Wednesday 26 October 2016

The single ladies queue up to be Bey's Becky

Beyonce's new album might be a scorned woman's revenge, writes Sarah Caden, or just more brand management

Sarah Caden

Published 01/05/2016 | 02:30

Beyonce on stage with Destiny's Child. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/File Photo
Beyonce on stage with Destiny's Child. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes/File Photo
Rita Ora. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Designer Rachel Roy. Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Beyonce with husband Jay-Z. Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Parkwood Entertainment

Last week, Beyonce's sister, Solange, was photographed smiling. This may seem like a minor thing, of no consequence or significance, but in the narrative of Beyonce's life, that is rarely the case.

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Solange, the stories ran around the smiling photograph, was pleased to be vindicated. Last week's release of Beyonce's Lemonade, a 12-track album with an hour-long video-movie, has been taken to explain why, in May 2014, Solange attacked her brother-in-law Jay-Z in a lift after the New York Met Ball.

The allegation has always been that Solange was defending her sister Beyonce's honour, in the wake of Jay-Z cheating on her. And last week, as Beyonce sang on Lemonade about infidelity, about last chances, about "Becky with the good hair", she seemed to confirm the faithlessness of her husband.

So, Solange was smiling because she was finally vindicated. Or, maybe, she was just smiling. Maybe it had nothing to do with Beyonce, but no, that's not how the narrative goes. And, unlike most people's random, haphazard, contradictory and jumbled experiences that add up to a life, Beyonce's existence seems to have a narrative.

Like an exciting novel, it's carefully controlled, peppered with clues and plot twists, managed revelations and structured consequences, and utterly unlike real life. God knows what the real life of Beyonce is like, or if she even has a life outside of performing, posing for social media and pushing her Queen Bey brand. Last week's Lemonade furore, with its predictable brouhaha over the identity of "Becky", was proof of her power though. Social media, which Beyonce plays like a master puppeteer, became all about her and became the forum by which suspected Beckys rather lamely defended their honour.

First up was Rachel Roy, a fashion designer and former friend of Solange, who has always been the rumoured trigger for the Met Ball elevator altercation. Since CCTV captured Solange kicking and hitting Jay-Z, the story has gone that he was "too close" to Roy at the event, and that this provoked a defence of Beyonce. Certainly, Beyonce was the only one smiling as she, her husband and sister exited the lift that night.

Last week, after the Lemonade film aired on HBO in the States, Roy posted on Instagram: "Good hair don't care, but we will take good lighting, for selfies, or self truths, always. 'Live in the light #nodramaqueens.'" Admittedly, this is garbled, but her key message seems to be, "Screw you, Beyonce." Though it could also be a shag-off message to the online haters who instantly targeted her in defence of Queen Bey, and caused her to take her Instagram account private.

Later, Roy tweeted: "I respect love, marriages, families and strength. What shouldn't be tolerated by anyone, no matter what, is bullying, of any kind."

She may have meant those who attacked her, relentlessly, after the Becky business, but it does draw attention to the fact that there is a bullying element to Beyonce's public airing of what might (if it is real) be private business.

Becky, it should be noted, is a blanket derogatory term for white women. The "good hair" attached with a sneer. For black women, historically, good hair is that which is straight, smooth, and more white-looking. Politically, it's loaded, and in this instance, it's intended to slap down the bitch with whom Jay-Z is supposed to have cheated.

Of course, if Jay-Z was unfaithful to Beyonce, she's entitled to be livid. And so she seems in the Lemonade film, throwing her wedding ring at the camera with a "final warning" of: "If you try that shit again, you're going to lose your wife." But she doesn't belittle him like she belittles the Becky or Beckys. Also, last Wednesday night, on stage, she dedicated her song Halo to him with the words: "I want to dedicate this song to my beautiful husband. I love you so much."

By Friday, however, there were photos of the pair without wedding rings on their fingers. Is this a "conscious uncoupling" in the style of their close friends Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, or is it just more sensation-rigging and plot twists?

Rita Ora was the other woman to get on board the Becky brouhaha. The English singer and judge on The Voice UK, signed with Jay-Z's Roc Nation label in 2008, and, a bit like his other label artist, Rihanna, there have always been rumours of an affair between them. Unproven and utterly denied. And yet, Ora seemed to taunt Beyonce online this week, following Lemonade and the Becky bit.

She posted pictures of herself in a bra embellished with lemons, wearing a J pendant, and in the same red dress Beyonce wore in one of her videos. Ora even put on her Instagram a poster for an Elizabeth Taylor film called Ash Wednesday, about a woman who will go to any self-destructive lengths to win back her husband's unattainable love.

It's possible that Ora, born in 1990, might have had to search for a reference to suit her needs, seemingly to lash back at Beyonce. But if Ora had an affair with Jay-Z - which she again denied last week - then surely she's wounded Beyonce enough.

Or perhaps when it's all being played out so publicly, as though it were a music-and-social media episode of EastEnders, then you forget that there are real people involved.

Because, really, it's all a bit unseemly if it's real life. If Jay-Z, Beyonce's husband of eight years and father of her four-year-old, Blue Ivy, has been so unfaithful, it's rather sad and, well, their private business. Right? But that's all a bit 20th-Century, perhaps.

A 'go, girlfriend!' position might be that Bey was ballsy to call out her cheating man so publicly. A cynical position might be that in the world of Bey and Jay, nothing is sacred. And the worst cynics have always questioned whether their union is for real at all, or just a business deal. Not to mention the suggestions that Blue Ivy isn't their kid.

Then again, maybe issues of reality don't matter. Not when the brand and narrative are going so well.

Sunday Independent

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