I, like billions of other people on this planet, love Beyoncé. I think her music is wonderful, her persona is brilliant, her work ethic is beyond, and I respect the shit out of her dedication to feminism.
Which is why I’m so disappointed that she’s involved in 50 Shades of Grey.
Now look, I know we’ve all got to get paid. I know that Beyoncé’s also got to get paid, and I know Beyoncé wouldn’t be Beyoncé if she didn’t align herself with high-profile brands or films or whomever else she chooses to work with. Beyoncé is a businesswoman. She, as she’s mentioned in the year’s anti-bossy campaign, is the boss. She’s brilliant, and calculated, and hyper aware. Which is why her alignment with 50 Shades… is especially upsetting.
The thing about 50 Shades of Grey is that it’s the worst. The trailer alone sees the regurgitation of a sad, tired trope: boy meets girl, girl’s worth is validated by said boy because he wants to have sex with her, and boy and girl descend into a warped relationship that blurs the lines between consent and lack thereof (hint: there are no blurred lines, but thanks again for the message, EL James). Members of the BDSM community have been more than vocal about what 50 Shades gets wrong about their scene, while repeated persons have re-iterated that the book’s “no means yes” theme is dangerous and damaging (and badly written).
Beyoncé’s theme is the opposite. 2013’s self-titled record was a celebration of love – or, at the very least, a celebration of consensual sex between two adults. Songs on the album (‘Drunk in Love,’ ‘Blow,’ and ‘Partition’ especially) not only celebrated sex, but female sexuality as a whole. Through these songs, Beyoncé promotes women being confident, proud, sexual beings – a message she re-affirms through ‘Flawless’ and the speech delivered by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (“We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”) At no point on the record do we hear Beyoncé champion the idea that women like Ana should find their worth through the attention of abusive men like Christian Grey. When she sings, “bow down bitches” that’s not what she means.
And I get that ‘Crazy In Love’ (the song used in the trailer) is old, and I get that lyrical content shifts dramatically over a decade. I also get that Beyoncé may as well milk the cash cow since somebody has to (and will). But, Beyoncé is above 50 Shades of Grey. At her recent Toronto tour date, I watched as teen girls sang along to ‘Pretty Hurts’ like somebody finally understood them; as 50 000 people cheered when “feminist” flashed onscreen. But I also get that feminism means that Beyoncé can do whatever the fuck she wants, and that as a boss, she can lend her music to something beneath each and every one of us, and reap the monetary rewards. I get that feminism means having choices, and that it’s too bad if we don’t like somebody else’s.
But that doesn’t mean that Beyoncé’s choice to involve herself with this franchise can’t make me sad. 50 Shades of Grey goes against almost every aspect of Bey’s most recent album (and message as a whole) and yet, because of a slowed-down (great) song, she, and part of her work, will be associated with a story that justifies and romanticises abuse, violence, and terrible writing.
But hey: maybe in the next trailer, we’ll see Beyoncé and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie swoop in to tell Ana that she doesn’t need Christian Grey. Or at the very least, that she was flawless even before Christian Grey made her his submissive.