It’s been uncharacteristically quiet here at JadeTPerry.com, so let me explain why. On February 6th, 2016, Queen Bey released her latest (and in my opinion, most epic and socially conscious) video, ‘Formation’.
Suffice it to say… I was hype…
Beyonce was making a very clear statement. Her video was simultaneously a celebration of Black life & joy, a cry out against police brutality, a nod to Black culture specifically as expressed in New Orleans, a photographic hearkening to the ways government failed Black people in Hurricane Katrina. This video incorporated Black queer culture, encouragements for Black femmes to #slay, and THEN ended with the drowning of a cop car.
It didn’t take long for both the think pieces and social media critiques to begin:
Beyonce was problematic because [insert diatribe about her support of capitalism given the line “the best revenge is your paper”, insert diatribe about the ways the lyrics “did not match” the imagery, insert diatribe about…] There were some very solid critiques / analyses offered in regards to the art (favorites including Shantrelle Lewis’piece for Slate.com, Dr. Yaba Blay’s work on Colorlines.com, Dr. Zandria Robinson’s post on NewSouthNegress.com)
However, meaning-making patterns around the art and the artist have seemed to morph into what I now identify as a “dragging-fest” (forms of continual one-upmanship through written word, gifs, memes, etc.) Yet in the busy-ness of cranking out critical analyses and peppering pages with “reads” (pun intended), it seemed we (myself, included) had not given more than a few days (hours, even) to actually sit with Beyonce’s musical choices and / or artistic work. Moreover, I had not seen much of this work being done by artists, musicians, and creatives.
I took a couple of days to let the social media blocks simmer down and to discern whether or not it was worth adding my .02 to an already saturated topic…
Flash forward to the 2016 Grammy’s where Kendrick “Chakra Balancing” Lamar performed. for. his. life. (And if you haven’t seen it… pause, and view it)
Again, suffice it to say, I was hype. Let’s be honest: most of my readers already know how I feel about Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. There is an in-the-works series happening on this platform to discuss To Pimp a Buttefly. I knew Kendrick was going to come with art that, as Nina Simone described, “reflected the times”. But I couldn’t have guessed what that interpretation would look like and when I saw it, I was absolutely moved.
When I woke up the next morning, there were additional critiques on the work he’d done, why it was problematic (to the tune of: a) Kendrick primarily situates Black men in his work, and b) Kendrick signifies a lot of respectability politics in his music / performance art). There were also (let me be proactively clear here) valid questions about how misogyny gave Kendrick a “pass” from the dragging-fest and shade that Beyonce received for Formation. Peers, colleagues, and friends raised (again) these points and questions; conversations that need to be furthered as time goes on. But again, I realized that it didn’t take more than a couple of days to begin analyzing. Very little commentary took a multi-faceted look at both pieces of performance art sans the other. In comparison pieces, very little commentary looks at the respective arcs of both of their careers and how that may have impacted the reception of both performance art pieces. I have yet to see a piece on how the mediums (film versus live performance) affects our reception of the messages. We could look into why hip hop / trap music genres work for these kinds of messages (cue L.H. Stallings, 2013). There was little on what musicians were saying about the music industry itself in their art. The musical and theatrical purpose of the band’s placement seemed overlooked after K.L’s live performance, though they were also an integral part of the imagery that Kendrick was asking us to sit with. Those notes become clearer if we choose to engage the art and dialogue with artists.
We consume media and artistry and the focus becomes thinking about it before feeling it.
We consume media and artistry faster than we can actually sit with it and let it speak to us.
We consume media and artistry faster than we have respectful dialogue to understand what the artist’s messaging is and seeing how our reception of the message depends on (but is not limited to) the artist, the medium (live, film, etc), the genres, and the arc of that artist’s respective career over time (not to mention our own mood and ethos at the time).
We analyze media faster than we can learn the lyrics to the media we’re analyzing.
The voices of the artists, the creatives, and those that write primarily about arts & entertainment often get lost. It feels rushed and hurried at the low end of the spectrum and disrespectful at the high end.
India.Arie writes about a time she was “dragged” in a series of essays surrounding what she calls SkinGate2013: the accusations she faced regarding skin lightening / bleaching on her SoulBird album cover. While the circumstances are vastly different as Kendrick or Bey, what these artists have in common is that they create art that speaks to their own sociocultural identities and also signifies to the Black community. What’s also common is that they are all performing artists. India.Arie writes about her experiences:
“The most important artists, the most creative, the most imaginative artists, are the most sensitive, and they are generally self-medicating just to MAKE IT through! True artists have MAGIC and LIGHT that people are rightfully drawn to. When too many hands grab at such a delicate thing, the light is extinguished…”
How do I know this is true? Because I know what it is to be an artist in my own lived experience. Of course, I’ve never reached the caliber of Kendrick & Bey! But in order to give an authentic response to their work as of late, I have to call forth that side of myself as well. In a recent and public Facebook status, I mused:
“I was trained in a Theater tradition where being the “triple threat” (singing, dancing, and acting) was the lens. I was a Creative Writer, focusing on Poetry, before I ever wrote a think piece.
And here is what I know about art: Your art reflections where YOU are in your internal process and evolution, and your art is a byproduct of love for self and love for your community. It’s amazing to read the analyses and critiques, but at the same time I’m sitting with their contributions as artists and as the primary makers and creatives of the content we’re critiquing.
As Rev. Dr. Lee Butler Jr. states(1), “Black rage is expressed in Black creativity”, and if we don’t want anyone policing what our Black rage looks like, I’m not sure why we’re so interested in dragging Bey or Kendrick for what it looks like in their lives.
“Our faves can be problematic”(2). And I’m grateful for the ways that that is lovingly & creatively ‘called out’. But there’s a difference between asking for accountability and dragging folk”.
So, I want to pivot here just a bit from the artist themselves. I want to hear the thoughts of other musicians, art historians, ethnomusicologists, creatives, artists, singers, and makers (I know many are still breaking down the performances and that’s okay; we actually can wait). I want to pivot here and ask a few questions that I hope you will engage: When and how do we find constructive ways of holding artists accountable in ways that don’t dissuade them from creating in ways that attempt to speak to us? When and how do we also find constructive ways of holding other consumers-of-art accountable in both their analysis and their appreciation of artistic works? Finally, what weight do we give expertise in writing specifically for and about musical and art itself?
(1) Butler, Lee. “Black Rage”. Visionary Care: Black Mental Health and Economic Justice [Conference]. Chicago, IL. 12 Sep. 2015.
(2) From a public post by Danielle Stevens, Visionary behind ‘This Bridge Called Our Health’
Image Credit: CreateHerStock.com