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I started to write a disclaimer about using Meshelle Ndegeocello's If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night) on the Essentials start page--something explaining that I posted the video not as an endorsement of boyfriend-stealing or premarital sex or bisexuality or lipstick or whatever--but that the video has a powerful message about love as co-dependence, as a narcotic, and how it derails the lives of some extremely talented character actors who bring a wide variety of women in love to life. Then I talked to Neil and he said don't bother, the Church Folk won't get it.

This week TheGrio.Com is wasting bandwidth talking about Beyoncé’s skin color. I’m more curious about the pagan ritualism echoed by her creative choices in her new video Run The World (Girls). Seeming slightly derivative of Michael Jackson’s much more fun and accessible Remember The Time, Beyoncé appears to be some kind of revolutionary leader in either a Byzantine pre-Roman or post-apocalyptic African Babylonian empire. I have absolutely no idea what she’s singing about, but the now-tired Polish line dancing done so much better by Jackson (Beat It) and Jackson (Rhythm Nation, etc.) complete with faux-karate chops (Pleasure Principle, etc.) just had me yawning while wondering what Elder G. Craige Lewis will have to say about all of this. I didn’t post the video here because (1) if you’re into Beyoncé you’ve already seen it, and (2) if you’re not into Beyoncé, you won’t care (Editor's note: I've posted the video with this 2013 update).

I am, likewise, completely satisfied to dismiss the skin color thing as a non-issue. It seems unlikely Mrs. Knowles-Carter is trying to run away from her race. I mean, what would be the point of that? Years later, she’s pretending she’s not black? The cover art for 4, her new album, is deliberately over-exposed (note the colors in that fur thing she’s wearing). Which isn’t to say she isn’t bleaching her skin but to say I don’t care, it’s not what bothers me about Beyoncé.

I am not a huge Beyoncé fan because I’m old and remember what actual music sounds like. I don’t mean Jackson & Jackson or even Whitney or even Anita Baker, but Aretha Franklin who, at Beyoncé’s age, could blow this very talented young woman out of the room, or Tina Turner who, when she was twice Beyoncé’s age, could dance her right off the stage. Which is not to say Beyoncé isn’t an amazing singer and talented performer, but to say what awes me, personally, about this young woman has almost nothing to do with her performing. It is her creativity, her production skills and business savvy that make me admire her on one level while feeling sadly disappointed on another.

We are, this week, discussing women missing their potential. Beyoncé is clearly the virtual model of what I’m talking about: her romantic relationship appears to exist in harmony with her potential. I have no way of knowing these kinds of details, but externally it certainly appears that husband Jay-Z is completely supportive of Beyoncé’s career. Most of us guys, had we been lucky enough to win her heart, would have Beyoncé at home in an apron. This is what far too many of you sisters do: fall “in love” with some knucklehead who doesn’t know who you are. Absent evidence to the contrary, I am going to presume Jay-Z knows who his wife is and whatever choices they’ve made about love and career they wisely keep private while being supportive of one another. If Jay-Z is in any way threatened by Beyoncé’s success, it appears nowhere on the radar. If your romantic relationship, your marriage, isn’t syncing together the way Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s at least appears to, if your husband or your boo is a cloud over your ambition, then God is not at work in your relationship.

In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul warns us to not become unequally yoked with unbelievers [6:14]. I believe this thought is universally applicable in the sense of not being joined with someone who does not believe in you. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a business partnership, or even a ministerial or pastoral partnership, if you’re exhausting time and energy with

people who don’t support and encourage you—even and especially if you are married to them—then God is not at work in that relationship. Things need to get fixed. Sometimes, things need to be broken in order to be fixed. Too many sisters hang around with so-called “best” friends who have all of this alleged love for them but who are nonetheless threatened by them and therefore constantly put these sisters down, ridicule them, or otherwise fail to support them. These are all toxic relationships. We all have had them, we all stay in them way, way longer than we should because, frankly, we have a conscience and the insecure BFF—the cupboard raider who simply leeches all of our energy, attention and resolve—is usually completely self-absorbed and has absolutely no concern that he or she is leeching, literally draining you of all of your productive life while giving almost nothing in return.

Relationships should help us grow. I have no way of knowing what the deal is with Jay-Z and Beyoncé, but from a very, very long distance from it, they appear to be making it work and supporting one another. It would likely never occur to either of them for Jay to demand Beyoncé retire from the stage and stay home so she could iron his shirts and make him toast. But this is what happens to far too many of our sisters every single day, and you ladies allow it to happen. Oh, But I Love Him. And he drags you off the stage and you sit around gaining weight, burping babies while wondering if he’ll be home in time for dinner. This, sisters, is not love. This is not God’s plan.

Beyoncé disappoints because she keeps taking her clothes off. Because too much of her art is focused on exploiting moreso than celebrating her sexuality. On her new album cover, she appears to be nude except for a G-string beneath the Road WarriorBook of Eli possum fur draped over her breasts. It’s possible she wants to be this generation’s Tina Turner or Madonna. I never considered Madonna brilliant beyond a certain point. I always thought Madonna, and now Beyoncé, was powerful enough to define her own morality. For Madonna, that meant a kind of aggressive feminism that expressed itself first in seduction and then in sexual domination. Beyoncé is so powerful, has so much influence, that she could stop pandering, stop following in those footsteps. It’s not sexuality or this booty shaking that propelled her to stardom. She got there because she actually is talented. Because she can actually write songs that move people to action. Taking off your clothes is easy. Too easy. Beyoncé could be leading an entire generation to some higher level of thinking. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why she’s content to just be this generation’s Tina or this generation’s Madonna when she could zip up and lead in a whole different direction, becoming the Beyoncé for all generations. She’s terrifically talented, but at the end of the day, I’ve seen it before. I wish she’d show me something new. I am incredibly frustrated because I know she is thoughtful enough, relevant enough, to do that. It just either hasn’t occurred to her or she’s too scared to venture out beyond this insipid soft-core porn booty shaking.

Jay-Z’s got a lot going that he doesn’t necessarily publicize. I’d underestimated the brother, not realizing how thoughtful and articulate the guy is, and how he’s invested time and resources in things I know nothing about. The man’s got pots on the stove. Cooking. Working on clean water projects in Africa. But his CDs still carry the explicit warning label. Why? What’s the point of all that cussing? Jay is so powerful, he could lead and not follow. If he actually believes the cussing serves some purpose, well, I can’t help that. But I believe profanity demeans us and undermines Jay’s ability to communicate globally. It makes him sound, excuse me, ignorant. Worse, it makes him sound like he’s following rules other people laid out. Jay-Z is so powerful, he can make up his own rules. Does he really believe his sales would drop if he stopped cussing at us? And, even if they did, so what? Both he and his wife have made more money than they could possibly spend. For them, it’s no longer about the money. I have to therefore believe their art is an expression of themselves and that they find some artistic integrity in all the flesh, foul language, and pagan symbolism. Which puts me on the sidelines because that stuff offends the Spirit of God within me. And it makes me wonder if either of these two brilliantly creative people spend much time thinking about how much more money they could be making if they’d just grow up.

Christopher J. Priest
22 May 2011

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