And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #303: Beyonce v Becky With The Good Hair

By | Published on Friday 29 April 2016


Beyonce released a new album last weekend. A fact you cannot have failed to notice. As release campaigns go, it was brief but perfectly formed.

Last week she released a couple of trailers for something apparently called ‘Lemonade’. All would be revealed on Saturday evening on HBO, we were told. Saturday comes round and HBO screens an hour-long musical film. Then at the end of it, hey, the new album’s up on Tidal. It appeared on iTunes on Monday too, and the rest is history.

Both the film and album are layered with meaning. Though exactly what it all means is not clear cut. To some it is an allegorical tale of the struggles of women, particularly black women, in a supposedly enlightened society. That’s quite a big thing to get your head around though, so many people seem to have just decided that it’s an autobiographical recounting of Jay-Z’s infidelity. Particularly, people have honed in on the character of “Becky with the good hair”, who gets a mention in the song ‘Sorry’.

Marital strife has been a theme in Beyonce’s work for some time, and rumours of Jay-Z’s infidelity are nothing new either. In 2014 security camera footage of Solange Knowles attacking Jay-Z in a lift leaked, she reportedly lashing out at the rapper for cheating on her sister. Rumours went so far as to name fashion director Rachel Roy, former creative director of Rocawear, as the other woman.

This week, Roy made the error of posting a photo on Instagram with the caption “Good hair don’t care” shortly after ‘Lemonade’ was released. And so she set in motion a trend that has continued through the week, of Beyonce fans en masse setting upon those they suspect of being ‘Becky’. After Roy, it was Rita Ora, who posted a picture of herself on Snapchat in a bra with two lemons printed on it. Beyonce fans also thought she was wearing a necklace with a ‘J’ on it, though it was actually an ‘R’.

Various other women have come under attack online over the course of the week, due to theories that they could have tempted Jay-Z away from his wife. And “tempted” is the word, these attacks all portray the women as the ones in the wrong, while Jay-Z himself has seemingly been left pretty much alone. Why go after the man who you are certain has caused Beyonce pain when you can guess which vague social media updates are a woman’s admission of guilt?

As for Jay-Z, if the theory that the album is all about him is true, then it’s happened with his participation. While it seems likely that some of the record’s lyrics are drawn from Beyonce’s personal experiences, it has also gone out as an exclusive on his streaming service. So he is still involved in its presentation.

Neither Jay-Z nor Beyonce have commented on any of this, so everything is speculation. Perhaps she’s feeling like a weight’s been lifted off her, having made all this public. Perhaps she’s happy that the ambiguity of her lyrics has done the work of a marketing team for her. Or perhaps she’s annoyed that a story she wrote to convey specific ideas has been boiled down to one line in one song. I don’t think it’s an accident that the film was premiered on HBO, a channel known worldwide for its reputation for making high quality drama shows.

Clearly a great deal of work has gone into this album – its themes, story and songs have been crafted, tweaked and finessed with numerous collaborators in secret, before being unveiled to the world. It likely draws on real life, but so do all great works of fiction. But many of Beyonce’s fans now seem to assume that this whole project was all just quickly thrown together off the top of her head.

The creative direction in which Beyonce was moving was first shown at the Super Bowl in February, where she first aired her Black Panthers-themed performance of ‘Formation’. Heavily influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement, it so incensed police that they threatened not to provide security for her shows – something she turned around on them by offering ‘Boycott Beyonce’ t-shirts at concerts this week, where those threats were not carried out.

As she pushes her idea of an empowered black woman, unafraid of a fight, a section of Beyonce’s fans seem to want to reduce her to a victim who needs their protection.