When you walk into a hall blaring Beyoncé’s Blow you know you’re in for a good hour, whether it’s in a club or the King’s College Great Hall. On Monday it was the latter, as I attended a talk as part of the Arts and Humanities Festival Fabrication, titled: How To Be Beyoncé. So what happens when 200 fans, students, and curious minds come together to talk about Beyoncé? And I don’t mean just fangirling, but to really talk about her without getting too sensational. Well, questions are raised about her status as an icon, an object of worship, a feminist, and also a black female artist in the music industry. Oh, and there’s also a fair amount of bitching about Nikki Minaj.
Being addressed as the ‘Beyhive’ and having to bow our heads and recite the ‘Beysus’ prayer before the talk really set the scene for the following hour. Yes, someone out there has actually written a prayer devoted to Beyoncé, asking her to ‘give us this day your new single’, ‘for thine is the beyhive, the power, and Blue Ivy’. Immediately, I was reminded that my own love for Beyoncé could be considered pathetic compared to so many people out there who do, quite literally, worship this woman.
Madison Moore is a postdoctoral research associate in the English department at Kings, who has devoted the latter part of his studies to popular culture. He, like many of us at the talk, takes pop culture seriously, and reflects on it as more than just a shallow part of our society. He also looked #fierce in his spiked Jeffrey Campbell heels. Even Madison couldn’t reveal all of the secrets about the icon that is Beyoncé, but he did raise a lot of questions surrounding her indisputable fame. Spoiler alert: at the end of the talk during the Q&A session, when asked pure and simple “how can we be more Beyoncé?”, Madison had this response: “Well I think you need two wigs, maybe three… I don’t know the secret.”
You probably won’t be surprised that the themes dominating the talk were feminism and race. Being a black female artist in theory Beyoncé is already marginalised within such a cut-throat industry. And yet, she is at the top of the hierarchy. One question that really struck me was would Beyoncé be as successful as she is now if she were darker skinned? I’m not sure what the answer to this question is, but it’s shocking to me to think that not just her being black, but her actual pigmentation could influence her success (I believe the academic term is pigmentocracy). I feel quite out of my depth making comments about these kinds of things, and I by no means consider myself an expert, but I struggle to believe that what boosts Beyoncé up the hierarchy is that she’s not ‘as black’ as some of her contemporaries – but maybe that’s just me being naive.
When Madison asked if there were any sceptics in the room, I couldn’t help but feel for the one brave soul who raised her hand as all eyes turned to her. “Don’t hate me…” she began, before questioning how much credit Beyoncé is actually due. How much of it is actually Beyoncé Knowles, and how much of it is the rest of the team involved in her brand? Beyoncé is, afterall, a brand, as is every other artist that we subscribe to. It just so happens that her brand has dominated much more than just our ears, and has reached our eyes, our minds, and perhaps in some cases our souls (*cringe*). I agree that there is no way she could have created her entire 2013 album, with an accompanying visual album, without letting a single word slip of it before release all on her own, but doesn’t it tell us something about her status that she could pull this off? Yes, Beyoncé has, or maybe even is, a team, but if you’ve followed her career I don’t think you can question that she is a businesswoman through and through, and a talented one at that.
I’m just putting it out there, the main reason why I like Beyoncé is because of her music. Her branding aside, I could happily listen to any of her albums on the bus, in the car, in the gym, and it’ll almost always be a Beyoncé song that I request in a club. We can’t forget that she is a musician, after all. I’ve seen her perform live – twice, not that I’m bragging – and both times I was simply captivated. The woman can sing, she can dance, she can entrance an audience, so we can at least give credit where credit’s due.
So, how does one be more Beyoncé? It wasn’t entirely clear that this question was answered, much to my own dismay, and yet I still really enjoyed being a part of this lecture. But we were all reminded that each of us has exactly the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé does. Sure, she has a lot more money and power than we all do, but if she can get stuff done in a mere 24 hours then so can we. And if that’s not enough to satisfy you, then you can check out Madison Moore’s eBook, How To Be Beyoncé, and make up your own mind.