Drunk in Love: What Does This Video Say About Male Sexuality?

I wrote a post earlier this year in reference to Beyonce's Super Bowl halftime show in which I asked all kinds of questions about whether her performance was empowering or objectifying. I recalled that post today when I saw a news item about her new video, Drunk in Love, which features her husband, Jay-Z. Out of curiosity about how she is presenting herself now, I decided to watch.

According to an article in the UK's Daily Mail, critics have slammed the video as being too sexual. (It is labelled as explicit, so its content really shouldn't have come as a surprise.) Yes, Beyonce is barely dressed, de rigueur for female pop stars these days. Yes, she is writhing around suggestively in the sand and singing lyrics like:

I've been drinking, I've been drinking
I get filthy when that liquor gets into me
I've been thinking, I've been thinking
Why can't I keep my fingers off you, baby?
I want you, na na
Why can't I keep my fingers off you, baby?
I want you, na na

You can read the rest of the lyrics here. Some people might squirm at the overt sexuality in the lyrics and video, but that is not my concern. The association between liquor and feeling "filthy" is not a good one--and she certainly mentions drinking a lot--but she is showing herself as someone who is sexually assertive and knows exactly what she wants. On that point she certainly seems to be in a position of strength.

Then her husband arrives. This is the point where things go off the rails for me. Suddenly, strong and sensual Beyonce is replaced by a more submissive and fawning Beyonce, making her not unlike the women in other videos, including Justin Timberlake's Suit and Tie which also features her husband. In that video, women in black latex dance suggestively for the barely interested men. In this video, Beyonce, in her barely there bikini, writhes and crawls on her fully-clothed husband who raps his lyrics without even making eye contact with her. She gazes longingly at him while he turns away and says things like:

Hold up, stumble all in the house tryna backup all that mouth
That you had all in the car, talking 'bout you the baddest bitch thus far
Talking 'bout you be repping that verb, wanna see all that shit I heard
Know I sling Clint Eastwood, hope you can handle this curve
Foreplay in the foyer, fucked up my Warhol
Slid the panties right to the side
Ain't got the time to take draws off, on site
Catch a charge I might, beat the box up like Mike
In '97 I bite, I'm Ike, Turner, turn up
Baby no I don't play, now eat the cake, Annie Mae
Said, "Eat the cake, Annie Mae!"...
We sex again in the morning, your breasteses is my breakfast
We going in, we be all night

Explicitness aside, the presence of the word "bitch" and the reference to Ike Turner, notorious abuser of singer Tina Turner, are more than a little unsettling. The lyrics combine with the body language--the aforementioned turning away and the rather possessive grab shown below, again without eye contact--to completely alter the tone and message sent earlier in the video.

The Daily Mail article says of the video that "[t]he couple, who have been married for five years, show off their smoking hot sexual chemistry..." Hmm. That's not what I see. Rather, I see something decidedly more one-sided, given Jay-Z's complete lack of connection with his wife in the video. The whole scene with Jay-Z hews to the heterosexual script that is so common in music videos: woman performs for man, man laps it up and responds only by talking about "sexing" with his "bitch."

Funny that I would be criticizing a Beyonce video for its representation of masculinity, but that is the really troubling element here. From what I've read about Beyonce, she is quite forthright in delivering her messages of female empowerment. It's unfortunate that she condones such a negative and stereotyped depiction of male sexuality which, by its very presence, also serves to weaken her image.

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