What Happened to Beyonce’s “I Been On?”

13 Dec

Here is what happened.

Beyonce changed the music video. She deleted the Been On rap portion after Bow Down where she raps a little. She added a speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on feminism, but not just a speech of white feminist, a speech about equality of sexes from a Nigerian speaker. She deleted the lyric “keep it trill.”  The original premise of Beyonce as a literal queen was abandoned for a punk aesthetic and the focus of the video is not only of Beyonce as a queen being served but of Beyonce as one sneering face in a group of rebellious youths.

Why?

I was listening to Junot Diaz talk to Toni Morrison about race and writing last night, and among many jewels, something that Toni Morrison said stuck in me like a stubborn pebble in your swim shorts. I’m paraphrasing here. She said “Don’t write to a white audience.”

Wow. This is intriguing because it makes the correct assumption that we write to an audience that frequently critiques for reasons that are not right. There is a “gaze” Toni Morrison says, a gaze that maybe only exists in our heads, but can also exist in comment sections and in the opinions of your publisher, editor, friends. This gaze keeps us from speaking the truth as it appears spontaneously. It forces us to temper the truth to the expectations of an audience critical of our responsibility as a member of a group.

“You write a book and call it ‘Invisible Man.’ Invisible to who? Not me.” She said.

Beyonce released I Been On and I really dug it. It sounded like something Kanye would say. There is a hyper-confidence to I Been On and in the video Beyonce dares to portray herself like one of those lost black queens and princesses that MedievalPOC highlights.

And some people didn’t like it.

The early release of I Been On was met with less than stellar opinion. Beyonce was criticized heavily for it. How dare she speak with such disrespect. How ugly that song was. How ugly the sentiment was. Where was the Beyonce that we liked? The one who tells girls that they run the world? Why would she name her album Mrs. Carter?

Well old Beyonce is back a little bit in Flawless, the reworked version of I Been On, but Flawless’ first lyrics are:

You wake up / Flawless.”

Who is the “You” there? Is that the gaze? Was the whole song changed to sit more comfortably withing the respectability that the general public expects Beyonce to uphold?

I like Flawless, I like I Been On. I like Ms. Adichie’s speech. But part of me wishes Beyonce just released the original version of this song because it feels like it addresses the “gaze” less than Flawless does. There is no “you” in I Been On, there is only the “I” and the life of Mrs. Carter and I feel like it’s more punk than the new video that incorporates actual punk aesthetic.

Do we have to explain ourselves when we’re being defiant?

You write a song and change “I” to “you” but who is the “you?”  Not I.

 

 

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