Yes, this is yet another piece written about Beyonce and her latest album. I have seen people label the tone and impact of Yonce’s latest album as a display of a,“ hip hop generation feminist sensibility.” This feminist label/association is primarily due to Beyonce’s announcement that she is a, “modern day feminist,” and the fact that the Noel “Detail” Fisher (the producer of Flawless) sampled the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie impassioned words from her speech entitled We Should All Be Feminist in the hit record Flawless, which happened to spawn the new highly hashtagable catchphrase, “I woke up like this.” It is important to note that many that have vaulted Beyonce into the oft-politicized terrain of being associated with the F-Word have taken Bey’s association with Feminism out of context. Mrs. Carter calling herself a “modern day feminist” comes from an interview that she conducted with British Vogue. In the interview Beyonce was asked if she considers herself a feminist, which lead to Beyonce saying:
That word can be very extreme … But I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality. Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are? Why do you have to label yourself anything? I’m just a woman and I love being a woman. … I do believe in equality and that we have a way to go and it’s something that’s pushed aside and something that we have been conditioned to accept. … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.
This is obviously a far cry from a ringing endorsement, or willing association with the historical/political label of being a feminist, but the point of this piece is not to question Mrs. Carter’s association with feminism. Nor is this piece about certain feminists (Pro-Beyonce and Anti-Beyonce) ignoring the fact Beyonce questions, “Why do you have to choose what type of woman you are?” And that in a sense, Beyonce is saying that the feminist box/label is limiting her personal potential/definition of what it means to be a woman. This piece is more so about connecting Yonce’s investment in female empowerment, and having control of their bodies/sexuality and the song Drunk In Love featuring (her husband) Shawn “Jay Z/Hov” Carter. My aim is to critically engage the lyrics of the record Drunk In Love. I want to unpack what it means (based upon the songs lyrics) to be drunk in love, and how being drunk and in love looks (again based on the songs lyrics) within the record.
Beyonce and Jay Z opened the 2014 Grammy Awards with a performance of their hit record Drunk In Love. “Dressed in Saint Laurent black tights, custom bra, La Perla collar body and Nichole de Carle body suit, complete with wavy wet hair, Beyonce belted out the lyrics to the song — expertly twirling in a chair amid strobe lights for the mid-tempo jam. Beyonce completed her outfit with Stuart Weitzman heels and Jennifer Fisher yellow gold and large dagger earrings” (Hollywood Reporter). Jay Z on the other hand was simply decked in the classic formal uniform of masculine decadent fashion- a timeless black tuxedo. This leads one to wonder why we know so much about everything worn by Beyonce, and so little about Jay Z (while ironically Beyonce clearly has on less clothing than Jay Z). The first thing that I thought about while watching this performance (remember this was the opening performance for the Grammys, so it was 8:00 pm) was that this was a bit risqué for not only the Grammys, but also for CBS who had a full blown controversy on their hands via Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake during the now infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII, Nipplegate 2004. Side note: America lost their minds when Janet Jackson’s nipple was exposed for less than one second by way of a, “wardrobe malfunction,” but the Red Hot Chilli Peppers did an entire set with four nipples exposed in the 2014 Super Bowl, and nobody had a problem with that- but I digress. The Beyonce performance (which was essentially an homage to the iconic 1980s film Flash Dance) was essentially a primetime network television version of a striptease, a mild erotica of sorts, set to her self-created theme music. Sex sells. I get it. People have a right to express their sexuality however they choose. I get it. This is not myself playing the role of the politics of sexual censorship police. I’m just calling it not only as I saw, but also as it was intended to be seen by all parties involved in the performance. What I did find interesting was the fact that CBS saw fit to edit the audio, censoring what they considered risqué lyrics within the song during two points of Beyonce’s performance. The lyrics that were worthy of censoring was when Beyonce sang, “How the hell did this shit happen…” This seemed peculiar to me, being that the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC is now prohibited from fining and sanctioning any sort of obscene and indecent content. In the past, TV networks like CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, PBS, and others — had to censor certain curse words within programming in order to adhere to specific policies and avoid fines or other infractions. In other words, the choice to censor the words “hell” and “shit” from Beyonce’s performance of Drunk In Love was the choice of those at CBS, not the FCC, and the slippery slope of what is (and or is not) deemed as indecent (Beyonce’s actual performance in comparison to verbal obscenities) is then also a decision of those at CBS. This lead me to focus, not on which lyrics were censored, but which lyrics (and subsequently the themes associated with said lyrics) were allowed to flood the primetime public airwaves.
The censored portion of Drunk In Love happens to be the bridge that connects the verse’s lyrics to the hook (or chorus). As I mentioned the words “hell” and “shit” were not allowed to be played to the viewing audience, but let us look at the bridge in totality. During the bridge, Beyonce sings:
“We woke up in the kitchen saying ‘How the hell did this shit happen?’, oh baby. Drunk in love, we be all night. Last thing I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding off in that club. Drunk in love.
My question is, why was this portion of the bridge suitable for the primetime public airwaves? Look, let’s get this out of the way; the song is about getting hyper-inebriated, having sex, and not knowing how it happened. Now, in the world of Jay Z and Beyonce that’s the recipe for a hit record, but in the real world, that is the recipe for date rape.
According to the Department of Justice, “Approximately 90 percent of date rapes happen with alcohol involved.” A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that by the time they are seniors, almost 20 percent of college women will become victims, overwhelmingly by a fellow classmate. Very few will ever report it to authorities. The same study states that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol (Krebs et. al.). I’m in the state of California and in the state of California, if you have sex with an individual who voluntarily consumes enough alcohol and/or drugs to the point where he/she is unable to resist the sexual encounter, prosecutors could charge you with Penal Code 261 PC date rape. This also applies to married couples. California rape law holds that every act of sexual intercourse must be consensual. This is why even a married individual can be convicted of raping his/her spouse under Penal Code 262 spousal rape. What does this have to do with Yonce’s lyrics? Quite honestly, it has everything to do with these lyrics. Drunk In Love is (seemingly) about two hyper-inebriated people that were having sex all night. Based upon Drunk In Love’s bridge, Beyonce and her partner awoke in the kitchen (not our kitchen, which is an important distinction when we think about being familiar with a location) unaware of how they arrived at the kitchen, but it seemed obvious that something sexual had happened “all night.” Based on the bridge, Yonce and her partner were not only “drunk” and “in love,” but they were also incapable of remembering “how this shit happened.” But wait a minute; there is another perspective to take into consideration. We have to take Jay Z’s recollection of the night of drunken love to complete this story.
Mr. Carter emerges onto the record providing not only the male perspective of the aforementioned night, but also (unlike Mrs. Carter) Jay Z provides a detailed account of the drunken love session that lasted “all night.” Based upon Jay Z’s verse in the song, the night transpired like this:
Hold up, Stumbled all in the house time to back up all of that mouth/ That you had all in the car, talking ‘bout you the baddest bitch thus far/ Talking ‘bout you be repping that third, I wanna see all the shit that I heard Know I sling Clint Eastwood, hope you can handle this curve/ Foreplay in the foyer, fucked up my Warhol/ Slip the panties right to the side/ Ain’t got the time to take draws off, on site/ Catch a charge I might, beat the box up like Mike In ‘97 I bite, I’m Ike, Turner, turn up Baby no I don’t play, now eat the cake, Anna Mae Said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!”
