Beyoncé has far surpassed being just a popstar—she’s a cultural touchstone, an icon, an ever-present figure in our everyday lives, whether we, or she, like it or not. The cultural saturation of her brand has reached such a height that if Beyoncé spills her latte, we’ll all be hearing about it. It’s not uncommon that this happen to famous people after a long and high profile career. One need only look at Madonna, Whitney Houston, and even older stars such as Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe to understand that at a certain point, stars stop being people and start being symbols, and we use those symbols as a way to discuss ourselves.
But in a time when we’re all more conscious of issues of race and gender, and when the idea of being a celebrity has become synonymous with complete exposure to the most intimate details of their lives, it’s important to remember that’s she’s a person, not a party favor. Here are some helpful tips on how to like Beyoncé, and not be, you know, weird about it.
1) Everyone: Your love of Beyoncé does not make you special.
No one cares that you can fit Beyoncé and Black Flag on the same mixtape—we’ve all tried this. But a lot of people that fall outside of Beyoncé’s perceived target demo—teenage girls and black women—seem to be asking for some kind of award for doing so. Check yourself—Beyoncé has been recognized as the Top Certified Artist of the 2000s, meaning she has had, by far, more gold and platinum record certifications than any other artist of that decade, and she has won 17 Grammys. A lot of people like Beyoncé. She’s very popular. No matter your gender, race, or sexuality, having any kind of opinion on Beyoncé isn’t novel—making people have an opinion on her is sort of her career.
Beyond that, Beyoncé decided a really, really long time ago that being a singer was going to be what she did. She trained very hard, she’s worked for over 20 years, she’s honed her voice and her craft. Regardless of what level of talent you think it takes to make pop music, she’s clearly pretty good at it by now. It is cool when people go out of their way to recognize that Beyoncé’s songs have great structure, or are musically interesting, or that her voice, on a technical level, is out of this world. But also recognize that that’s her job, and while you’ve been standing here slack jawed, everyone else already gave her credit where it was due.
2) White people: Your love of Beyoncé does not mean you understand blackness.
Saying you Woke Up Like This doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing when you’re white as it does when you’re a person of color. Of course, all women face societal pressure to look and act in a certain way, but black women face a great deal more pressure and often have to significantly change their appearance in order to be “presentable.”
Especially as her career has gone on, and her work has become more personal, Beyoncé’s songs have been concerned not just with the struggle of being a woman in the modern era, but a woman of color, and women of color face unique battles and have unique struggles. Copping Beyoncé’s steez isn’t going to magically illuminate you on the intricacies of the black experience, and just because you can relate to her in one way doesn’t mean you can in all ways. One need only remember the existential crisis regarding Beyoncé’s pixie cut in 2013, or the surprise that little Blue Ivy didn’t come out of the womb with shiny, wavy hair to recognize that women of color, especially in the public eye, face scrutiny not just for being women, but for being Black. It is okay to personally identify with a lot of what Beyoncé does, but some of it just isn’t for you.
3) Men: Your love of Beyoncé does not mean you understand womanhood.
“Single Ladies” is undeniably a jam, but perhaps it’s not always your jam. You don’t actually lose anything by dialing it down when this song comes on. You don’t always have to be overly performative in your love of Beyoncé, you don’t always have to tell people how incredible and revolutionary she is, and you certainly don’t need to tell this to the women who have liked her for years. In fact, by making her songs about women all about you, you’re probably just pissing her off. How many times does Beyoncé have to stand in front of a large projection that says “FEMINIST” before you let the ladies handle this one?
It’s a little patronizing to read the four thousandth thinkpiece on a man’s opinion on Beyoncé’s feminism, whether that opinion is positive or negative. Beyoncé is, ahem, a Grown Woman. She doesn’t need you to defend her, to correct her, she isn’t waiting on bated breath for your approval, and if you think you need to buy a sweatshirt that says “Surfbordt” to gain hers, well, good luck.
Black women are expected to understand whiteness and masculinity without ever being able to participate in it. To want to both own blackness or womanhood when you’re either not black or not a woman is unfair to them. And at the end of the day, Beyoncé is a human being. A human being that a lot of people love, admire, aspire to be, but she puts on her leotard one leg at a time just like everyone else.
As a white person or a man, when you hold her up as a symbol and integrate that deeply into your personality, you’re not only disrespecting the work she does as a singer and as a Black feminist by co-opting it, but you’re, well, being a little embarrassing. You can’t just claim the experiences of minorities as your own. You can always love Beyoncé, and no one is trying to stop you. But maybe let black women speak for themselves.
Photo via Beyonce/YouTube