Some Initial Thoughts on Beyonce’s New “Why Don’t You Love Me?” Video
Beyonce recently released a new video for her funkspolitation-style track “Why Don’t You Love Me?”. While everyone seems to be focusing on her continued use of the pinup aesthetic, I’m going to argue that this is, like “Single Ladies” a video that actually critiques the standard heteropatriarchial attitudes toward women that a superficial viewing might think it repeats/endorses.
So, how is this video NOT about a woman trying to perfect the “feminine disciplines” (as Sandra Bartky would say) in order to make herself desirable to the heteropatriarchial gaze? Let me list the ways:
1. Beyonce is black (duh, right?). All these midcentury pinup/homemaker images are roles occupied–at least in visual media culture of the time–entirely by white women. Remember, these images hearken back to an era where Jim Crow was the law. That black women could be seen as ideal sexual objects, or as bourgeois homemakers (rather than “the help”), is a significant departure from midcentury racial ideology and practice. So there’s something subversive about B even occupying these roles/images.
2. Look at all MY Grammys: In the most Donna-Reed-esque outfit of them all, Beyonce dusts off her Grammys…and it’s not just a couple, but a whole mantle full. Showing us her clutch of Grammys, Beyonce lets us know that she has accomplished more than 99% of all male musicians. So, included in the reasons to love her is that she’s about the most accomplished popular musician of her generation. She’s not just asking us to love her as object of our scopophilia, because, well, we already love her as a musician (hence all the Grammys).
3. The song opens with a threat to leave: “I’d hate to see you home and the kids and even the dog are gone…”. The narrator of this song is not begging here, she’s issuing an ultimatum (this also hearkens back to Bessie Smith’s “Sam Jones Blues,” which A. Davis talks about extensively in her book…). “I even put money in the bank account, don’t need nobody to help me out”, or I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T.
4. “I’m so easy to love” really means “I’m awesome”.
5. She could be read as addressing not a particular lover, but patriarchy. She’s saying “I’m awesome, I do everything you (hegemony) asks me to, but I’m still not valued or appreciated as a full participant in this relationship (i.e., society).”
6. This may be a stretch, but, I think it’s something we need to consider more seriously: So, there’s the black lace dominatrix style outfit that evokes Madonna. Could Beyonce be asking us: Look at all my Grammys; why don’t you take me as seriously as Madonna? I have more awards than she does, but why no love from the critics and the academics? There was a mini-Madonna-studies industry in the 1980s, and Gaga also gets a ton of love from “serious” cultural critics and academics…but Bey gets nowhere near that attention, despite being (as Yeezy well knows—but, Im’a let me finish…) as artistically accomplished as any female pop musician.