I Been On (Ratchet): Conceptualizing a Sonic Ratchet Aesthetic in Beyonce’s “Bow Down”

Guest Post by Regina N. Bradley at Red Clay Scholar
 
 

While listening to Beyonce’s latest single “Bow Down/I Been On” an eyebrow raised in amusement along with a low “woooooord?” I couldn’t believe that Beyonce, Mrs. “Girls-Run-the-World” was talking to bitches and – gasp! – demanding they bow down.

Beyonce-RatchetBut it wasn’t Bey’s emphatic singing and ad libs that caught my attention. It was the track itself. The track, in all its “H-town vicious” glory, that briefly pulled Beyonce back south off her global stage.

I contextualize Beyonce as a dichotomy of grit and grace, two polarized representations of black femininity that only co-exist via performances of alter ego(s) – i.e. Beyonce/Sasha Fierce. Aisha Durham’s discussion of Beyonce in her article “Check On It” provides a pliable framework for my discussion here. Durham writes: “Beyonce successfully performs a range of Black femininities, speaking at once to the Black working and middle class sensibilities while fulfilling her dynamic roles as both a hip hop belle and a U.S. exotic other globally” (35). The discourses of respectability that Beyonce frequents and consistently navigates are those of visual culture, often limited to what we see of and about Beyonce rather than what we hear.  Durham’s categorization of a belle parallels not only the Madonna/whore complex frequently imposed upon women in popular culture but the antebellum aesthetic of respectability that continues to dictate southern women. An oppositional parallel for black women excluded from this niche of finer womanhood is the highly visible and commodified form of expression that we have come to recognize as (the) ratchet. As scholars like Treva Lindsey, Heidi Lewis, and Brittney Cooper point out, ratchetness is an intervention of sliding contemporary politics of respectability currently in place against women (of color). And, for the sake of this essay, I’d like to hone in on the understanding of ratchet as a southern export, one which frequents popular expression like hip hop. It in this regard that I posit Beyonce broaches a type of “sonic” ratchet in “Bow Down,” using sound to signify not only her southern “ruts” (roots) but utilize an aesthetic that allows her to vindicate her southern black womanhood while sustaining her (visual) global image.

The track opens with a video game sample (I’m thinking Donkey Kong. Nintendo scholars help me out here!) and an autotuned voice declaring “I’m from the H-town/Coming (coming) down/ dripping candy on the ground.” The video game sample signifies not only the ‘game’ of hip hop/popular music but possibly alludes to a similar use of video game sampling seen in Houston rapper Lil Flip’s break through single “Game Over.”  Beyonce’s declarations of being from Houston and the allusion to “dripping candy” on the ground hint at the prominent car culture (“candy paint”) associated with Houston (hip hop) culture. A digression away from Beyonce’s usual declaration of the finer things in life like high priced labels and global jet setting, her declaration of returning to H-town and its cultural “essentials” re-situates her within not only Houston’s but a southern narrative.

**Side-note: let me take a moment to, er, bow down to one of the trillest hip hop scholars in the game and expert on Houston hip hop Langston Wilkins. His work can be found here.**

Aside from her growling of “bow down bitches!” there is a section of the track where it seemingly “remixes itself” parallel to a melodic – and familiar – rendition of Beyonce’s ad libbing. This remix simultaneously changes the track while re-rendering Beyonce’s sonic narrative and the song continues in the Texan hip hop aesthetic of chopped and screwed. It is here that we can formally recognize Beyonce as her newest alter-ego BaddieBey, whose distorted voice is masculine and fragmented in such a way that dishevels the listener’s understanding of Beyonce as the “good girl.” The (hyper)masculinization of Beyonce’s voice in this track signifies her attempt to situate herself not only in hip hop’s masculine discourse but southern hip hop and its renderings of the south as a similarly masculine space. The sonic intonations of chopped and screwed give Beyonce a pass to dabble in ‘ratchet-speak,’ sonically alluding to images of “baby hair and dookie braids.’ We hear ratchet rather than see it.

