A Pop Icon Championing Empowerment


Beyoncé: A Pop Icon Championing Empowerment
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I. The Rise of Beyoncé

In the very beginning of her career, Beyoncé was managed by her dad and part of a girl group.

  • Beyoncé Knowles-Carter was born in Houston, Texas and was managed by Mathew Knowles, her father.
  • As an eight-year-old child, Beyoncé and her best friend Kelly Rowland were performing at local competitions and events. Kelly and Beyoncé would be the two original members of Destiny’s Child, their three people girl band that rose to fame in the late 1990s. In 2003, Beyoncé left the group to start her solo career.

II. Message of Empowerment and Black Solidarity

Instead of using her platform solely for herself, Beyoncé collaborates with other black artists creating a powerful image of black solidarity.

  • Given that she is a global superstar, Beyoncé has no necessity to share the spotlight, but she actively chooses to collaborate.
  • She is constantly in conversation with other contemporary artists outside of music. For example, she sampled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists in her song Flawless.
  • At the 2016 MTV VMA Awards, Beyoncé’s guests were the mothers of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and Eric Garner. All four were mothers of unarmed black men who were killed by armed people. The mothers were also in the album Lemonade holding pictures of their sons.
  • For her clothing brand, Ivy Park, she casts diverse models like Ralph Souffrant, a 61 year old dancer and choreographer with freckles and Laverne Cox, a transgender activist. Through her performances and products, Beyoncé is constantly expanding representation.

Beyoncé’s 2016 song Formation was clearly a political statement condemning police brutality.

  • Beyoncé released her song Formation on February 6, 2016, a day before the Super Bowl and during Black History Month.
  • The song is clearly political as Beyoncé sits on top of a police car in New Orleans and actually footage from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The reference to New Orleans is a reminder that the United States government did not provide enough aid to the black community.
  • The video also has an image with the message: “Stop shooting us” which is a clear response to police brutality towards African Americans.
  • In the video, she sings about how she likes her daughter, Blue, to wear natural hair and appreciates her husband’s big nose. Her daughter and husband are often ridiculed for their traditional black features and in the song, Beyoncé creates a reality in which those features are celebrated.
  • In her Super Bowl performance, Beyoncé and her black female dancers were wearing outfits like the Black Panthers, a political organization in the 1960s founded to speak up against police brutality.

After Beyoncé’s iconic Formation performance at the Super Bowl 2016, during which she publicly supported Black Lives Matter, there was public outcry to #BoycottBeyonce.

  • #Boycott Beyoncé was a call for a national law enforcement boycott of Beyoncé’s Formation tour. After Beyoncé’s performances, seven deputies were murdered and their murders were blamed on Beyoncé’s “anti-police ‘entertainment.”
  • Beyoncé, who rarely gives public interviews, said: "Anyone who perceives my message as anti-police is completely mistaken. I have so much admiration and respect for officers and the families of officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe. But let’s be clear: I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things."
  • Beyoncé responded by selling merchandise with #BoycottBeyonce on her worldwide tour. It was a brilliant strategy to control the narrative and be the only person who profits off of her brand.

Beyoncé’s iconic Beychella performance became a cultural moment because of her focus on centering blackness and celebrating womanhood.

  • In 2018, Beyoncé became the first African American to headline Coachella and only the third female artist. With a full band and 100 dancers on bleachers behind her, Beyoncé started her set with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which is often called the Black National Anthem.
  • The performance paid tribute to historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). Beyoncé sampled from classic songs like “Swag Surf,” “Broccoli,” “Back that Thang Up” present in any HBCU. She also included many components of black Greek life like step dancing and a yellow sweatshirt with Greek letters.
  • In speaking about her vision for the show, she said: “It was important to me that everyone who had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us. As a black woman, I used to feel like the world wanted me to stay in my little box. And black woman often feel underestimated. I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process. Proud of the struggle. Thankful for the beauty that comes with a painful history and rejoice in the pain. It was no rules and we were able to create a free, safe space where none of us were marginalized.”
  • Tina Knowles-Lawson, Beyoncé’s mother, mentioned that before the show she was worried that the predominantly white audience at Coachella “might not get” a performance that is seeped in black culture. However, Beyoncé responded that with her platform that she built over two decades she had “a responsibility to do what's best for the world and not what is most popular.”
  • Beychella was a popular event with 41 million people tuning in. It opened the doors that opened the doors for how black culture cane be completely infused into a mainstream performance.
  • With her work Beyoncé has radically transformed what and how a female and black artist is able to create.

III. Key Lessons from Beyoncé’s career path and life

1. Beyoncé is able to be a trendsetter by creating work based on her values and not trends. Creating work centered on values instead of trends or popularity will allow room for innovation and a unique style.

  • For instance, Beyoncé has always been speaking about female empowerment in songs like Survivor (2001), long before #MeToo.
  • While many fans thought her 2016 Super Bowl performance was her first political statement about Black Lives Matter, in reality she has been contributing to social justice causes for the last decade. For instance, in 2005, Beyoncé founded The Survivor Foundation to help survivors affected by Hurricane Katrina.

-> In order to truly create and innovate in a field, one must be able to follow their values not trends. Trends are limited by time whereas values are more consistent.

2. Beyoncé does not allow rumors or media coverage to inform her art. She is constantly reinventing and evolving her image and art on her own terms.

  • While the media and outside sources try to create competition between artists, especially female artists, Beyoncé has never fallen prey to such petty tactics. Beyoncé’s emphasis on collaboration has been part of her music since Destiny’s child.
  • In 2016, when people called to #BoycottBeyonce, instead of apologizing or changing her music, Beyoncé stood her ground. She sold t-shirts that said “#BoycottBeyonce” as a statement that even people’s dislike for her would only further profit her.
  • Even when she was preparing for Beychella, her own mother doubted that the majority white audience would understand her vision. However, she decided to create the show she envisioned.

-> Leveraging public perception to fulfill your goals is more rational and beneficial than being overwhelmed and swayed by what others think.

3. Beyoncé has never been afraid to go solo and trust that she brings value.

  • The three major career shifts in Beyoncé’s life involve her deciding to take more and more ownership over her craft and business as an artist.
    • Beyoncé left her girl group, Destiny’s child even though they were successful. They had a record deal, millions of views, and awards. After Beyoncé left, her career as a solo artist flourished.
    • In 2011, Beyoncé decided to manage herself and start her own record label company, Parkwood Entertainment. Even though there was no clear reason for her to change her management, she wanted to manage her image, business profits, and be in total control. Many critics mark 2011, as the turning point when Beyoncé began her transition from artist to cultural icon.
    • In 2013, Beyoncé dropped her self-titled album, Beyoncé, solely on iTunes. It was the first time Beyoncé released an album with no promotions. In order to keep the album a surprise, Beyoncé decided to only partner with iTunes. Despite the lack of promotions, the album won awards and was number one on the US Billboard 200.

-> Being able to walk away from a “successful” situation because you believe in your value is important to mastering a craft and leveling up.

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