Saturday, July 2, 2011

Beyoncé and Mozambique: Run the World (Girls)

Here is Beyoncé´s video for her new song, «Run the World (Girls)». Some friends alerted me to the fact that the two men dancing with her in the first routine are Mozambican. The video below shows their group Tofo Tofo dancing a similar choreography. Apparently Beyoncé had them come to L.A. to teach her the steps and to film with her. That´s really exciting! It´s great to see Mozambique being represented on the world stage. The video below is really fun and definitely worth a look.

As for Beyoncé´s video, I wasn´t so impressed. There is subtle African imagery, but it´s very hard to say where she thinks this dance off is taking place. The dancing and the hyenas hint that it is somewhere in Africa, but no specific country. The hyenas remind me of photographs of the Hyena Men in Nigeria by Pieter Hugo, which I had seen online a few years ago. Except, Beyoncé, as she is holding the hyenas in chains, also looks like she is in a fashion shoot. More about that later.

At some point she is standing in front of a street sign with the names Tbilisi and Tschinvali, and some other words in another alphabet. A quick google search shows these are not places in Africa but in Russia and Georgia. Maybe the sign is meaningless, maybe the video is supposed to be in nowhere land.

I like Beyoncé, I really do. I think she´s an amazing singer, a profoundly talented dancer. But she has this habit of making her songs seems deeper than they really are. I noticed this with «Upgrade U». It has a great beat, is fun to dance to, and the message seems like it could be a good one - a great woman can make a man a better man. She sings:

«I could do for you what Martin did for the people,
Ran by the man but the women keep the tempo...»

But she follows that with a list of fashion labels that will actually upgrade the man. Audemars Piguet, Hermès, Cartier. Please. Why call on the image of Martin Luther King Jr. if you are only going dig that kind of shallow grave for your song?

The same with «Girls». She sings:

«Smart enough to bear children then get back to business...»

But then why is there no imagery of motherhood or even of professionalism? There is only the imagery of militant strippers. Not that strippers aren´t powerful, not that sexuality isn´t power. But is that really what she wants to say when she says Girls run the World? We run it with our sexuality? We run it with our minds, our hearts, our fertility, our intelligence too.

There are scenes of women, completely still in their poses. This makes the whole video seem like one big photo shoot for Vogue. But fashion is not female empowerment. It is also not empowerment for most Africans. The fashion industry has been scaling up the amount of appropriation of African prints and styles, without increasing the number black models allowed to walk down the catwalks. If Beyoncé really wants to do something for women (and for Africans), she should demand that the fashion labels that pay her for endorsement start hiring more models of color.

I just don´t buy it that Beyoncé is a feminist. This is not a feminist song, or video. And that´s shame.

Update: And to prove my point, here is a quote from Beyoncé´s interview with Harper´s Bazaar:

Although many women today steer away from the word 'feminist', the Texan insists she's always been one, although she believes the movement needs a new name. She explained: 'I don’t really feel that it’s necessary to define it. It’s just something that’s kind of natural for me, and I feel’s, like, what I live for.

'I need to find a catchy new word for feminism, right? Like Bootylicious.'

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