Music Matters: 3 Ways of Looking at Beyonce’s Halftime Show

Music Matters: 3 Ways of Looking at Beyonce’s Halftime Show February 5, 2013

Each Tuesday in Music Matters, Matthew Linder explores the intersections of music, culture and faith.

“With the media referring to her and husband Jay-Z as the Obamas of the entertainment industry, what Beyonce does has huge ramifications on our culture.”

Everyone can relax. Beyonce’s halftime show did not cause the power to go out at the Superdome. But her electrifying performance created a litany of responses that have yet to see their last flicker of light. Even Christ and Pop Culture writers had a lot to say about Beyonce’s performance; things we found to praise and items we found problematic. Three majors views have emerged since the halftime show on Sunday, which I would like to present here.

By far the most common view is that the all-women show was empowering for women. Our own Erin Straza called the show “refreshing considering the game is all men.” Lauren Rambo who covers fashion for us was likewise enthralled: “I thought her halftime show was amazing… Beyonce is a master of her craft. She is not famous because she’s sexy; there’s 100 other sexy entertainers out there. She is remarkably talented.” Patheos blogger David Henson saw the performance as the embodiment of a particular feminine power.

Because Beyoncé’s performance Sunday night in New Orleans wasn’t about sex. It was about power, and Beyoncé had it in spades….

The women onstage were creating, everything.  They appropriated traditional male images and transformed them female ones — not women just imitating men. They were claiming roles and instruments traditionally held by men: the horns and saxophones, the pyrotechnic guitar solo.

They were fierce, but refused to be masculinized or objectified.

Rolling Stone could not express enough praise about the performance and the powerhouse of the woman that is Beyonce.

Why would you ever have a Super Bowl without Beyoncé? Now that was a halftime show, and that is a star. This woman single-handedly blew out the power in the Superdome. No special guests, no costume changes – just Beyoncé, her heels, her thighs, her leather-and-lace corset and a freewheeling romp through her songbook, ignoring most of her proven crowd-pleasers just because she’s Beyoncé and Beyoncé can get away with doing whatever Beyoncé feels like doing

Well, nobody ever accused the girl of not being into herself, yet as always, that’s part of why we love her – she’s so dutiful and sweet-natured, even her prima-donna excesses seem like a job she does strictly for our benefit.

Then a number of female celebrities tweeted in response to Sasha Fierce’s takeover of the Superbowl in awe and respect of her womanhood:

“Y’all can keep watching the game but I think it’s safe to say Beyonce just won the Super Bowl,” Demi Lovato gushed, while Bey’s little sis kept it short and to the point: “No. One. Better.”

“American Idol” winner and fellow big-voiced diva Carrie Underwood had no reservations admitting that Bey showed just about everyone up Sunday night. “… and @Beyonce just made all the rest of us singers look stupid! In the most awesome way possible! Way to work it!#BestEverHalftimeShow,” Underwood tweeted.

Even the First Lady herself took the time to tweet express just how proud she was for Beyoncé , who is not only an ardent Obama supporter, but also a friend of the first family. “Watching the #SuperBowl with family & friends. @Beyonce was phenomenal!” Michelle Obama tweeted. “I am so proud of her!”

But Beyonce’s scantily clad performance has raised a number of concerns as well. The Today show described the response on their Facebook page as: “not everyone felt that the show, which included Beyonce in a low-cut leather outfit and some sexual innuendo, was family-friendly enough.” All of social media was abuzz with comments about the sexually laden performance as The Daily Mail described:

Beyoncé’s daring leather ensemble at the Super Bowl last night has sparked anger from some parents who believe it was too racy for prime time television. Several viewers took to Facebook and other social networking websites to suggest that the performer’s costume, by fashion designer Rubin Singer, looked a little too ‘S&M’… Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham tweeted sarcastically: ‘Very family-friendly dancing S&M by Beyonce. What every girl shd aspire to. #waronwomen [sic].’

One of our writers at Christ and Pop Culture found the mixing of sexuality and female empowerment and what type of message that is creating for our daughters to be problematic.

I don’t have a daughter. But, if I did, I’m fairly confident I would have serious reservations about any take-away narrative from our viewing the performance together which looks something like, “Hey, look at Beyonce! You, too, might be able to harness influence like that one day–black leather and sexualized gestures and all! Feel empowered, honey!”

