBCU culture, and to acknowledge the history of Black musicians. The history of Black music in America includes many white artists taking Black songs and Black aesthetics, throwing white faces on them, and trying to pass it off as their own. I’m not saying that’s what Taylor Swift did on the BBMA stage, but someone on her team should have known that this is how it would be perceived and advised her against it.
One of the other arguments Swift’s fans have used to try to suppress the comparisons surrounding her BBMA performance and Beyoncé’s Homecoming is that we shouldn’t be pitting these two women against each other. That both performances should stand alone, and that somehow it’s anti-feminist to liken the two. Cultural criticism isn’t the same as “pitting women against each other,” and if Taylor Swift is going to perform on a stage as big as the Billboard Music Awards, she’s going to have to face commentary about said performance. Thousands of people on Twitter instantly saw the similarities. Pointing them out isn’t anti-feminist. It’s a fact. Sure, we can fight over whose performance was better, but it’s less about Swift’s ability and more about her poor brand strategy in this moment – especially when branding is usually one of Swift’s strengths.
Swift’s song “ME!” is all about individuality and embracing that there’s “only one of me,” but this performance inspired a double take heard round the world. If originality and radical self-acceptance are going to be the message of Swift’s new era, she’s going to have to start marching to a different beat.