What will assuredly not be last thoughts on Beyonce

Last week I wrote about my confusion and discomfort with the “Anna Mae” reference in Beyonce’s terrifically catchy and hot-as-hell song “Drunk in Love.” A few commenters wrote some insightful things and I read a few more essays and collectively we have assembled a few other theories. Two, in particular, we should add to the list:

The duh-this-is-about-oral-sex argument: In my last post, I was too overwhelmed by the violence of the reference (it’s taken from the Tina Turner biopic about Ike’s abuse) to observe the super obvious oral sex reference. Although some have pointed out that he’s the one telling her to “eat the cake” if you watch the video, you’ll catch Bey in the background mouthing the direction herself. Though this still raises some problematic conflations of sexual violence and sexual pleasure… well, that shit is nothing if not complicated.

The not-all-hip-hop-is-biographical,-you-idiot reminder: I’m just going to start with a great comment:

“I would say with Rap/Hip-Hop, we tend to assume that artists are depicting themselves, or who they would like to be (exaggerations of themselves). But I would argue this is not always the case, even with Rap/Hip-Hop, and it could maybe not be the case with Drunk in Love. 

She’s totally right. I think I mistakenly assumed some degree of biographical integrity, which is a ridiculous place to begin when you’re parsing lyrics. There was a great interview on NPR the other day about prosecutors using lyrics to try to sway juries into guilty verdicts when rappers are accused of crimes. See? He rapped about murder, so he obviously committed one…

The interviewed expert on the show pointed out that the credit we give other artists to be able to sing non-biographical lyrics and emote non-biographical emotions we don’t extend to hip-hop and rap artists. As he pointed out, we don’t assume that Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

If we then do extend the same courtesy to rap artists, it’s possible to read “Drunk in Love” as a depiction (not an endorsement) of a certain kind of relationship. The commenter above continued:

Is Beyonce singing about herself here, or as a character who is experiencing a brand new, passionate kind of love? If Beyonce is playing the woman who is drunk in love, Jay Z, likewise, could be playing the man who equally drunk in love, not necessarily playing himself. And unfortunately, there are men out there for whom passion and violence are intertwined, like Ike Turner.

In case you missed it, here’s Bey and Jay’s Grammy performance of it:

Got any more theories to add to the list?

Related Post: Beyonce at the Superbowl

Related Post: Guest post, the problem with “Blurred Lines”

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3 Comments

Filed under Art, Hollywood

3 responses to “What will assuredly not be last thoughts on Beyonce

  1. As a (white) person that listens to a lot of hip hop I think I approach these lyrics slightly differently. The relationship of Ike and Tina (or just Ike or Mike Tyson) are frequently mentioned in songs as a metaphor for sexual bravado/conquest and the movie itself as a cultural touchstone from what I’ve observed. As Beyonce’s own Youtube videos about the making of this album tell us, many of the songs were just the result of playing around in the studio with no real direction or intention, just pure creativity. So I feel that Jay Z’s rap might have been a freestyle one day or at the very least not 100% planned and ended up being a rap that used tropes and phrasing and rhymes that seem sadly common (to me) in hip hop. Does Jay Z feel compelled to tell us about his sexual power to prove to us that he’s still ‘The Man” because he’s worried we might forget or feels insecure? I don’t know, Beyonce seems to do a pretty good job of telling us that over and over again on this album!

    And the fact that Beyonce is mouthing the lyrics behind him makes me feel that maybe in this case it IS a reference to something in their lives and is about, ahem, something sexual. Partition was Beyonce’s fantasy but, I mean, we all get what “serfboardt” is and those lyrics and that imagery just seem too quirky to me to be fabricated just for us listeners. The entire song seems to be about their “realness” as a couple. That is to say, the movie reference seems pretty real to them, not the abusive subject matter in it. Of course, music – specifically hip hop – will always be a mixture of autobiographical details with projection and exaggeration and sometimes we’ll never know which is which.

    Does this analysis in any way excuse the violence and the subsequent consequences and criticism of including such references in the lyrics? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But I just don’t feel like there is an easy answer or a huge, nuanced, political backstory or reason to the “WHY did they do such a thing?” question.

    But maybe I’m totally wrong! I still love reading everyone’s thoughts on the subject! ; )

  2. It’s also possible that people are parsing the lyrics wrong, It could be: “…No, I don’t play “Now eat the cake, Anna Mae,” I’m nice” — you know?

  3. Pingback: Thanks, Critics | rosiesaysblog

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