Catholic blogger, Elizabeth Duffy was enraged by the commercialization of sexuality in the performance as portraying not Beyonce’s sexuality but something foreign put on her.

The problem with Beyonce’s performance is that it focused unjust attention on her sexuality. And yet, I suspect the performance did not portray “her” sexuality so much as a sexuality imposed on her, not only by culture at large, but by marketers, choreographers, costume designers–a team of people who had to agree on the image they wanted Beyonce to portray to America during the Super Bowl.

One of our resident pastors, Drew Dixon wonders if men’s response to an overly sexualized performance has more to do with male sexuality issues:

Maybe men… can’t help but think it [Beyonce’s performance] is for us because we think Beyonce is sexy. I mean that honestly–just pondering this–the show made me uncomfortable but I wonder if that has more to do with my issues.

Which leads us to the final response, the religious one. Interestingly, fans of Beyonce intentionally tweeted about her performance in religious terms:

One of the Twitter hashtags devised by rabid Beyonce fans before last night’s Super Bowl halftime show was religious in nature: #praisebeysus….”Praise Beysus” also works as a wry reference to the inheritances that feed Beyonce’s art. It’s the kind of shout you’d hear in a gospel church.

Blogger Phillip Bethancourt prior to the Superbowl wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about how Evangelicals would engage with halftime: “Evangelical churches host a Super Bowl watch party in the fellowship hall, black out the screen during commercials to avoid any unseemly ones, and turn off the broadcast for ‘fellowship time’ during halftime.”

It is because of this typical Evangelical reaction, that blogger Joy (of Joy in this Journey) asks some striking questions about the Superbowl and sexuality both male and female.

Why are we more comfortable with displays of masculinity and sexuality than we are with displays of femininity and sexuality? Why do we not have a problem watching football with our kids, but we attack and belittle the halftime show. Why is female sexuality so offensive? Why is male sexuality NOT offensive?

Is this a manifestation of the modesty wars, in which women are made responsible for men’s lust? Is this our societal discomfort with strong women? Or does this rise from a deep-seated Gnosticism that views all that is physical to be evil? Perhaps evangelical views of sexuality are heavily influenced by this heresy?

Barefoot and Pregnant blogger Calah Alexander is even more blunt in her reaction to the underlying issues, which permeate performances such as Beyonce’s:

Men judging women for what they do based on “attractiveness.” Women judging women for what they do based on “attractiveness.”… I do not want my daughter to grow up in a world where the boys and men around her constantly judge her morality in terms of physical attraction… I want her to grow up in a world where men and women talk about issues of virtue and modesty in terms of objective truth, not in terms of sex appeal.

In the Christ and Pop Culture writer’s discussion of the performance we all tended agree that the performance raises a number of important issues, which can be difficult and awkward to navigate within evangelical sub-culture and in our own lives. Lauren Rambo worries about little girl’s perceptions:

While I was watching it, I did feel uncomfortable for all the little girls watching it, including my daughter. They don’t have the maturity or discretion to understand the difference between Beyonce’s performance and something that is truly degrading to women.

Faith Newport took a different approach finding other female vocalists more empowering:

I don’t think of Beyonce as being particularly empowered–if you work in an industry known for objectifying/over-sexualizing women and generally go along with the status quo, how is that empowering to anyone? I think she’s a -relatively- better role model than, say, Ke$ha or Britney, but I don’t think of her as forging new ground for women in the music industry. I personally find women like Adele and Kelly Clarkson relatively more “empowered” than Beyonce, because of the way they challenge the norm.

Helen Lee used the halftime show as an opportunity to speak about these issues with her sons:

[I] used it as a teaching moment to talk about modesty, objectification of women, and what it means to “train our eyes.” Most of that went over our two younger sons’ heads, but our oldest heard what we were saying–he was the one brought up the modesty issue first, asking us, “Why are all these pop culture stars always dressed so immodestly???” Maybe Beyonce shows some skin because she feels cultural pressure to do so; maybe she enjoys it because she believes that “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” She has the star power and the means to truly empower others, but will she?

In all this discussion over the Superbowl performance from Christians and non-Christians my hope is that Beyonce realizes the cultural influence she holds. With the media referring to her and husband Jay-Z as the Obama’s of the entertainment industry, what Beyonce does has huge ramifications on our culture and I hope she makes her choices wisely.

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