It is her roll call of prominent Texas rappers like Willie D and Pimp-C, however, that particularly struck me. In her shout-out to Pimp-C of UGK fame, she says she declares having to “sneak and listen to that UGK.” Harkening back to Durham’s discussion of Beyonce’s treading between black working class and middle class sensibility, Beyonce’s delivery of this line speaks to the tensions that exist between her attempting to be down while sustaining the respectability of her middle class upbringing (think New-New from the movie ATL). It also provides a quick glimpse into the reality of Beyonce’s performance of ratchet as just that – a performance instead of her reality. Still, Beyonce’s acknowledgement of having to “sneak” and listen to Houston rappers is further signified by the narrative persona of BaddieBey than Beyonce herself, sustaining the distance necessary to keep her from teetering over the edge.

I am not suggesting that the track does not have a few sore spots – folks are for real pissed at her liberal use of bitches and tricks. If nothing else, “Bow Down” provides insight into the clever ways Beyonce’ uses instrumentation and sound production to fragment her persona limited by investments in her visual image. It blurs clean-cut negotiations of black women’s identity and respectability as literal discourse by introducing the concept of sound as an alternative form of black (feminist?) expression and its analysis.

crunktastic

46 thoughts on “I Been On (Ratchet): Conceptualizing a Sonic Ratchet Aesthetic in Beyonce’s “Bow Down”

  1. You make absolutely no sense at all. The sounds and remix of the song DOES NOT take away the fact that Beyonce is degrading women in this song. She is straight up saying haha I’m better than all of you. And how dare you compare the imcomperable Madonna to such nonsense. This is all Beyonce no one else and it’s just wrong. This song simply sucks! You went on and on in this article trying to make it right. But no, a woman telling other woman to bow down is nothing to look up to and praise.

    • Hey thanks for reading. Quick clarification: I am not referencing the singer Madonna but the Madonna image (virgin Mary). I don’t suggest this is someone else other than Beyonce. I do suggest it is Beyonce performing alter egos/personas that are not visible/audible otherwise.

    • Thank you. They just need to admit they are a stan and call it a day. Why people try to make Beyonce deeper than what she is, is beyond me. If a man (or for that matter any other black female singer) came out with this song, this article would have a whole different tone. SMH at the hypocrisy of a supposed “black feminist” blog…

    • I think she was speaking of the “Madonna/Whore” complex where a woman is trapped between expectations that she be the pristine mother in the streets and then the exciting dirty whore in the sheets.

    • I honestly think you missed the point of Bradley’s piece by steering your response in a direction that argues a point that she is not making. Her critique does not focus on the right/wrong of Beyonce’s message (“Bow Down, Bitches”), rather explores the use and manipulation of sound and tone as a medium in which Beyonce expresses (or depresses) identity.

      The juxtaposition of sight and sound–the sexual/sensual Beyonce who is polished, polite, and reserved with lending her voice to anything other than music or commercials (sans her recent documentary) and the hypermasculinization of Beyonce’s voice as a medium to exert dominance and power is intriguing. I am hesitant to agree that Beyonce’s experimentation with sound introduces an alternative form of black feminist expression, but I do recognize that she is an artist and she is tryin’ out some new shit.

      • I COULDN’T AGREE MORE. People who don’t think critically will never understand. She is an artist. The masses are simple.

    • Oh,c’mon, it’s not that serious—she’s just telling her haters where to step off—-people have been throwing her shade for years, for no other reason,it seems, than the fact that she’s so popular. It is nowhere near the same as some male rapper calling women “b******” because he hates women and has issues with them (like most of these rappers). Not even the same thing.

  2. Very thoughtful critique…I tend to agree with your observation that there is a need to look deeper than the obvious..

  3. Thank you for this article. Quick disclaimer: I am a Bey-hive member and my comments/criticisms are written in love and admiration for the Queen (that had to be said because fans are everywhere and will attack). When I initially heard the song I was not disturbed by the ratchetness or the chopping and screwing. However, I was taken a back by Bey telling the bitches to bow down and having her crew smack tricks. As stated in the article, this is Queen “Girls-Run-the-World.” For a (brief) moment I thought Bey had abandoned women’s empowerment. Then… after listening to the song 10 or 15 times… I saw the light. In many ways this song IS a woman fully empowered – and dare I say doing the work feminism. The Queen is showing the complexities of a true artist. Male artists show similar contradictions in their work and people praise them for being “deep”, versatile, or not giving a damn. After all she has accomplished, why can’t she be braggadocious? Why can’t she have a raw, ratchet song and not have her whole character called into question? I am here for a bold, “H-town vicious” Beyoncé and I hope we get an album full of it.

  4. You can’t have it both ways, you can’t say men are being misogynist when they sing/rap about smacking women. then claim Beyonce is taking a feminist stance saying this? Because she is being “bold?” Advocating violence is now an empowered woman? What the???

    • Thank you…wtf? When male artists’ blatant hypocrisy is praised as “depth,” “conflict,” etc., I loudly call BS! We need to call out women who buy into the same concepts. Why do we always imagine empowerment in the form of imitating men being f’ed up?

  5. I read something interesting yesterday that made me go “hmm” — someone said that Beyonce’s reference to smacking tricks was about “sending” the Beyhive or her “stans” to go in on her attackers and critics, specifically when Keyshia Cole had negative things to say about Michelle Williams post-Superbowl. Now maybe that’s a stretch but it did make me think of the lyrics in a different way. There certainly is a culture of digitally “smacking tricks” who come for the Queen Bey.

    Overall, I liked this post and the analysis. I think people — fans and critics — want Beyonce to be just one way, forgetting that we all have contradictions and many facets within our own personalities. When I first heard the song, the first thing I thought was “man, this beat goes!” Then I thought that it was perfect for the “bourgie-ratchets” out there, picturing a woman getting home from a long and productive day at her law firm, kicking off her heels, turning on Bow Down/I Been On, donning a playful screwface, and twerking in the mirror before sitting down to live tweet Scandal. Haha, someone out there gets that picture, right?

    I don’t want to begrudge Beyonce the opportunity to be her authentic self which very likely includes influences that are outside of her middle-class upbringing. I also don’t take everything in a song literally so I don’t want to break it down too much. For me, it sounds like the type of song that you just go crazy to, with an inflated sense of “yes, it’s me and I’m on top and all the naysayers or haters will bow down.” It’s exaggerated for sure. It’s boastful and unladylike (ugh at that term but you know…). It’s in the same vein as people holding their drinks in the air at the club singing Drake’s “Started from the Bottom”. They may still be at the bottom on the grand scale of things but for a moment in the club, in your car, in front of the mirror, songs like these let you get outside of your world. Beyonce’s getting outside with BaddieBey/Sasha Fierce and I don’t think that necessarily conflicts with a feminist POV.

  6. It was a diss track. Why can’t Beyonce just diss her haters and move on. If someone runs up on me in the street rudely and I cuss them out nobody is going to MANIPULATE that to be something other than me roasting a jerk. And that is exactly what a diss track is! A roast of your haters!!!

    • @Krista

      Exactly! That’s all the heck it is! That’s why I like it in the first place!

  7. What fascinates me about Beyonce’s image is that she has become a household name and somewhat respected by white people as well as black people as a positive example of the respectable black woman despite much of her music and image (mostly music videos and album artwork) playing with her black southern roots and a “ratchet” sensibility. She has more hip-hop bangers about partying, having (explicit) sex and throwing around her wealth than she does stately ballads about love. It’s actually quite hard to remove her from that black southern hip-hop context given how much of her work is rooted in it.

    From her work with Destiny’s Child (Soldier, Jumpin Jumpin, Bug-A-Boo), to her solo efforts, a decidedly “ratchet” black southern woman aesthetic permeates it. The southern-style artwork for her B’Day album, her single Check On It, which not only discusses twerking, but features guest verses from Houston rappers Bun B and Slim Thug. The Upgrade U video, which at one point features Beyonce in drag as Jay-Z lip-synching to the first half of his guest verse on the song, showing her once again adopting masculinity associated with hip-hop, (something she would later do again in the If I Were A Boy video). There’s even a decidedly hip-hop approach to her constant discussions of money and riches, it’s rooted in the same braggadacio rappers operate on, but with the added flip of a woman expressing this sense of new found independence and power (see: her gender flipping of the more popular scenario of rich man and kept woman on the song Suga Mama).

    Not to mention the sheer amount of slang and black colloquialisms that run throughout her songs (too many to list here, but examples include Get Me Bodied, Freakum Dress, Suga Mama, Countdown). That’s why it’s so strange to me when people are so thrown by her more recent “ratchet” image and sound and think it clashes with some kind of respectable and classy image she’s created. It’s hardly new for her and she’s made a career out of basically turning her existence as black female Houston native who now has money into music. She even closed out her performance at the Superbowl with a small “Thank y’all.”

  8. Awesome dissection of the track! I can see where your analysis comes from, though I think the verse where she says “I’m not just his little wife” is really the tell in the track.
    She isn’t talking about other females in particular, I think her sole purpose in this song is to poke at her haters. Her reference of “little girls” imo is a reference to those people who have in the past and currently try to discredit her as an artist. Those that try to say she is just Jay’s “pretty wife” and so on. It is not unusual to refer to both men and women as little girls or as bitches. “Bow Down Bitches” isn’t talking about any of the female artists in the industry, specifically. Its talking to those people who have an issue with her and I would bet money everyone upset could care less about Beyonce.

  9. I’m a little upset that music like this by the simple-minded folks that peddle it is so deeply analyzed like that much thought actually went into it. I don’t take this garbled nonsense as some artistic form of feminism. That’s quite a stretch! When a man says “bitches” he’s a misogynist. When Beyonce says it(who, any other time can’t express herself above a middle school level), it’s genius? Let’s get real… It isn’t anything in hip-hop (Oooh, look at me, I’m rich and sell simple songs to simple people, I’ve got gold chains and Cadillacs) that we all haven’t heard before. I am not impressed by the lyrics and am even less impressed by scholarly women trying to claim that this kind of anti-feminist mess is somehow intellectual. It just isn’t. And I can almost guarantee that 100% less thought went into writing that song (likely 90% creative team, 10% “Bey”) than went into this article. Also irritated at the implications of statements like “her attempting to be down while sustaining the respectability of her middle class upbringing” and I’m sure I don’t have to explain why… Sampling video game sounds isn’t new. Talking about being better than everyone else in a song isn’t new, namely referencing what one has acquired from their minstrel show. Calling women bitches in a song isn’t new. And just because they are done by the long-haired, light-skinned member of Destiny’s Child, who follows the lead of everyone else in the industry AND makes one bad political “statement” after another (have you all forgotten the blackface already?) does not make any of these things impressive or innovative. I’m not hating, just being sensible.

    • When the language of the oppressed is used in the community of the oppressed it becomes a different discussion, one with a greater navigation of complexities. Beyond that, Beyonce has NEVER called herself a feminist. She is a global POP STAR. I don’t think the article is presenting it as new. It is however, offering a contextual framework by which to understand it which is more nuanced than either she is wrong or she is right. I don’t know any humans that are that simply categorized and our attempts to do so with this particular human seem much more about what we have put on her than what she has put on herself.

      • Beyonce just recently called herself a modern-day feminist in the latest issue of UK Vogue.

        Let the discussions continue.

    • Precisely. I can not imagine why the simplistic nature of the latest foolishness to fall from Beyoncé’s coat tails has been beaten and manipulated to this degree in a effort to make more of it than there actually is. Talk about weaving horse shit into Egyptian cotton! Hip hop of this nature is COMMERCE it is not art. That’s not to say that there aren’t any creative people working in the industry – but let’s get real – the primary goal of everyone involved is to maximize profits and not to make artistic statements of any kind. Even if the author could not force herself to believe in the capitalist truths of the recording industry she should be able to wrap her mind around this other fact: Beyoncé is not a songwriter a poet or a music producer. She didn’t lay this track. Her production team bought it from someone else who had his/her own reasons for putting it together the way that they did. Another individual wrote the lyrics. Another arranged the “song” and then when all the work was done they had Beyonce to plug in the vocals which are (largely) manufactured. She sang it the way they told her to sing it and then they did it over and over until someone, not Beyoncé, thought it was right. After that sound professionals manipulated the track again and again until they were satisfied, likely in complete absence of Bey. Beyonce is a pretty girl and, I hope, a really nice person. She makes millions of dollars and has become very very successful in her chosen profession which makes her very powerful. All these things are to be admired. Can we not admire her for what she has done w/out ascribing the rest of this to her? Beyonce is not a musician who creates provocative compositions that will ring true through the ages – she a singing exotic dancer. One of the best in the world. I must say that I do think denying that Beyoncé can be just that and still be admirable as a woman is a kind of anti-feminism. We don’t have to remake her into something more in order to respect her. She’s fine just the way she is.

      • @Fields

        Beyonce does write AND produce some of her own tunes since she’s been solo—she’s never been just a mouthpiece for the expressions of other producers and writers, or just another pretty face—that’s why she’s been around for as long as she has. And like the other poster who pointed it out said, it’s simply a “diss” track, which has a long tradition in hip-hop. As someone who has always liked her music, I’ve never quite understood why she gets so much hate thrown her way–I could understand if she had an actual reputation as a b****, but that dosen’t seem to ever have been the case. She’s just finally making a response to her “haters” as it were. I think folks are blowing this up into something bigger than it actually is. I liked it when she said, “Bow down, b******,” because she’s just telling all these folks who can’t stand her where they can stick it, essentially. She’s very talented, though, and I would get some of her CDs before I would get anything by the not-that-talented–can’t really-sing-either Britney Spears, who would be absolutely nowhere without the producers she’s worked with.

  10. Good article. I think Bey just gets a little tired of the haters and whats to swing back. That’s my girl whatever.

    • @Fields

      Here’s some info about Beyonce’s songwriting–she even co-wrote some of Destiny’s Child’s biggest hits like “Independent Women”, and “Lose My Breath”:

      From Wikipedia:

      of B’Day. Prior to recording these, Knowles was coached phonetically by American record producer Rudy Perez.[166] She has received co-writing credits for most of the songs recorded with Destiny’s Child, as well as for her solo efforts.[23] Her early songs were personally driven and female-empowerment themed compositions like “Independent Women” and “Survivor”, but after her relationship with Jay-Z started she transitioned to more man-tending anthems such as “Cater 2 U”.[167] Some of her songs are autobiographical or taken from her friends experiences.[168] Knowles has also received co-producing credits for most of the records in which she has been involved, especially during her solo efforts. However, she does not formulate beats herself, but typically comes up with melodies and ideas during production, sharing them with producers.[169]

      Knowles’ songwriting has been recognised. In 2001 she become the first African-American female and second female songwriter to win the Pop Songwriter of the Year award at the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers Pop Music Awards.[15][168] Knowles was the third woman to have writing credits on three number one songs (“Irreplaceable”, “Grillz” and “Check on It”) in the same year, after Carole King in 1971 and Mariah Carey in 1991. She is tied with Diane Warren at third with nine songwriting credits on number-one singles.[170] In May 2011, Keith Caulfield and Gary Trust of Billboard magazine listed Knowles at number 17 on their list of the “Top 20 Hot 100 Songwriters”, for having co-written eight singles that hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She was one of only three women on that list.[171]

  11. I really appreciate a space to discuss the implications of our reactions to a song versus just the surface level of if a song is “good” or not. In reading the comments… seems like we have far to go on first understanding the point of someone’s article before jumping all over it and second, having honest dialogue about how music is in part an expression of our experience. If it’s just about her haters, then we can still talk intelligently about the tension between the different expectations that society has on black women’s existence… I saw this as much more than a Bey stan trying to justify an artist’s song but a jumping point into further broadening our discussions to include the complexities of black womanhood. I probably won’t be playing the song but I can’t deny that it’s part of the conversation most of my friends are having, so I say, cool — what can we learn from/gain from the conversation in order to enhance our journey?

  12. congrats! what a visionary although dictionary required reading. People need to see the artist is presenting herself as another alter ego, in order to stay mainstream and not be continually linked with pop music crossovers! I see a Jay Z influence and I believe once all the hype is over Beyonce will definitely realize that just being herself is enough for her fans!

  13. So after all this academic break down and the 2 questions are 1. So what? And 2. Is the song good? From what I’m reading your answers seem to be 1. It’s good for these subtle (but non-impactful) reasons & 2. Refer to answer #1.

    If she was trying to evoke a different persona to try to obscure her actual Beyonce self, it didn’t work.

  14. I can’t wait for Beyonce to sneeze again so everybody can lose their minds and find their self-righteousness. But hey the great thinkers like Keyshia Cole and Rush Limbaugh may have a point.

  15. Pingback: Weekly Feminist Reader

  16. I’ve scrolled through some posts and some people seem to be justifying the negative repercussions of her delivery with the idea of this song being a diss track. Well, firstly I have a problem believing that Beyonce would make a diss track simply because of the way in which she maintains her image. I even have trouble believing she would do it and justify it by giving the credit to an alter-ego. However, let us say that it is a diss track. That should not matter for the simple reason that there are fans of hers that would not know whether or not it is a diss track and simply take it in its integrity. Moving forward, I would like to comment on the attempt to “situate herself…in hip hop’s masculine discourse.” I see a lot of aspects of this song attempting to do that; including conforming to a lot of masculine stigmas that make it ok to 1. tell women what to do and 2. call them names. Given these ideas, I cannot help but think of Rihanna’s song “Pour It Up.” All I, personally, can think of when I hear this song is how much it seems like Rihanna is trying to conform to the norms of masculine hip hop. Because what else are popular rap artists rapping about today? Money, women (strippers), and drinking (and drugs). Now, I recognize Bradley’s argument about Beyonce’s usage of alter-egos, and its successfulness; and I agree. And I, too, am shocked at Beyonce’s “bow down, bitches,” every single time she sings it. But the alter-egos, in my opinion, do help to separate her from “ratchetness.” (Perhaps Rihanna should take notes, because I often think she walks a fine line. Then again, I have my own personal opinions about Rihanna and her image, but those are for another day.)

    • Finally, someone mentioned Rihanna! I agree with the post’s assessment that Beyonce takes on different personas of womanhood, but I think they are all attempts at staying relevant and making money rather than a critical representation of the multifaceted black woman. Destiny Child’s early singles such as “Bug-A-Boo,” “Bills, Bills Bills,” “Independent Woman,” “Survivor” etc. all advocated an independence typical of 90s girl groups (I distinctly recall wearing a “girl power” graphic tee while listening to Destiny’s Child, TLC, and the Spice Girls). Then Bey found Jay-Z and suddenly we have tracks like “Cater 2 U,” “Countdown,” “Love on Top,” “Bonnie and Clyde ’03,” and “Dangerously in Love,” each of which seemed to correspond to her new found relationship. Perhaps because we have this knowledge of Bey’s personal life, her return to an idealized female independence in “Run the World” wasn’t very believable (especially to those who knew that she stole the beat from a male artist). In one of Beyonce’s recent interviews she revealed how concerned she is with staying relevant, and this shows in her attempts to appropriate tumblr culture (the album art for Bow Down/I Been On) and Rihanna’s bad girl image. When Rihanna talks of strip clubs and dollar bills in songs like “Pour it Up,” it’s believable. Anyone that follows “badgirlriri” on twitter or instagram knows that she parties even more than she lets on in her lyrics. Beyonce can’t really sell the “baddiebey” persona while caring for Blue Ivy or hanging out with the Obamas. Her need to reassert herself through comparisons to other female artists ends up backfiring. Lines like “But don’t think I’m just his little wife” are almost laughable alongside the announcement of the Mrs. Carter World Tour.

      I guess what makes “Bow Down/I Been On” more insulting for me than Rihanna’s “Pour it Up” is that Rihanna has time and time again denied her interest in being a role model for young girls. Beyonce, on the other hand, has built her fortune on being an advocate for girls and an Americana success story. While I am disappointed that Rihanna is so quick to objectify other women, I can at least hope that with age these tendencies will diminish. But the fact that Beyonce would take this route after establishing a career based on female solidarity is just SMH worthy.

      • I agree with most of her sentiment, however I have to correct you about Beyonce “stealing” the beat of “Run the World” from a male artist. That beat comes from a Major Laser song. Major Lazer is a group created by super producer Diplo and another producer. Diplo produced “Run the World” and sampled his own track so their is no “stealing.” I do feel Bey tries to stay relevant in all the wrong ways by adopting the persona’s of lesser or just very different female artist. It ends up backfiring because of it’s disingenuousness and the type of image she has built around herself of being “classy” (whatever that means. This usually leads to more backlash for her in part because she posits herself as a role model for others.

  17. I believe “Bow Down” is Beyoncé’s attempt to authenticate her underground Houston hiphop roots while bragging about her incomparable status in cultural lingo. Beyoncé arrogant lyrics center on her ways status as a signal for other (presumably) women to bow down to her. She brags about her status in ways to reveal to “bitches” that they will never be in her world and that they should respect her incomparable status. I’d like to venture to ask who these “bitches” are exactly, however I do not believe the song is so much about “bitches” knowing their place (bow down) as it is to perpetuate a Houston hip-hop culture or masculinity? I think one can argue that throughout the song she takes a masculine role. I think this becomes even more clear as her lyrics cater to Houston hip-hop images that are more so contributed to male hip-hop artists whom “pop bottles”, wear “gold chains”, “smack tricks” and drive “candy cars”. Beyoncé invites herself into this image but does so in a way that does not revolutionize it but rather confirms her as a conspirator. This is where I believe the word Bitch is not the topic at hand but just a facilitator for her to authenticate her Houston hoodness. Aside from the voice effects which are authentic to her area (Houston), she takes on a demanding role that is foreign from her music and image. I believe the aggression of “smack that trick” made some fans jerk back. I think the way that dominance is portrayed in this song is interesting because it features deep voices that take on masculine characteristics while providing an authentic Houston sound and feel. I do feel however people should not be quick to compare “Who Runs the World (Girls)” Beyoncé with this Beyoncé for she has shown many sides to her music before. I do believe however that this song does perpetuate stereotypic “ratchetness”, masculine dominance and extreme arrogance draped under a rich Houston hip-hop scene from which I believe this song was inspired.

  18. I want to start off by saying I am not at all a Beyonce fan. However, Westside Connection’s song titled Bow Down 1996 was not as controversial because it was somehow expected from an all male gangster rap group. Throwing salt on Beyonce for the song Bow Down is like conforming to society’s ideology of gendered roles. Would this differ if it was Lady of Rage? How do you know that she is directly speaking to all of her beloved female fans? She could be responding to me or others females like me – The Beyonce Hater Nation.

  19. Thank you for your approach and disection of the song and the discussions that have followed it. As someone who is a little biased, due to their regligious fandom to Bey, I do not discount or ignore the potential backlash that an artist could face because of their “risktaking.” I also know that I am an intelligent and educated young person, and do not completley ignore some of the well written and developed arguments against her new song. To write off the poor language and dialogue she used, and excuse it as an ‘art’ is simply not enough. However, I go back to my fandom. To me, this is a torn subject. When an artist engages the realm of their brand, I find that they are going to perpetuate the ideas their fans have. In this case, she is taking her king status, and completley engaging in it and putting it into the work she does for fans to lose themselves over.

