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Beyoncé shouldn't "Bow Down" to criticism. (This time.)

Posted by Scott Kearnan  March 27, 2013 01:28 PM

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Hear ye, hear ye, Queen Bey. Your castle is showing some cracks.

Beyoncé is still working on her next album, but she recently dropped an anticipation-building "buzz track" on her website - "Bow Down" - that has some critics beseeching her highness to take her ego down a peg. The song is a jumbled whoosh of chopped and screwed beats over which Beyoncé pays tribute to her hometown of Houston - and to herself. "Bow down, [rhymes-with-witches]," she commands serf-like listeners over and over again.

This hasn't gone over well. The backlash has it that Beyoncé sounds cocky, arrogant, self-celebratory. So basically "Bow Down" sounds like every song that, say, her rapper husband has recorded (to great acclaim). Except Beyoncé has baby-making parts best suited for modesty and convents. Got it. Just wanted to make sure we're all on the same page.

First, take a listen:

It's not a very good song. But it got people talking. Keyshia Cole found it anti-woman. Wendy Williams thought it was an undignified ego trip. Brandy just doesn't like it.

Bear in mind that I'm no die-hard Beyoncé fan. I loved her in the Destiny's Child days ("Jumpin' Jumpin' = JAM), but her solo career? Meh. She's hugely talented, but has started to embody just how boring overstimulation can be. And that one National Anthem debacle aside, she tends to coast on toadying, too-generous reviews: like the boot-licking media afterglow of her sloppy, farcical Super Bowl halftime show. (There, I said it. You'll find my Twitter handle in the upper-right corner of your window; please use proper spelling in all death threats.)

But I have to defend Beyoncé over "Bow Down." For two reasons.

One: if it hadn't already crossed your mind that Beyoncé might be a wee bit narcissistic, then I really. Just. Can't. Beyoncé nicknamed herself Sasha Fierce. Beyoncé sashays across stages wearing ensembles designed by Alexander McQueen for NASA. Beyoncé burps fireworks, and her toilet paper is blinged out like glittery MySpace wallpaper circa 2004. Okay, maybe not that. But Beyoncé did tell GQ last month that she maintains a temperature-controlled digital archive of her every interview, performance, photo shoot, and blessed waking moment. Not-so-subtle subtext: Beyoncé really likes attention and thinks quite highly of herself. If "Bow Down" is the moment where her ego suddenly jumped the shark for you, then la-dee-da, Mother Teresa.

In fact, the image used to promote the track - Beyoncé as a tiara-topped toddler, surrounded by enough trophies to give Honey Boo Boo pageant envy - suggests that (for once) she's not taking herself too seriously. She's showing a cheekiness here that is actually kind of refreshing.

But here's the other, more important thing: anthems of chest-thumping bravado are nothing new in popular music, and particularly not in hip hop. "Bow Down" producer Hit-Boy (modest moniker!) has already worked on plenty of songs for Kanye West, Chris Brown, and Beyoncé's own husband, Jay-Z: not a crew known for being demure wallflowers. And a certain amount of braggadocio ("I'm bigger, better, richer than the rest") is a common trope in the genre.

A few pearls from hubby Jay-Z's back catalogue, please:

"I'm a pimp in every sense of the word, [female I respect]." - from "Big Pimpin'"
"I'm the new Sinatra, and... since I made it here I can make it anywhere, yea, they love me everywhere." - from "Empire State of Mind"
"You're now tuned into the [mother-loving] greatest. Best rapper alive, best rapper alive." - from "Dirt Off Your Shoulder"

Humility: The New Fragrance from Shawn Carter. Except not.

So why is Beyoncé getting blasted for asserting the same attitude that has earned her other half such respect? Whether he's being celebrated as a lyrical wordsmith or as a major music industry mogul, Jay-Z always enjoys a predictable amount of He's So Boss-style fawning. It's part of his brand. Why not Beyoncé's?

Hear that? It's the anti-woman part of the song. But it's not coming from B.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Scott Kearnan (@thewritestuffSK) is a Boston-based writer, editor, and communications consultant focusing on lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment. He's also a part-time smart aleck and buffalo wing connoisseur. "Media Remix" is where couch potatoes meet pop culture criticism. More »

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