KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Pop Culture

‘Drunk in Love’ with Beyoncé

by Julia Tulloh , January 22, 20145 Comments

In December last year, Beyoncé gave her fans the best Christmas present imaginable: a surprise new album with seventeen tracks, each with their own music video. There was no forewarning, no single pre-released – the entire album became available on iTunes at midnight on December 13 through a single tweet from Columbia Records. The internet exploded. During the first month of its release, Beyoncé outsold the number of copies her previous album, 4, has sold since its release in 2011 (over 1.4 million records).

The album is basically a feminist onslaught, celebrating the sexuality, bodies, success and potential of women. I use the term ‘feminist’ not just because I find the album empowering (which I do), but because Beyoncé uses it. In ‘***Flawless,’ she plays an excerpt from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, including lines like:

‘We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller… We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist. A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.’

‘Pretty Hurts’ explores the pressure women feel to look beautiful (the video shows girls at a beauty pageant, competitive and jealous of each other, bulimic, and swallowing cotton wool to feel full), and ‘Grown Woman’ playfully declares how Beyoncé is free to make what choices she likes.

The feminist ethic of the album is affirmed by Beyoncé’s command and enjoyment of her own sexuality. She positively radiates sexual satisfaction in songs like ‘Drunk in Love’, ‘Blow’. ‘Rocket’, and ‘Partition’, and appears in control of her desires and their expression. In ‘Partition’ Beyoncé performs an exotic dance for her husband, Jay Z, based on the choreography of the Crazy Horse cabaret. The entire performance is framed as Beyoncé’s personal fantasy: at the beginning of the clip, she begins daydreaming, suggesting that the dance takes place in her own mind, rather than her husband’s.

One could argue that Beyoncé’s sexual focus is simply the result of the pressure placed on women in the pop music industry to objectify themselves in order to succeed. While this is perhaps true to an extent – we can’t separate Beyoncé from the system she works in – there is a major difference between Beyoncé’s work and other pop music: it’s clear that her erotic life takes place within a strong, monogamous marriage. Rather than singing about an abstract ‘he’, Beyoncé sings explicitly about Jay Z, who himself appears in many of the videos. You get the impression she’s not just showing her body for the sake of it, but because she derives so much pleasure from sharing it with her long-term partner.

The album is not just about sex, though. Beyoncé also sings about grief (‘Heaven’), the joys and anxieties of motherhood (‘Blue’ and ‘Mine’ respectively) and relationship issues more generally (‘No Angel’ and ‘Jealous’). It’s a well-rounded album that foregrounds female experience across a range of situations.

Notwithstanding a disturbing lyric in ‘Drunk in Love’, sung by Jay Z, which appears to advocate domestic abuse, Beyoncé is an album which will hopefully help pop music fans to engage with ideas about feminism and will encourage pop stars to embrace the term ‘feminist’. Whether or not you agree with the way she presents feminism, no one can deny that Beyoncé is advocating for gender equality in a way that will reach millions of people – her fans. Truly, listening to her songs makes me feel just like a ‘grown woman, who can do whatever she wants.’

Julia Tulloh is a Melbourne-based writer working on a PhD in Literature at the University of Melbourne. 

ACO logo




  • Elizabeth Culhane

    I also really like that she’s trying to create a body of work; a narrative theme that grows and develops across an album, in contrast to 30 second soundbites. As she says in the video above: ‘I miss that immersive experience. People only listen to a few seconds of a song on their iPods. They don’t really invest in the whole album’.

    • Julia Tulloh

      Thanks, Elizabeth! I like this about the album too. In listening to the album as a whole, you get a much better idea of what she’s trying to say about her relationship and her experiences, than if you listened to just a single track.

  • Louise Heinrich

    This is an awesome wrap-up of Beyonce’s feminism! I’ve been reading a lot about it in the past few weeks, and have been a little confused. But her hugeness in light of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s quote makes perfect sense. She is unapologetic.

    I don’t think that feminism can be defined or restricted, and I especially don’t think anyone can say ‘She isn’t a feminism because of…’

    Having said this, I want to point out something I find problematic that I haven’t seen written about Beyonce yet: her brand of sexuality, her gorgeous body that fits into beauty norms, her sexual autonomy, is all sold to make millions of dollars.

    Her identity is manufactured; she’s a pop star. In the end, as much as I think it’s great that Beyonce is sexually voracious in an openly committed and monogamous relationship, how can this sexuality be authentic if it’s a performance to the gazillions of fans who will buy her albums?