  20. some folks are giving beyonce a lot more credit than she deserves… i mean, i like to periodically interrogate her decisions, but what i’ve concluded is that she’s a business woman who ain’t all that deep when it comes to social issues. that being said, i appreciate the analysis of her artistry and this song, but in no way would i call it feminist– just like i wouldn’t call any appropriation of hyper-masculinity to gain credibility in misogynistic hip-hop culture feminist.

    i had visceral reactions to both ‘bow down’ and rihanna’s ‘pour it up’, and could honestly never hear either of these songs again and be happier for it. at the same time, i’ve been signing and dancing to f**king problems all week…. yup, so then there’s that.

    like many black women, i stepped away from hip hop from awhile because i couldn’t handle the assault on my psyche and body… i came back with more armor that enables me (for better or worse) to get underneath the lyrics to enjoy songs for the emotion behind them and the ‘get down’ beats. i consume it in doses, but then there’s something about a woman spitting the same lyrics/messages that makes the assault brand new— even though sometimes i spout similar lines to amp up when i’m on my way to my whitewashed graduate classes

    so i get her complexity as an individual and as an artist, and i ain’t really mad at that. but we want musicians to make us feel good, especially when it’s a successful black women who seeks to empower women and girls. sometimes i’ve appreciated her ability to normalize ‘rachet’ aesthetic and expand the politics of black women respectability… but this and what she’s been doing lately ain’t doing it for me. actually, i’m just confused. but maybe she is too.

  21. Looking at this from a perspective steeped in the Black female experience, I wasn’t moved by this song. It didn’t challenge any norms, and actually enforced ideas we already have about Black women and femininity. The terms “bitch,” and “trick,” are words that are gendered, and it leaves no doubt to who the song is referencing. And because of this, using “smack that trick,” as a call to arms is not at all gender-less, especially in a genre that uses the term pejoratively in reference to Black and Brown women. Adopting the masculine voice doesn’t necessarily challenge the status quo, it can actually strengthen it by erasing not only the critical voices of the feminine, but establishing the masculine as normative. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of Beyonce’s music, but when someone is fortifying the role that violence plays in the lives of women, you’ve got to respectfully disagree. I can like and respect an artist, but I can also disagree with some of their views.

    Honestly, I do like this article, only it seems to come from a different space in which Beyonce’s song was created. We have to remember, Beyonce is employed by a label to make hits, so I don’t think there was too much analysis going on when she or her co-creators penned this. And in light of some other fiascoes she’s been embroiled in (Fela Kuti, anyone?) I can’t say she’s a highly political person, but I can say she is a savvy entertainer.

  22. I am not surprised by some of the condescending comments made about Beyonce’s intelligence, “she’s not all that deep,” as if Beyonce is incapable of being and thinking as a knowledgeable individual beyond the confines of the music industry or her role as a global cultural icon. Whether Beyonce thinks as deeply as the article implies that her music signifies, her music and her relationship to it can still be analyzed in a way that contextualizes her role in comparison to her artistry. The question that no one seems to be asking is: is Beyonce only talking about women when she says bow down bitches? A bitch could also be a man even though the word has been stereotypically applied to women. Men are and can be labeled as bitches too by men and by women. Bitch is no longer limited to just women which would throw another layer on whether Beyonce is perpetuating misogyny by uttering it.

    Beyonce is able to present herself as a complex individual in a space where Black women have not had the privilege to occupy. She is able to be a whore (in the public sphere) and still maintain some semblance of respectability by performing her roles of good girl, wife and mother. This is something that I find extraordinary since women are often allowed to be one or the other in public and not both. I think some of the people on this post need to let go some of their pretentiousness because if Beyonce did not have some high level of intelligence she would not be in the position she is now. She has taken control of her career (getting her own management and managing her staff) and her image (no independent photographers at her concerts). A singer can think critically about their place in the world and the documentary shown on HBO is evidence that she does when she relays that “since men have all the money, they have the power to control and dictate what is beautiful.” That does not sound like someone who does not observe and think about the world around her or the worlds of other women around the world.

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