[OP-ED] ‘Bow Down’ To Criticism x The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Beyonce’s Latest Single Releases

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Before I delve into the pressing issues at hand, there are two statements that are clear to the American public and that need to be made before reading and/or commenting on my forthcoming opinions: 1) The essence of the independent mind is not what it thinks, but how it thinks (a favorite quote from a favorite author of mine, Christopher Hitchens), and 2) Beyonce’ fans are like innocent prisoners who have been wrongfully locked up for crimes they didn’t commit – enraged with the world and anxious to be let out of their cage (an original). After releasing snippets of her songs “Bow Down” and “I Been On”, the world has been engulfed with opinions all across the horizon on Beyonce’s intentions, beliefs, and downright nerve. Her Beyhive fans immediately appreciated the unfinished material, possibly because they spent all their rent money on a tour with no new music to support the purchase. But people outside of Bey’s crazed, massive fanbase shared more realistic opinions, giving a glimpse at the reality behind Bey’s message and hierarchy in the music world. No one can really give a full opinion just yet simply because the SoundCloud post is just a two-song teaser, but it seems listeners didn’t care about this unpolished aspect and took Bey’s release and ran with it. In a world where popularity on the Internet carries a career, its pretty evident that “Bow Down/I Been On” has shocked everyone outside of the “Beyonce’ fan” zone for a variety of reasons.

Being completely fair and honest, “Bow Down” (produced by Hit-Boy) sounds like a leftover #watchthethrone beat – but that’s not saying its bad at all. The arrangement gives hood and radio-friendly in the same breath, but the extremely cocky lyrics are another story. The repetitive “bow down bitches” line is disheartening for an artist of Beyonce’s caliber, and sets the wrong message for the mainstreamers. Though Beyonce’ has never spoke publicly on camaraderie outside of Destiny’s Child, “Bow Down” debunks every notion that she’ll ever have genuine friendships with any artist outside of her Jay-Z-enhanced clique. Keri Hilson was viciously attacked by the Beyhive and still hasn’t recovered. Ciara fans catch a huge Twitter backlash with every Bey’ comparison. And Keyshia Cole? We won’t even go there – yet. “Bow Down” only makes urban female artists (#keywords) feel even worse about their musical attempts. If I were a budding female R&B artist, I wouldn’t dare look to Bey for an industry friendship after a listen to the song, and I doubt anyone ever will.

Many feminists have outcried the message of the song, and it’s not just because of Bey’s excessive usage of the term “bitches”. What’s more interesting, however, is the amount of anti-feminism critics who have spoken out in Bey’s favor. Yes, women don’t have to always be nice, reserved, and humble, but to tell peers to “bow down bitches” skirts a thin line between self-loathing and hypocritical – another way to isolate her industry successors. Funny how most of them argue the importance of context, but its opposite is highly apparent in “Bow Down”. Jay-Z even vowed to never use the word “bitch” in his songs after the birth of Blue Ivy which now leads me to believe the affirmation doesn’t apply to his wife Beyonce’ – contradictory? Still, the song stands as the most controversial 1:09 clip in a long time – her intentions exactly.

Rolling high, leather and wood / keep it trill, that’s what’s good
Kiss my momma, show them love / pop them bottles in the club
I heard your boo was talking lip / told my crew to smack that trick
Smack that trick, smack that trick / guess what they did, smack that trick

Gold everything: gold-ass chain / gold ass rings, gold-ass fangs
You can see me stunt when you turn on your screen
You can see me stunt when you turn on your screen
I’m bigger than life, the name in the lights/ the number-one chick, I don’t need no hype
Capital B means I’m ’bout that life / the capital B means I’m ’bout that life

I been on, I been on, I been on / tell me who gon’ take me off
Take me off, take me off, take me off / cause I been on

“I Been On” screams The-Dream’s songwriting assist, although produced by Timbaland, Polow Da Don, Sonny Digital (YC’s “Racks On Racks”), and Planet VI (formerly known as R&B duo Rock City). While I give Beyonce’ credit for her unmatched vocals on previous works, I actually appreciate her more when she delves into her rap side. Hip-hop, for Houston-bred Bey’, brings about a new essence to her artistry. Again, her industry predecessors have tried to spit bars on their own songs to a less-than-impressive result, giving Bey’ more of a win here. The only problem with “I Been On” is that is not #returntothespotlight material. It’s evident that the bulk of hip-hop producers on the track plus The-Dream’s influence that the five males wrote Beyonce’s 16 bars. If she helped (which is unlikely given her track record), it was about as minimal as her songwriting on the Ne-Yo-produced “Irreplaceable”. “Kitty Kat” (from her ‘B’Day’ era) is a more powerful example, as Bey’ playfully seduced R&B and hip hop with a ghostwritten 16 bars from Jay-Z. Rap may not be part of Bey’s original artistry package, but it’s a damn good trick to reveal on a rainy day – not as a comeback single. What’s commendable about Beyonce’ on “I Been On” is that her odd approach to feminism includes the notion of playing like the boys play – using a cocky flow to pass along messages about being on top of the game. Still, it’s a far cry from positivity, but it’s boldly creative for a high-tiered vocalist at most.