Again, when one does a close reading of Jay Z’s lyrics in Drunk In Love you can see that he, (unlike Beyonce) is fully cognizant of the situation at hand, and is capable of giving a full recount of the events that lead them into the kitchen. Beyonce was alone in pondering, “how did this shit happen.” According to Jay Z, Beyonce, “stumbled all in the house,” and it was time for her to “back up all of that mouth,” about how she was the, “baddest bitch thus far.” There was “Foreplay in the foyer” that leads to the damaging of his Andy Warhol painting. The sense of urgency within the situation lead Jay Z to, “slip the panties,” of Beyonce, “right to the side,” because he did not have the “time” to take her “drawers off.” This sexual encounter was happening, “on site.” This then lead Jay Z to reveal the true nature of the sexual encounter, because (in his own words) he felt as if this sexual session could lead him to catching, “a charge.” For those unaware, to potentially, “catch a charge,” means that one is performing an act that can result in legal problems and possible incarceration. Problematically, Jay Z then mentions that he, “beat the box up like Mike,” (as in former Heavy Weight Champion Mike Tyson who was convicted of rape in 1992) which translates into the level in which he punished the vagina (“box” is a derogatory term for female genitalia) of his wife Beyonce. Post Jay Z exposing the listening/viewing audience as to how he is a particular type of heavy weight champ in the sex ring, he then makes the controversial association between he and Beyonce with Ike and Tina Turner. Like Ike and Tina Turner’s Proud Mary, Drunk In Love speaks to the ways in which Jay and Beyonce, “neva eva do nothing nice and easy” in the sexual sphere, according to Jay’s verse they prefer to (like Ike and Tina Turner), “do it nice and ruff.” As Mark Anthony Neal said in a recent blog piece, “We may never know what exactly Mrs. Knowles-Carter and Mr. Carter’s intents were with the song or why they fully felt the need to share as they have,” we do know that when Jay Z made reference to the scene in What’s Love Got to Do with It? (1993), the film adaptation of Ms. Turner’s autobiography I, Tina (1986), when he said, “Baby know I don’t play/ Now eat the cake Anne Mae!” In this particular scene in the film, Ike Turner (played by Lawrence Fishburn) and Tina Turner (played by Angela Bassett) are in the midst of a domestic dispute in a public space. But, for me, the line reminded me of the first time that I had ever seen sexual violence in a film- when Ike Turner’s character rapes Tina Turner in their home recoding studio. Again, to echo Mark Anthony Neal, I have no idea as to why Jay Z chose to go with the Mike Tyson and Ike Turner references in regards to painting the picture of this sexual setting for Drunk In Love, but we do know that those two men were connected to violent sexual experiences with women.
After really thinking about how clear Jay Z was about the entire sexual experience, and how Beyonce, “woke up in the kitchen saying, ‘How the hell did this shit happen,” I took another look at both Jay Z and Beyonce’s lyrics. What I found was that within this song, Beyonce mentions drinking or being drunk 18 times- Jay Z mentions being drunk 0 times. This may explain why Jay Z can fully recall all of the details of the sexual encounter, while Beyonce is wondering how she ended up in a kitchen drunk, again searching for answers to her question, “how the hell did this shit happen.” As I mentioned before, according to the Department of Justice, “Approximately 90 percent of date rapes happen with alcohol involved.” But there is one detail that I failed to focus on; Beyonce did remember something from that night. According to Beyonce, “The last thing that I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding off in that club.” So if, “the last thing” that Beyonce remembers was, “off in that club,” where Beyonce had been drinking, and that the person that she was involved with had her, “faded,” making her, “want,” him and then she awoke in the morning (presumably naked) in a kitchen, there is a possibility that something had been slipped into Beyonce’s drink. Maybe Rohypnol had been put into her alcoholic beverage at the club. “Many victims have reported that after Rohypnol was slipped into their drinks, they blacked out and woke up unsure of what had happened during the course of their blackout. Also, it is important to note that the loss of memory does not necessarily mean a loss of consciousness. Victims can be awake and still experience complete memory loss of the incident. The loss of memory may prevent people from reporting the crime soon enough to be tested for the drug” (Campus Advocacy Network, University of Illinois), or maybe the popular date rape drug GHB was given to her without her knowledge. Whatever the case based on the lyrics, something happened to Beyonce at the club while she was drinking and hours later she had awaken, wondering, “how the hell did this shit happen,” to her.
Now, I know that there will be some people that will read this and say that this is, “just a song,” but I think that there is something dangerous about the promotion of a song that glamorizes being so drunk after leaving a nightclub that you can’t even remember how you ended up in a kitchen in the morning after having sex, “all night.” I wonder what is the message being received by the listener when Jay Z talks about potentially catching, “a case,” for having sex with a woman that “stumbled all in the house?” I am also wondering why did CBS open up the 2014 Grammys, at 8:00pm with an erotic performance of a record about drunk (and potentially drugged) “love,” and felt that censoring the words “hell” and “shit” would make the Beyonce and Jay Z performance suitable for a primetime viewing audience.