By now most of you are certainly familiar with the concept of Beyonce’s album I Am…Sasha Fierce. The ‘I Am’ portion, by Beyonce’s own admittance, is the musical revelation of her true self–it’s full of sappy balads and home to the new cathartathon single “Halo.” The other half portrays the aggressive personality ‘Sasha Fierce,’ and is the album portion responsible for the first single “Single Ladies.” Said song is the urban soundtrack du jour, as many a young lady has changed her ringtone to the liberated-woman anthem, providing much needed respite from A Milli’s 2008 ringtone monopoly.
“Single Ladies,” despite its energetic Motown robot-minimalist stomp, is nothing new for the Beyonce oeuvre, as it is basically rewording sentiments previously expressed in “Independent Woman.”
But “Diva,” the new Sasha single, asserts Beyonce’s stardom in new and stark terms. This song and the VIDEO, good lord, are remarkable for a number of reasons. (I apologize for not embedding it directly onto the website; Beyonce and Sony Music won’t let me.) In order to prevent myself from writing a term paper about the video/song onslaught of signifieds, I will break it down into categories:
This is the most ferocious song Beyonce has had anything to do with to date. Sure, “Upgrade U” was a good old fashioned Jay Z money power jam, and the track was so hot that Wayne sampled it immediately. But “Diva” has the menacing strings of a Southern Siren crunk song–not siren like Odyssean siren, but siren like DMX siren, sirens announcing that a riot is about to burn down your block.
Beyonce is clearly a little out of her element with all the post-Dizzee vocal swoops going on here. She’s not a rapper, but she’s tapping the market in the absence of a mainstream lady hiphop sensation a la Lil Kim. Diva vocal performances normally entail masterful manipulation of one’s pipes; Beyonce’s vocal track subverts the former concept of “Diva” (for the duration of the song, at least) by having nothing to do with the definition provided for us at the beginning of the video.
ROBOT! Constructivist-inspired dresses form an armor on B’s body; her clothes are not garments but architecture–the shape of inhuman things. Where in “Single Ladies” she was wearing essentially a bathing suit and a robot glove, here she’s got a whole arsenal of Blade Runner vests, arches?, jackets, and dresses (and the glove appears briefly for one moment).
This song is soooo post-Paper Planes: “This is a stick-up stick-up/Where’re them bags of that money?” But it’s also just Jay Z. What I want to know is how much B had anything to do with the writing of this song. If I were to look at this from a relationship perspective, I would say this song is a reflection of an unfortunate power struggle going on between B and her spouse. The song asserts an equivalency between divas and hustlas, and clearly, Jigga is one of the most notable “hustlas” in the game. It makes me, a feminist, uncomfortable that I have to point out this uncomfortable comparison being drawn between the two. But on the other hand, it’s B who’s saying “A diva is the female version of a hustla/of a hustla/of a hustla.” She is not casting her identity in new terms, she is co-opting one that is already familiar to us. But is this to her detriment or to her advantage? As a feminist, I would have to say it’s to her detriment. B, you can be the best supermegahuge star in the world and not have to be the female version of a hustla! I swear!
But then you could accuse me of narrow-mindedness and a belief in prescribed gender roles for musicians–that is, women can be Divas and men can be Hustlers, but fray not the lines between them. But I ain’t saying B isn’t allowed to be whatever she wants to be, I’m just saying she already is ENUF as it is, without having to add on a hiphop persona.
However, the video would only signify that Beyonce is only in competition with other women, not male superstars like her husband. In the beginning of the video we get a shot of a creepy hairless white mannequin. At the end of the video she slams the door on a trunk-load of white mannequin legs. The video is telling us that Beyonce is no Britney or Lindsey; she smashes the competition, then she lights them on fire. They are all the same! They are dispensable! Exterminate! Delete! Exterminate! Delete! FUTURE BEYONCE: 1 OTHER POP STARS: 0
ROBOT BEYONCE WINS.