As a whole, the two snippets are underwhelming from an artist who has spent years releasing songs of great vocal quality. Somehow, the above are excused from that because of Beyonce’s staged comeback. Rush Limbaugh, a conservative political radio show host, chose to express his opinions recently on his show to a huge public outcry. Why? Simply because his opinions about the song were accurate and Bey fans believe that anyone who talks negatively about any of her releases should be put down, whether its true or not. Rush believes that Beyonce’s line of reasoning is such a drastic departure from her Destiny’s Child days that it shouldn’t be supported. While the departure is shocking, you can’t help but wonder that maybe Rush may not fully know his #beyoncehistory, as she’s been hood as long as I can remember. Since Limbaugh’s opinions have been heavily criticized, there are a few truths in his statements – role model Beyonce’ shouldn’t be calling other women “bitches” and the songs really aren’t that great to be given such a hype. Rush’s opinions are not only true to unbiased listeners, but they sadly speak many truths about the negative perception of Black culture. Racially, despite how empowering it may seem on “the inside”, a black female notoriously known as a role model using “bitches” throughout her songs just makes it okay for others to call Black women bitches “on the outside”. I’ll leave it at that.

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And then there’s Keyshia Cole. The #salestroubled R&B artist took to Twitter just minutes after the “Bow Down/I Been On” clip went viral to express her (again) unwarranted opinions on another member of Destiny’s Child. Her argument centers around the idea that Beyonce’s industry camaraderie is fake and her self-righteous image is only to make her look good to the public. Granted, Keyshia explained her thoughts in a very unprofessional manner, there’s also a grain of truth in her sentiments that the Beyhive just couldn’t handle. No matter how hood she may really be, Beyonce’ has a history of keeping a good girl image in the public eye. The fact that said image, possibly crafted by her father and former manager Mathew Knowles, has preceded her musical craft at times and even made her more successful, has been a factor of the product known as ‘Beyonce’ for quite some time. Until recently, Beyonce’ has always been a reserved, humble artist who ignored her critics (both industry and normal people). Usually, a major life event such as childbirth will bring about more happiness in a person, but Bey’s gone back to business and addressing every single person who doubts her – this is the part that Keyshia can’t take.

The above video declares a sad royalty hierarchy that the Beyhive follow – God, then Beyonce’, then Oprah. No family, no husbands and wives, no children – just God, then Beyonce’, then Oprah #inthatorder. As someone who isn’t big on both Beyonce’ or Keyshia Cole, there’s definitely a point in which Beyhive “outsiders” must laugh at the crazed fanbase. To rank an entertainer as the second most-high part of their life is questionable thinking. This makes me ask an important question – do all Beyhive members #bowdown to Beyonce’ first…or even second? By the psychotic string of tweets and absurd dedication, it makes me think that God is second to the Beyhive. And what about the people who don’t believe in anything? The way the Beyhive act makes me think there’s a ‘United House Of Beyonce’ sermon going on every Sunday with “Halo” and “Be With You” as the main, weekly hymns. In this sense, Keyshia’s right to critique Beyonce’s motives because at the end of the day, it doesn’t send a positive message.

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I’m fully convinced that the Beyonce’ who was around for her last four albums and the one who released “Bow Down/I Been On” are two different women. They may be mentally (due to her giving birth to Blue Ivy), but they’re not artistically. For me, the songs are only an alienation to her mainstream roots and an approach to fully win back her obsessively crazed Black audience. There’s no way in hell that either song would match the success of her biggest mainstream hits (“Crazy In Love”, “Single Ladies”), but it’s apparent by now that sales weren’t in Beyonce’s main view – controversy was. ‘4’ (which I like to refer to as #4closure) took a record 19 months to go platinum – a shocking statistic for the Beyhive to self-sting themselves with. The message behind Beyonce’s comeback is a dark departure from the fun-loving artist we all loved at one point. The egotistical line of thinking causes problems for impartial music listeners because it doesn’t give other artists their chance to shine. To imply that artists should bow just isn’t the way to go, which has me thinking the delay of the official release means she’s gone back to the drawing board. Beyonce’s alienated her audiences with just two unfinished snippets, and has made fans of other urban female artists choose sides. There’s still time for #queenbey to bounce back, but it must start with her (and her fans) taking a huge serving of humble pie.

Additional Reading:

The first article to publicly denounce “Bow Down” (source)

The positive impact of “Bow Down” on Beyonce’s Pepsi campaign (source)

SPIN Magazine’s odd take on Keyshia and Rush’s arguments (source)

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