Beyonce’s been adding a far more serious, deeply political and race-fuelled tone to her work.
By Piers Morgan
I never like it when entertainers go all political.
The cynic in me believes it’s rarely done for genuine reasons but for strictly commercial ones.
Whether it’s Oscar-winners preaching from the Academy Awards pulpit or Madonna seizing the best-looking babies from African orphanages, it always looks and sounds like they’re using a ‘good cause’ as a fashion accessory.
Which brings me to Beyoncé and her new ‘visual-album’, Lemonade.
Now, I bow to no man nor woman when it comes to my admiration for this lady.
I once spent a delightful day with her in London for CNN and she was bright, warm, funny, sharp and incredibly impressive.
We chatted, had tea and scones, and finally went to the famous department store Harrods to buy a copy of her new album.
There, word quickly spread and several thousand people raced down to to form a frenzied throng desperate to get close to their idol.
Things grew steadily more intense, physical and scary until eventually I witnessed her chief bodyguard – a giant of a man – actually punch a paparazzi straight on the head, knocking him to the floor.
That was real superstar fame, on a scale few well-known people will ever experience.
Beyoncé’s over-excited audience that day pretty much typified what I suspect her normal audience looks like: Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, young, old, male, female, Jewish, Muslim, Christian.
In other words, a multi-cultural, age, gender and religion irrelevant demographic.
She’s a global brand, one of the best in the business, and has generally steered studiously clear of saying or doing anything too contentious which might polarise that audience – preferring to entertain for the sake of entertaining.
But just lately, Beyonce’s been adding a far more serious, deeply political and race-fuelled tone to her work.
Many of the instant headlines attached to it focus on her apparent calling out of husband Jay-Z as a love cheat.
But I was far more drawn to the politically-charged content in much of the rest of it.
There’s a clip of Malcolm X, the radical and controversial black separatist who opposed Dr Martin Luther King’s creed of non-violence, saying: ‘The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.’
Another shows two grieving mothers appearing on camera.
The first is Lesley McSpadden, filmed crying as she holds a photo of her late son Mike Brown who was shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 – an incident which sparked huge protests.
The second is Sybrina Fulton, whose 17-year-old son Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida by a local vigilante George Zimmerman in a case that sparked national outrage in 2012.
I have huge personal sympathy for both women and there is no doubt that African-Americans have been treated appallingly by certain rogue elements within the country’s police forces.
But I felt very uneasy watching these women being used in this way to sell an album. It smacks of shameless exploitation.
My mind went back to my CNN interview with Beyoncé and the moment when we discussed her live performance at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration ball in 2008.
‘Did you experience racism as you grew up?’ I asked.
‘A bit, but I feel like with my career I’ve now broken barriers. I don’t think people think about my race. I think they look at me as an entertainer and a musician and I’m very happy about that because that’s how I look at people. It’s not about color and race, and I’m happy that’s changing.’
‘At the time of the inauguration,’ I said, ‘the most powerful man in the world was African-American, Oprah was the biggest TV star, you were the biggest singing star and Tiger Woods was No1 golfer. That would have been unthinkable 30 years ago.’
‘Exactly,’ she replied.
‘The sea change came through personal achievement as much as anything else.’
‘Absolutely. I’m proud of that and I’m just praying that we continue to grow and people continue to see the right things in people.’
That interview took place five years ago.
Beyoncé then was unrecognisable from the militant activist we see now. Then, she was at pains to be seen as an entertainer and musician and not as a black woman who sings.
Now, it seems to be the complete opposite.
The new Beyoncé wants to be seen as a black woman political activist first and foremost, entertainer and musician second.
I still think she’s a wonderful singer and performer, and some of the music on Lemonade is fantastic.
But I have to be honest, I preferred the old Beyoncé.
The less inflammatory, agitating one.
The one who didn’t use grieving mothers to shift records and further fill her already massively enriched purse.
The one who didn’t play the race card so deliberately and to my mind, unnecessarily.
The one who wanted to be judged on her stupendous talent not her skin color, and wanted us all to do the same.
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