Mansplaining Beyoncé and Nicki and the “Flawless” Remix
I love Beyoncé Knowles. I also respect and value the fact that my fandom of Beyoncé has a limit.
At my most ecstatic about a Beyoncé song, or a Beyoncé statement, or a Beyoncé performance, or a Beyoncé outfit, or a Beyoncé GIF, or a Beyoncé Tumblr post, it doesn’t even approach peak Beydom for many of the women in my life. Not even close.
At 11:59 p.m. Saturday night, I was reminded of this by another one of her weekend-halting, hysteria-inducing moments: the release of “Flawless (Remix).”
While speaking to a friend yesterday, she gladly admitted, “I have this physical reaction to Beyoncé. It’s really hard to handle.” And while not able to similarly identify that feeling about Beyoncé, I understand that reaction. I get it. It’s music that is beyond the emotional, often tapping into notions of pride and self-worth. I get that because I’ve felt it for other people. It just happens to not be for Beyoncé.
From Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder to Kanye West and Black Star, these are all people who have made me want to scream “I am black” from the highest mountaintop, with the loudest megaphone.
But race and gender aren’t the same thing. They’re cousins, not fraternal twins. And you can’t always put yourself in someone else’s shoes, every single time, purely for the sake of your own acceptance and self-reference.
When it comes to Mrs. Knowles-Carter, I fully get that she is not my person and I am not her target. And eventually, I’ve come to embrace that.
Once the waking population became increasingly aware of new Beyoncé music, she — again — became the most important cultural figure to a segment of the population. I felt it everywhere: in real life, on Twitter, on Facebook, in my texts, various email chains — everywhere. And while occasionally contributing to the dialogue, I mostly just watched it unfold, smiling. Amid all the rumors of her personal life, there was a real, palpable excitement that showed she was back. Or perhaps never left. But either way, she was stronger than ever. And then, atop the mere existence of a remix to her “I am King B, hear me roar” opus, as well as the specific things she addressed in her sung and rapped verses, SpottieOttie horns fall out of the sky, she barks “Onika,” and then introduces one of the few artists who can match her, bark for bark: Nicki Minaj.
The first merger of these two artists feels very Watch the Throne. Jay Z and Kanye’s joint effort was so seminal, for so many people, because as a duo they went from two human artists to a mythical unit. It’s why things like the “Otis” video will never, ever get old. Because such an extreme level of I Don’t GAF was never supposed to happen. It’s why their giant smiles are so great to watch, because it’s almost as if they know this was never supposed to happen. As if it’s a fantasy, even for them.
That’s what I felt like, watching reactions to Beyoncé and Nicki, together — finally.
It almost seemed like too much to handle. In the most overwhelmingly positive way possible.
At at the top of the list of Beyoncé songs that truly aren’t mine to co-opt as a man, “Flawless” may be no. 1. Even though waking up “like this” knows no gender, that phrase followed by “we flawless, ladies, tell ’em” makes it clear she is not concerned with my early-morning beauty regimen. So a remix of this song, with new, more aggressive lyrics, takes this notion even further. And then adding in Nicki Lewinsky makes it all bubble over.
When “Flawless” first came out and would come on at a social gathering, the dance floor would often quickly be covered by women, as if we were mere moments away from a bouquet toss. And the result would be a bunch of dudes standing around, watching a room of women losing it. There are only a handful of examples that can mirror this reaction, most of which are Nicki verses and Beyoncé songs. But none are quite like “Flawless.”
And every time, it’s amazing to watch. To witness women getting excited over music that’s actually pro-woman. It’s beautiful to watch people go through things, even when you aren’t privileged to have the same reaction and, in the moment, are more of a spectator than participant.
It’s exciting to watch women battle rap each other about their flawless titties. It’s also not the worst-case scenario to rap and sing along with two superheroine figures behaving unabashedly female as they speak as women, of others wishing they were the baby’s mothers, and, again, of flawless titties.
In the interest of fairness, it’s about time that I’m forced to speak of my “flawless titties” that I don’t have. I’ve said I have “flawless titties” more than 50 times this weekend. It’s a far cry from the shame I felt when catching myself in my mom’s car, singing along to “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan, but then somehow not finding it odd upon seeing a woman belt the lyrics to James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
After a certain point, however, I just gave in. Because that Chaka song is incredible. And I know all the words. So even if Chaka’s not singing to me, preaching that “it’s all in me — Rembert Browne — every woman,” it’s good enough to appreciate and enjoy and celebrate. And if a crew of women begin singing it at the top of their lungs, I can continue singing it, but might get out of the way and let them have their well-deserved moment.
While noticeably on the periphery, literally and figuratively, it’s an important reminder that not everything has to be yours. It’s a reminder that you can enjoy and even celebrate, but you aren’t always invited to the party. And that’s completely OK. So I’ll just be here, standing against the wall, rapping about my flawless titties.