    • Julia Tulloh

      Hi Louise, thanks so much for your comments, I totally agree… Beyonce is a barrel of contradictions in that way! One the one hand, she sings a song (‘Pretty Hurts’) about how American society puts pressure on women to look a certain way, and how damaging that pressure can be… but on the other hand, she doesn’t acknowledge that she may contribute to that pressure. And while she performs for Jay Z in ‘Partition’, she also performs for the millions of people who watch the video. I suppose it’s a case of understanding Beyonce as part self-determined individual, part product of the system in which she works … and recognising the way she empowers many women despite the fact that her mode of feminism is complex (and sometimes contradictory). Even if she’s manufactured, I still feel totally inspired by her – by her hard work, her business-savvy approach to music distribution, her ability to bring feminist ideas to the mass-market. But yes I agree… no-one is ever a ‘perfect’ feminist (whatever that means) – so thanks for bringing this complexity into the discussion!

9781926428239

Abigail Ulman

Cold Feet and Hot Little Hands: Abigail Ulman on writing – and not writing – her first book

Post-book deal, every time I sat down to try to write something, I felt paralysed by some kind of literary stage fright. I had shown my work to other people before – for writing workshops, and submissions to literary journals and competitions – but I had never before written a story while thinking This story is going to be published in a book. Or, more accurately, This story idea is nowhere near good enough to be published in a book. Read more »

9781926428239

Sian Campbell

Girlhood and The Woman-Child in Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands

Each of the stories in Hot Little Hands navigates girlhood in some way, from the lives of high school-age teenagers to those of young twentysomething women. ‘Girl things’ such as horse camp, gymnastics, feminised bodies, clothing, periods, crushes, yoga and gossip weave through the fabric of the text. Though the subject matter is often adult – the girls of Hot Little Hands navigate abortion, sex trafficking, young motherhood, drugs, and deportation – the girls themselves are not… even when they technically are. Read more »

Dont-Try-This-at-Home-_-cover_-FINAL1-300x460

James Tierney

Subscriber Stories: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home

As a subscriber to publisher And Other Stories’ distribution model, I am in the unusual position of reviewing a book – Angela Readman’s short story collection Don’t Try This At Home – that thanks me by name for making its existence possible. Read more »

amy-schumer

Rebecca Shaw

Amy Schumer and the equal right to be funny

I don’t think men should be banned from making jokes about contentious subjects. I am of the belief that anything can and should be laughed about, and if done right, it can be beneficial. But more often, women are doing it right, and women are doing it better. Read more »

womens-home-companion

Kate Iselin

Trivial Pursuits: The media and ‘women’s interests’

Women, especially in public life, exist as a part of men’s worlds – a big part, sure – but still a part. Even as women become more vocal in demanding accurate and respectful representation, we are kept at arms length by a mainstream media which struggles to catch up. Read more »

SGbTsPQ

Rebecca Shaw

Command and Control: Trophy daughters and overprotective dads

There is no doubt that an overprotective parent is better than a parent who couldn’t care less what their child gets up to. And there is no doubt that most overprotective mums and dads are well-meaning. But paternal ‘protectiveness’ shticks often boil down to fathers not wanting their daughters to have sex, and by extension, get pregnant. Read more »

kstew

Joanna di Mattia

Kristen Stewart Through the Looking-Glass

Kristen Stewart is an actress who has been criticised, maligned even, for an acting style that transmits from set to screen as sullen, adolescent, wooden, blank, fidgety and inelegant. But perhaps she’s an actress concerned with authenticity, and the defining feature of her style is to show us herself by appearing like she’s not acting at all. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

Struggle+Street+KEY+IMAGE

Anwen Crawford

Shame and Stigma on Struggle Street

Struggle Street framed poverty as a combination of genetic inheritance and natural disaster – a barrier to be overcome only through ceaseless positive effort. Those who sabotage themselves through bad choices are therefore fair targets for our scorn, while those who gain employment or remain sober deserve praise for overcoming the odds. The deserving and undeserving poor, in other words. What an old story. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

Arts House_Image_10c_Oedipus Schmoedipus (post)_Credit – Ellis Parrinder copy

Jane Howard

A Case for Diversity in Theatre

Attracting different audiences to the theatre is about many things. It’s about accessibility for people without high disposable incomes, but it’s also about marketing and publicity; about creating venues which are physically accessible for people with disabilities; and about ensuring the performers on stage are as diverse as we want their audiences to be. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »