I was a little late to the game when Beyoncé’s self-titled album first dropped. I am not an Apple user so I had to wait a week before I had access to the visual album “seen” around the world. Except for Flawless, which has since become somewhat of a personal feminist “girl, get your life, you got this” anthem and the two songs released on YouTube in the interim (Drunk in Love and XO, and the controversies surrounding them), I was limited to the album summation of friends which varied from, “Girllllllllll….” to “I prefer the ‘Get Me Bodied’ Beyoncé and this album is more grown woman. You will probably like it, though.”
It wasn’t until after Christmas that I finally copped the album to serve as a soundtrack on my drive back to Alabama from North Carolina, but even then it took another few weeks before I sat down to watch the “visual” version. It was a stunning visual experience—artful, decadent, thoughtful. My fascination with it all, though, was definitely linked to the grown-woman aspect of the album. This is a far cry from her “Bootylicious” days. While Beyoncé talking about sex is nothing new, this album stands out because of how she talks about it. This is not a sing-along (or love song). This is serious business.
When I was in my twenties some of my older homegirls would say that sex is better post-30, because you are more confident, you know what you want/like/need, you are less self-conscious, less concerned about being called a freak, and comfortable in your body/skin. Beyoncé’s album spoke to me like those homegirls, offering a commentary on grown woman sex(uality). She went there! From the provocative adlibs on Blow and Rocket to the unrepentant Yoncé interlude, this album, not unlike others in her repertoire, is an exercise in cockiness. However, this album ain’t about love or romance. It’s about pleasure and how/why you should get yours.
It’s no wonder that she got some flak for that, right? Black women who are undeniably and unapologetically sexual beings get punished, right? I mean she’s what, a grown-ass 32 y.o. self-made millionaire (who happens to have a husband and a baby) and exudes sex. She couldn’t possibly have a commentary on pleasure politics… FOH.
Speaking of pleasure principles, this album, for me, is reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s Damita Jo album that dropped 10 years ago. Damita Jo (Jackson’s middle name and seeming alter ego that represented her sexually uninhibited self, not unlike Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce who is intentionally absent and no longer necessary for grownwoman Beyoncé to talk sex and mean it) is an album full of raunchy sexcapades and orgasmic declarations. It was an album in which Jackson owned her sexuality and named it. It was empowering and shocking. In the song “Moist” she says, “I’m insatiable and its all your fault, so much lust involved to get me off, my water falls, your sexuality breeds a storm inside me, a touch is all I need to make me scream obscenities”… sound familiar? And in “Warmth,” an ode to oral sex, she brags “nothing compares to the warmth of my mouth,” reminding her lover at the close of the song that he is expected to return the favor. I see parallels between Yoncé’s self-titled album and Jackson’s earlier efforts (particularly BK-C’s “Partition” & JJ’s “Warmth,” and “Rocket” and “Moist”), though I can appreciate Beyoncé’s album in a way I didn’t appreciate Jackson’s (at the time). I wasn’t ready 10 years ago. I wasn’t old enough yet. I hadn’t lived enough yet. Cheers to grownasswomanhood. (And copping that Damita Jo).
And what of the respectability politic/s? Does a (black) woman have to be married to talk openly about her sexual needs and desires? In our backward and patriarchal culture it would seem so. Ms. Jackson wasn’t married when she dropped Damita Jo (though she was involved in an intense and long-term relationship with Jermaine Dupri at the time), and her album, while decent, didn’t do well and got lukewarm reviews. Mrs. Carter’s grownwoman sex album, however, broke records. As one friend pointed out, she prefaces some of the sex talk with a call and response of her married name instructing the audience at a concert to say, “Hay Mrs. Carter” as if in an effort to remind folk that “she married now” and can have (and talk about) all the good sex she pleases. But a UK newspaper didn’t give a damn about her marital status when they called her a whore after she performed Drunk in Love at the Grammys–with her husband. I guess only men are allowed to talk about sex in their lyrics and in public without being called out their name. I wonder what would happen if Ms. Jackson (if you nasty), who is now married, did an update of Damita Jo. A decade later are the people ready to hear women talk about sex and desire? Is she old enough to say those things now? Has she been married long enough? Or is it never okay for black women to talk about sex?
Anyway, one way of pushing back against the attempt to silence (black) women’s sexuality is to embrace it out loud! I pulled five pleasure principles from the Beyoncé album that I think are useful for feminist sex practices. And while I’m not making an argument one way or another about Beyonce’s potential feminism, because a fellow CF has done that already, I am advocating for the sex positive theme throughout her album. I’m here for Beyoncé’s sex class all day.
5 Things I Learned About Sex From Beyoncé
1) Sex doesn’t have to be romantic to be mind-blowing. In Blow, Yoncé prefaces an anthem with, “This is for all my grown women out there” and goes on to talk about getting that cherry turned out. I ain’t mad.
2) Be spontaneous. In Partition she talks about getting dressed up to go out but having a quickie on the way to the spot, “Took 45 minutes to get all dressed up, but we ain’t even gon’ make it to this club.” Get dolled up and flossed to f**k? Why not?
3) Be confident. Being sexy = being confident. In ***Flawless she talks about letting folk know, “I woke up like this…” (flaws and all). Confidence is embracing all that we are and serving it up. When you know you got it, can’t nobody tell you nothing. (Surfboardt). That’s right.
4) Talk that ish. While she has discussed verbal/sexual wordplay in previous songs (i.e., Ego) it comes through strong on this album. From the back and forth banter on Drunk in Love to the cocky confidence of ***Flawless and Partition, she urges women to speak their mind and make it known that we recognize our beauty, brilliance and sexual talents. “My ish so good it ain’t even right. I know I’m right. Hell yeah, you the ish, that’s why you’re my equivalent.” Damn right.
5) Give instructions. Rocket is my favorite. A follow up to D’Angelo’s mid 90’s baby-maker How Does It Feel she offers a credo that blends desire and possibility, merging imagery and metaphor. From strip tease to delicate descriptions she uses her words and the details of the encounter to paint a picture of love and lust. “Rocket (rock it) ’til water falls,” indeed.