Beyonce Week: The queen of controversy? A field guide to the drama
With talent, looks and an ever-sharpening upward arc of political and self-expression, Beyoncé might be pop culture’s perfect storm of controversy. More than professional athletes, more even than current presidential candidates not named Trump or Clinton, the 34-year-old icon has been in the game long enough to know that outrage comes with the territory.
People have reacted to her choice of clothing, complained about her sexualized dancing, read controversy into her song lyrics whether it was there or not there. She has been helped and hurt by ardent supporters, most notably Kanye West.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the singer rarely gives interviews. The strategy might prevent needless controversies in limiting the words that can be misconstrued. But the cone of silence from her closest handlers cannot stop the rumor mill, and sometimes might even keep it going.
Here is a rundown of some of Beyoncé’s most controversial moments over the last several years. Some controversies are deliberate and well-crafted, others inadvertent. Still others arise out of nothing.
2009: One of the most famous incidents surrounding Beyoncé, the 2009 Video Music Awards, is one to which the singer herself had no connection. West walked on stage and yanked a Best Female Video award from a stunned Taylor Swift, saying Beyoncé should have won for Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).
2012: On Jan. 7, Beyoncé gave birth to Blue Ivy Carter in a New York hospital. The blogs went nuts, alleging that the singer and her husband had rented out an entire floor of the hospital for $1.3 million, displacing other parents. A spokesman for Lenox Hill Hospital told the Washington Post that Beyoncé had simply stayed in an executive suite at the hospital, and was billed at the standard rate.
2013: Beyoncé drew a strong reaction from her halftime performance at Super Bowl XLVII. Her skin-tight costume was made in part from iguana, python and cow, noted the activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A few weeks earlier, PETA had criticized the singer after she showed up at President Barack Obama’s inauguration wearing a mink coat.
2013: Beyoncé and Jay Z celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary with a trip to Cuba, which triggered accusations that the couple supported the Castro regime. The executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates called the trip “extremely insensitive,” alluding to “women getting beaten on a daily basis.” Florida Republican Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz Balart demanded an investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department, since tourism was prohibited at the time as a reason for Americans to visit Cuba.
2013: She releases a visual album, Beyoncé. While critically praised — Pitchfork called it “her most explicit and sonically experimental music to date” — six songs managed to anger people in different ways. Three songs — Mine, Heaven and Drunk in Love — raised eyebrows for allegedly light-hearted use of the crucifixion and other religious symbols. Flawless and Pretty Hurts were criticized as too sexualized. Finally, the song XO included audio from the day of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, which provoked an angry reaction from NASA.
2014: Her song Bow Down irked people on Twitter (not a difficult thing to do, I realize) who said that Beyoncé’s video belied her embrace of feminism. According to @DannyManus. “Beyoncé doesn’t get to claim feminism while grinding on a pole while other performers are insulted for doing the same. #doublestandards”
2015: Two controversies came about at the 2015 Grammy Awards, either as a result of the singer doing nothing or simply doing what she had been contracted to do. First, she offended fans of the soul-jazz singer Ledisi by singing Precious Lord, Take My Hand. Ledisi had performed the song in the movie Selma, in which she played soul singer Mahalia Jackson. Then it was the hive’s turn to be angry after were angry after Beyoncé was nudged from an Album of the Year Grammy by Beck. Kanye later opined that the snub was “disrespectful to inspiration,” and said that Beck “should’ve given his award to Beyoncé.”
2016: Beyoncé performed a live version of her song Formation at the Super Bowl. Symbols in the performance, including a squad of beret-wearing, black-clad dancers, were widely seen as to be a hat tip to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black Panthers. The video had been controversial, too, including images of a sinking police car in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani called Beyoncé’s halftime show “a platform to attack police officers.” Talk show host Wendy Williams reacted to Guiliani’s comments by saying that she had not seen anything in the performance other than entertainment.
“The political implications — sure, if you squint, (if) you look. But if you know the history, it’s not a thing, Rudy. Besides, Beyoncé’s got a huge voice. If she can use her voice to subtly embark something on somebody, then why not? Just saying.”
-- Andrew Meacham