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!

lead_960

James Tierney

I Call The Shots: The provocation of violent women

In a Western culture increasingly stripped of its old taboos, violent acts by women – real and imagined – still possess the genuine power to shock. Cultural representations of violent women can both affirm and react against the kind of pernicious questioning that posits women as fundamentally, and fatally, reactive. Read more »

9781925106510

Oliver Mol

July First Book Club: Read an excerpt from Oliver Mol’s Lion Attack!

At the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club event in July, Oliver Mol will discuss his debut memoir, Lion Attack!. Read an extract from this funny, energetic and original coming-of-age story, which interweaves stories from Oliver’s childhood in Texas and his young adulthood in Melbourne in a narrative that is part romance, part … Read more »

9781743318539

Danielle Binks

#LoveOzYA

Lest we forget that before John Green, Australia had John Marsden, prior to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter we had Isobelle Carmody’s Elspeth Gordie, and we embraced Melina Marchetta as the voice of a generation long before Sarah Dessen. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

3ab01d05-2590-4aa4-80f4-45fab0eccec4-2060x1236

Anwen Crawford

Heart of Darkness: UnREAL‘s ruthless reality

Everlasting, the show-within-a-show at the dark centre of new American television series UnREAL, is a fantasy blend of champagne cocktails, pool parties and true love. Everlasting is a Bachelor-style game show in which a dozen immaculately groomed women compete for a handsome millionaire husband, and its relationship to real life is, like any ‘reality’ show, non-existent. Nothing goes to air on Everlasting that has not been scripted, staged, and edited for maximum controversy. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. 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 »

2015GISELLE_Artists of The Australian Ballet. PhotoJeffBusby

Jane Howard

The Beautiful and the Dated: Australian Ballet’s Giselle

The weight of history sits heavily on the Australian Ballet’s Giselle. One of the most enduringly popular ballets from the romantic period, there is much to delight in its presence on stage and its lasting lineage. But 175 years after its debut, in a production that premiered 30 years ago, the sheen of Giselle has been dulled. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »