Interview with the Beyoncé Professor.

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Kevin Allred, whose debut book Ain’t I A Diva: Beyoncé & the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy, was released in June, has been teaching all things Queen Bey since 2010 in his university class Politicising Beyoncé. Here he speaks about The Lion King star’s politics, her Netflix doco Homecoming, Taylor Swift, and examining Beyoncé’s work through a black feminist lens.

First of all, why is a white man writing about Beyoncé?

I talk about my identity [as a white gay man growing up in a religious household] throughout the book. I’m always trying to be aware of it, whether through teaching or writing. I tried to come to a balance of leaving all these sources for people to kind of pick up and read with a little bit of analysis at the same time so it’s not just me shoving down everyone’s throat a perspective of Beyoncé, so that’s how I negotiated my whole identity in the mix.

Many people think Beyoncé became “political” with the release of “Formation” and Lemonade, but can you explain how she was “subtly politicizing” herself, as you write in the book, and her work long before that?

One of the things I wanted to do with the book is give an overall reading of Lemonade in one chapter and show how pieces of that were present earlier. Whether Beyoncé was trying to be super intentional with it or not, I think it’s part of her artistic process, you can now look back and see little pieces that come together in this now epic, iconic visual album, completely cohesive in the way she presented Lemonade to the world. That’s how I was teaching [Beyoncé’s work in my class] before—Lemonade came out, that makes it possible to see those other pieces now that we have Lemonade to use as a, like a key to the map. Now that you have the key you can see the little pieces in the other places, too.

Why do you omit Beyoncé’s first album, Dangerously in Love, from the book?

It’s not because I don’t like the songs or the music, but for me, I think she comes into her own as a creative director with B-Day… I wanted to make a claim as her as a creator, her as an artist, whereas with Dangerously in Love it felt more like a piecemeal album that she didn’t have much control over as producer, director… That’s why we just look at those [albums] from 2006 onward [in the book].

Beyoncé’s 2018 performance at Coachella and the recent Netflix documentary chronicling it, Homecoming, incorporate the big band, stepping and, indeed, homecoming rituals of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Beyoncé says in the doco that she missed out on uni but that Destiny’s Child was her college experience. The introduction to your book is entitled “Schoolin’ Life”. So how has Beyoncé incorporated her life experiences and education into her career and Homecoming specifically?

Homecoming is this huge culmination. I was always really taken with that song “Schoolin’ Life”, the bonus track from the 4 album. She says “Who needs a degree when you’re schoolin’ life?” as part of the chorus; it blends experience with what we’d consider the academic. Just because you went to school doesn’t mean you know more, and if you didn’t, there’s no correlation.. With Homecoming she brought it full circle. She’s celebrating HBCU culture but she’s also dropping these references throughout, all these different writers: Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, a few of the people that I mention in the book, too, which was cool for me to see… because that’s what I was always intending to do with the class and now she’s taken this over and she’s going to show us herself.

Homecoming follows a theme of Beyoncé infiltrating traditionally white spaces—the Super Bowl, the CMAs, the Louvre, Coachella and arguably Netflix itself—with her increasingly politicised artistry. Can you speak a bit about that?

I think she’s had a long-term strategy. Artists can come out and be very political right off the bat but it might mean that they sacrifice radio play or notoriety… I think Beyoncé knew that so she kept a lot of stuff hidden under the layers. So when she gets to the point of being able to go to the Super Bowl styled after the Black Panthers she has this huge platform that no other artist has. Now is the time to drop these little bombs. She might lose some followers or sacrifice some people buying her music but that’s not going to affect her in the long run anymore. I don’t think it’s that Beyoncé wasn’t thinking about [being political in the beginning of her career], it’s that she wanted to achieve that level [of fame] so that she could reach even more people because people can be turned off by those initial politics. Which in itself is a form of education: to piss [people] off and get them to say, now I’m not going to listen to Beyoncé. It draws out these questions of why are you mad that she did this? It gets into these real issues of racism that still haven’t been dealt with. I’m into calling her an educator now.

What do you think about Taylor Swift coming out with a similar strategy with her “You Need to Calm Down” video and encouraging people to vote last year after receiving criticism for being “apolitical”during the 2016 U.S. presidential election?

I think Taylor Swift has copied Beyoncé in every strategy for a long time! [laughs] … She’s talking about politics now but I don’t think she’s doing it in a smart way… It feels like Beyoncé starts the trend and Taylor comes to the same conclusion later and often gets a lot of credit for it whereas Beyoncé doesn’t. That replays the race issues within feminist movements [that I discuss in his book.]

This brings us to the “wine pairing” part of the interview. I’m going to say a Beyoncé song, and you’re going to offer the black feminist analysis that goes with it. “Crazy in Love”

This one’s tough ’cause it’s from the album that I don’t discuss [in the book]! I would pair that with something to do with love, like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

“Single Ladies”

Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness.

“Diva”

We go straight to the title [of the book]. I pair “Diva” with the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech that Sojourner Truth is known for but actually [it] is not likely to have happened with those words. It’s kind of a reimagining of the speech. I love to think about the idea of a diva and the way Beyoncé constructs that song next to Sojourner Truth being a public speaker and activist. 

“Run the World (Girls)”

An article Cathy Cohen wrote called “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics”. It’s about coalitions coming together and that song—or at least the video—emphasises that. Also “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. The video always reminds me of Tina Turner in Mad Max [Beyond Thunderdome].

“***Flawless”

Well obviously Beyoncé paired Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche’s [“We Should All Be Feminists” with the song]. It’s interesting to watch the speech that she gives and read the essay and see how Beyoncé’s remixed it. What does she leave out, what does she take and rearrange? That one Beyoncé’s done for us.

“7/11”

I like to think of [7/11] as a celebration of dancing. Alice Walker has a book of poetry called Hard Times Require Furious Dancing. Her prologue to that has some really important stuff to relate to “7/11”.

“Formation”

There’s so much. One interesting one is Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, which is a choreopoem so it’s a song, a play, choreography. I think Beyoncé brings all those elements to “Formation” and the rest of Lemonade which are interesting to look at next to that piece of work.

“Freedom”

There’s a novel by Sherley Anne Williams called Dessa Rose which had kind of disappeared from literature cannons but has been revived in the last few years. It gets into the idea of what freedom means and I think put next to Beyoncé singing “Freedom” creates some interesting conversations.

“Apeshit”

I have to go with June Jordan, her essay [collection] Civil Wars. She talks about being polite and civility and I think that pairs well with the idea of being in the Louvre and not disrespecting the art [per] se but challenging the idea of respectability.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Elsewhere: [HuffPost] The Unbearable White Womanhood of Taylor Swift.

[National Park Service] Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?

[Duke University Press] Punks, Bulldaggers & Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics.

[TED] We Should All Be Feminists.

Beyoncé Makes Us Want to Be Better People.

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This article was originally published on The Vocal.

By now I’m sure most of us have seen and heard LEMONADE, Beyoncé’s latest visual album and perhaps her most personal in which she utilises unashamedly black imagery to tell stories of being let down by men, supporting and supported by women, civil rights, hope, forgiveness, and love.

To the naked eye, these themes seemingly came out of nowhere but Beyoncé has always imbued her work—and her activism—with them. For example, Bey co-founded Chime for Change, a foundation that amplifies the voices of women and girls in marginalised communities across the world, and she built a homeless shelter in her hometown of Houston. On her website, Bey addresses recent anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina, a state her Formation World Tour recently visited, striking a balance between speaking out for what she believes in and making bank. In 2013, she and Jay Z were seen at a vigil for slain black teen Trayvon Martin and gave $1.5m to Black Lives Matter.

Beyoncé centres Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and the mothers of other young black men murdered at the hands of police on LEMONADE. Alongside them are Serena Williams, Quvenzhané Wallis, Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya, black women who’ve been demonised by the largely white media. “Formation”, released in February, was perhaps Beyoncé’s most contentious song and video to date with unapologetic blackness, Hurricane Katrina symbolism and a young black boy dancing before a militarised police force taking pride of place and thus drawing the ire of pro-police protesters. To emphasise her point, her SuperBowl halftime show performance the following day saw her all-black female dancers don natural hair and Black Panther costumes.

Her most recent visual album not only throws back to a time before paparazzi and social media when artists used their medium to tell their personal stories but demonstrates that vulnerability and absolution are virtues that many mere mortals lack. On LEMONADE, though, Beyoncé shatters the illusion of herself as the untouchable mythic goddess we’ve seen on “***Flawless” and “Diva” and reveals her humanity in lyrics such as “I ain’t too perfect to ever feel this worthless” from “Hold Up”. While the album is no doubt revolutionary, it’s not the first time Beyoncé has peppered her work with hints to her personal life. On 2011’s “Countdown” she sings about trying to get pregnant, and miscarriage and postpartum depression are themes on “Heaven” and “Mine”, respectively, from 2013’s self-titled visual album, which set the stage for LEMONADE.

Beyoncé has always been an exemplar of humility and humanity. She remained poised as her sister Solange went to town on Jay Z in that elevator incident at 2014’s Met Ball, later incorporating it into Nicki Minaj’s remix of “***Flawless”. She resists the urge to vocalise what Kanye West says—and everyone else thinks—when she’s repeatedly looked over for awards, instead funneling that rage and indignance into game-changing masterpieces like Beyoncé and LEMONADE to prove just how innovative she is. We all know someone who says they’re gonna do things that never eventuate: Beyoncé shows us the virtue of staying mum on something until we’re ready to put it out into the universe. Beyoncé bides her time, not speaking on issues she doesn’t feel she’s knowledgeable enough about or topics people may not be ready to hear from her until she is well-positioned enough for her ideas to have maximum impact.

She seldom grants interviews, indicating that she’s reached an echelon of fame where her facade alone expresses all she needs and wants it to. When Bey does speak she leaves an impression, as they did when she responded to the furore in a rare interview for Elle magazine. She said, “Anyone who perceives my message as anti-police is completely mistaken. I have so much admiration and respect for officers and the families of officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe. But let’s be clear: I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things. If celebrating my roots and culture during Black History Month made anyone uncomfortable, those feelings were there long before a video and long before me.”

For anyone who tried to invalidate her words, as so often occurs when black women are speaking, she reiterated it with equal parts dignity and impact by selling Boycott Beyoncé merchandise at her Formation World Tour.

So how can we apply Beyoncé’s fount of grace, creativity and ingenuity to our own lives? Fans have been inspired to use her work as a jumping off point to make their own art. Writer and educator Candice Benbow has published the LEMONADE Syllabus, a collection of works that perhaps inspired and as lenses through which we can better understand the album. Rutgers University professor Kevin Allred teaches the class Politicising Beyoncé, with a book to follow. Beyoncé courses are also offered at other universities across America. There’s Bey Dance, an inclusive dance class emanating in Melbourne and with branches now in Adelaide and Perth. Donating to causes we’re passionate about is yet another way we can do the work of Our Lord and Saviour Beyoncé, not to mention taking the lessons of LEMONADE as gospel.

Let’s also remember, though, that Beyoncé has the luxury of a million dollar empire behind her, a full staff, and access to media to portray her best self to us. And as much as Beyoncé is a champion of women of colour the recent controversy over her clothing line Ivy Park being made in Sri Lankan sweatshops shows a reluctance to stand up for brown women outside of the U.S.

Black feminist scholar bell hooks recently criticised Beyoncé for the capitalism inherent in her work, particularly on LEMONADE. Many of her “empowerment” anthems, such as “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Independent Women”, “Diva” and “Girls (Who Run the World)”, are indeed about capitalism. But whereas some of her earlier tracks have been less subtle, when Bey sings about money these days, the focus is increasingly on self-sufficiency (“6 Inch”, “Formation”) and financial independence from a partner (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”) which are laudable lessons.

A black woman as influential as Bey is bound to have her haters but increasingly she’s thriving on constructive criticism, checking her privilege, giving back to her community and growing as an artist and as a person. Through her music, activism and philanthropy Beyoncé inspires us, too, to be better people.

Elsewhere: [Rolling Out] Beyoncé Builds $7 Million Housing Complex for Houston Homeless.

[Beyoncé] Equality NC Works to Prove “Y’All Means All”.

[Billboard] Tidal to Donate $1.5 Million to Black Lives Matter, Social Justice Groups.

[Elle] Beyoncé Wants to Change the Conversation.

[Issuu] LEMONADE Syllabus.

[Bey Dance]

[Daily Life] Beyoncé Clothing Line Made by “Sweat Shop Labourers on $8.50 a Day”.

Image via Online Academic Community.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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I’ve started writing for Paste Wrestling about quotas being the only way World Wrestling Entertainment will diversify, that supporting WWE financially may mean supporting the Trump administrationwhy they need a women’s Royal Rumble match and the inequality that still remains in women’s wrestling.

I also wrote about shine theory in WWE. [Intergender World Champs]

And I attended Donald Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March in Washington D.C. and wrote about it for SBS Life.

I’m at Writers Bloc musing about the guilt that comes when the work isn’t and the obligatory leaving New York essay. 

How Carrie Fisher became the face of the Women’s March. [Vanity Fair]

Women filmgoers are largely responsible for Passengers flopping. But has Hollywood stopped to realised why we’re sick of rapey storylines and how we express satisfaction with our money? [Bibliodaze]

Beyonce, Kim, Taylor and Trump: how celebrity changed in 2016. [The Ringer]

Patriots Day is the first movie of Trump’s America:

“Such films are perfect vehicles for a Trumpian understanding of the world, one in which there are clear winners and clear losers, where environmental concerns disappear and the virility of the male ego (and, by extension, the American self-image) matters above all else. Where root causes of conflict go unaddressed; where nuance and reading and knowledge are denigrated as the provenance of intellectual sissy fools. These films ‘flatten journalism into a GIF,’ Nicholson argues. ‘They frighten me.'” [Buzzfeed]

Finding solace in the Final Girl as an abuse survivor. [Birth Movies Death]

How My Favorite Murder grants courage to survivors of violence. [Buzzfeed]

Image via Twitter.

My Favourite Articles That I Wrote in 2016.

2016, it’s fair to say, was a pretty shit year for humanity in general. For me personally, though, it was pretty good. I’ve published the most freelance work I ever have, and I’m writing this from New York City, where I’ve been seeing out the apocalypse (the Mayans were wrong: 2016 is the end of their calendar and, thus, the world) for the past two months. Here are some of my favourite things I’ve published this year.

“Beyoncé Makes Us Want to Be Better People” & “The Kardashians Are Better Than You”The Vocal.

Some of the most fun I’ve had writing was for The Vocal and I think these were two of my best pieces. I love writing about controversial issues and controversial women, and these two subjects certainly tick those boxes.

“Kim Kardashian: Our Modern-Day Monroe”, The Big Smoke.

Similarly, what’s more controversial than comparing perhaps the most reviled woman in contemporary culture with the iconic, though equally disdained, Marilyn Monroe?

“In Defence of Eva Marie”Calling Spots.

And in the wrestling world, who is more controversial than Total Divas star Eva Marie? I wrote in defence of her for Calling Spots magazine.

“Whorephobia & Misogyny in Wrestling: Still Real to Me, Dammit”, Harlot.

Short-lived feminist site Harlot let me write about what a travesty it was that woman wrestler Chyna wasn’t inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. She died a month later.

“The State of Women’s Wrestling”SBS Zela.

Writing for SBS’s now-shuttered women’s sports site Zela was one of the defining moments in my career. A writer and editor I’ve long admired (but who I thought didn’t even know I existed!) recommended me to Zela editor Danielle Warby to cover the women’s wrestling renaissance. My favourite piece was an overview of the year in women’s wrestling up to that point in one of my last articles for the site.

“Nia Jax: Not Like Most Girls”, “Smack Talker! Daniel Bryan’s Tiresome Vocal Misogyny” &  “A Woman’s Place Should Be in the White House—And in the Cell”Intergender World Champs.

With Zela and Harlot shutting down, I was without a place to write about women’s wrestling for a time. Then along came Intergender World Champs, for which I’ve written an assortment of things.

“Why Celebrities Prefer Empowerment to Feminism”Daily Life.

I’d long been thinking about “women’s empowerment” and what it even means, and I got to write about it for my first piece for Daily Life, an outlet I’d been trying to crack for years.

“Trading in the Beauty Economy”feminartsy.

I’d been pushing words around in this piece for ages and feminartsy allowed me to publish it.

“The James Deen Allegations: How Porn Sets the Example for Responding to Sexual Assault”Archer.

My first piece for Archer was a look at the rape allegations against James Deen and what mainstream industries can learn from porn’s response to them.

“This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet”Junkee.

Getting paid to write about things you enjoy doing is a pretty good gig.

“Women of The People VS. OJ Simpson, The Big Smoke.

Ditto.

“Why An Australian Woman Felt Compelled to Go Door-to-Door Campaigning for Hillary Clinton”Daily Life.

Though not my last published piece for 2016, what better way to cap off a tumultuous year than by writing about volunteering for Hillary Clinton?!

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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The female legacy of Ghostbusters[Kill Your Darlings]

Leslie Jones’ role in the reboot is a win for diversity but also a loss for diversity. [The Toast]

“All of Beyoncé’s career has been leading up to Lemonade, including often overlooked songs such as ‘Black Culture,’ ‘Grown Woman,’ and ‘Creole.’ ‘***Flawless’ and ‘Superpower’ are the preface to ‘Formation,’ ‘Jealous’ the prequel to the mid-sections of Lemonade. ‘Irreplaceable’ stands in the doorway filing its nails somewhere between ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ and ‘I Ain’t Sorry.’ ‘Freakum Dress’ is the PG-13 sister of ‘6 Inch.'” [Spark]

Taylor Swift’s feminist evolution. [Billboard]

Margot Robbie’s Vanity Fair cover story has sparked calls to stop getting middle aged men to write lecherous cover stories on famous women:

“Let’s allow women to write about women for a little while. Maybe then we can swap the prevalent illusions of femininity for realistic portraits of women as complex human characters.” [The Walrus]

Playing Pokemon Go as a black man. [Medium]

Women only watch wrestling for the hot guys, right? [Wrestling Sexism]

The rise of cripface on TV. [LA Times]

Why being an ally is no longer enough. [Marie Claire]

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Does Orange is the New Black buy into the “bury your gays” trope?

OITNB, conversely, uses Poussey’s death to illustrate exactly the issue that ‘Bury Your Gays’ seeks to highlight. Big, unchecked organisations can erase marginalised people without a second thought, and the grinding, faceless mechanisms of bureaucracy are capable of cruelties far beyond what any individual could commit. OITNB kills Poussey in order to tell this story.” [Vulture]

Masterchef and other cooking shows leave vegetarians and vegans out in the cold. [Kill Your Darlings]

“A man’s appetite can be hearty, but a woman with an appetite is always voracious: her hunger always overreaches, because it is not supposed to exist. If she wants food, she is a glutton. If she wants sex, she is a slut. If she wants emotional care-taking, she is a high-maintenance bitch or, worse, an ‘attention whore’: an amalgam of sex-hunger and care-hunger, greedy not only to be fucked and paid but, most unforgivably of all, to be noticed.” [Hazlitt]

Images via Buzzfeed, Netflix.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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I wrote about how Beyoncé makes us want to be better peoplethe feminism of Bad Neighbours 2 and pop culture as a form of self-care. [The Vocal, Bitch Flicks, Feminartsy]

What Kim Kardashian learnt from the O.J. Simpson trial and how she and Nicole Brown Simpson are more alike than we realise. [Can I Live?]

How Me Before You gets disability, assisted suicide and sex wrong. [HuffPo]

The racist history of the pit bull. [Fusion]

This is why women are delaying pregnancy. [ABC]

The rise and fall of Winona Ryder. [Hazlitt]

Would the women of Jane Austen be at home on reality TV? [The Atlantic]

The alluring history of makeup application and YouTube beauty tutorials. [Kill Your Darlings]

Reconciling Zayn Malik’s Muslim heritage. [Matter]

Rocky, Superman, Muhammad Ali and white supremacy. [MTV]

We shouldn’t be asking politicians if they’re feminists: we should be asking if their policies are feminist. [Daily Life]

For more feminist reads, check out the 97th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Zero at the Bone]

Image via BGR.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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I wrote in defence of Eva Marie.

From Sir Mix-A-Lot to Taylor Swift to LEMONADE: on the origin of Becky. [Fusion]

bell hooks’ criticisms of LEMONADE and black femininity. [bell hooks institute]

Janet Mock responded smartly. [Facebook]

Feministing hosts a roundtable on the topic. 

And with LEMONADE, Beyonce says “boy, bye” to black respectability. [Fusion]

Women-only train carriages: creating a safe space for women or not doing enough to curb the predatory behaviour of men? [Sheilas]

How Jane the Virgin deals with money. [Think Progress]

George Michael’s “black” musical history. [Slate]

How social media can increase organ donations. [NYTimes]

Why do women love Chris Evans so much? [Buzzfeed]

Ronan Farrow on why the media needs to hold Woody Allen accountable to allegations of child sex abuse against his daughter and Farrow’s sister. [THR]

Chelsea Handler writes in defence of being single. [Motto]

Justin Bieber and the surveillance of celebrities. [MTV]