Beyonce's Bottom Revisited

By Aaron Minsky a.k.a. Von Cello [09-04-2005]

My article, "What Can We Learn From Beyonce's Bottom," raised a few eyebrows. In the article I discussed the current trend in popular music of mixing violence and sex. As an example I cited the song "Soldier" as performed by Destiny's Child. I quoted lyrics which seemed to suggest that Beyonce and company were looking to have sexual relationships with gangsters. I also described the video for the song that showed the Destiny ladies in sexy poses with tough looking guys. I lamented about the growing use of sex and violence to promote music, and the lack of interest in great instrumentalists and composers that was there a generation ago.

The article provoked a great response. Some of the responders made points that I had overlooked; others provided good alternative views. Now that Destiny's Child is in the midst of its "Farewell Tour," it is a good time to revisit the issues swirling around "Beyonce's Bottom.”

Keith wrote:

"I find a lot of what you say to be valid and historically sound. I do wish some of this gangster loving trend would change. But one thing to note, regarding the use of slang in lyrics; that is century old and what made Jazz, Blues, and Rock n' Roll what it is today. So, I would relax on the criticism of slang in music."

Keith was referring to my mention of the use of street slang in "Soldier.” I wondered about the example being set with phrases like, "Where they at?,” instead of "Where are they?,” etc. But I see his point that this style of writing has a history. Even though the use of slang in music may discourage some from learning "proper" English, it often does give the music a cool vibe. Personally, I think the hippest slang word ever was "word.” Why even bother picking a word to say (like "cool,” "hip,” "phat,” or "hot")? Just say "word” and everyone will know what you mean!

Endria wrote:

"You are presuming that this song is autobiographical in nature and that this is what a woman like Beyonce really seeks. None of us know this young lady personally. This is clearly a persona that reflects a lot of young ladies who are from the 'the hood'. They need a voice too, don't you think?"

Yes, I suppose everyone needs a voice, and to that extent Beyonce is providing a service. I do think, though, that the song may encourage some young ladies to seek out gangster type men, rather than try to improve their lot in life, or help their men improve. The point is well taken that the song need not be about Beyonce, but I still question the glorification of gangster life in so much of today's music.

Anonymous wrote:

"There are a lot of men who grew up underprivileged, without 'white boy' advantages and have risen above 'gang banging and dope slanging.' Look at Beyonce's current love interest, Jay-Z. The perfect example of a 'soldier' and someone this young lady has chosen to spend her time with."

Jay-Z is indeed an example of a good "soldier.” I would like to hear songs that glorify gangsters who leave gang life behind and become positive role models. Today's music too often reinforces negativity. Art is at its best when it uplifts people and points them in a positive direction.

Anonymous wrote:

"There are a lot of rappers who were selling drugs. Now they have their own legit business, but America has always been like that. Joseph Kennedy made millions bootlegging alcohol. If these guys had walked into any bank to borrow money to start a record label or clothing line do you think they would have got the loan? The bank would have called the police."

That is a good point. Perhaps criminal activity is the way many in America have risen to wealth and power. Perhaps the music gangsters are no worse than some of our political and business leaders of today. But that does not make it right. We as a society should fight to keep opportunity open to all, not just those who go around the system. We must change the emphasis in our culture, and music can help. It is not true that he who has the most toys when he dies wins. The true winner is he who has the most friends, the most respect, the most love. Who is singing about that today?

Errol wrote:

"You also have to blame the program directors at the radio and television stations. If you notice you always see the stupid videos or hear the stupid songs on radio or TV. So rap artists like Common, Nas or The Roots don't get played because they don't talk about violence or sex. So, the artists are doing music that's going to get played. I don't even listen to music on the radio in my car, I listen to Talk Radio."

I did not mean to lay this all on the artists. It is a societal problem. It is largely about greed. Sex and violence sell, therefore many people: record executives, artists, promoters, DJs, all try to fill this demand that comes from the public. Perhaps the underlying problem is the incredible emphasis in our society on money. In fact, part of what allowed gangster rap to become so big was the fact that it was cheaper to produce than working with bands. A lot of the music could be programmed on computers, saving studio costs. In fact, many rappers came to the record labels with finished product that they made themselves in home studios, and young rappers were easy targets for no win record contracts. Unfortunately, in a capitalist society with little emphasis on quality and culture, the lowest common denominator often rises to the top, and great artists (of all types) are all too often left picking through the scraps.

Anonymous wrote:

"You have truly not been hipped to the song, so let me help. The Soldier piece has a double meaning: a soldier is a tough man that isn't afraid to stand up for his woman and has nothing to do with a 'Gang Member.’ The 'Big Things' happen to be a metaphor for the size that matters, if you know what I mean (hint: penis). Respectfully, I would request more research is done, before this false opinionized information is spread to people that are not knowledgeable about the culture of Hip Hop!"

I was wrong to assume that the song was only about gangsters, and you are wrong to assume it is not. I think it is meant to be taken both ways. As for "big things,” if that means what you say, then why is it in the plural? Last time I checked, most guys have only one of those! So, in this case, I think I was right to assume it was about weapons. After all, isn't that what soldiers carry? But again, I think the lyrics are ambiguous enough to be taken both ways.

Anonymous wrote:

"nice article...but YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!? The first time you GET THIS is when a WOMAN is doing it? Where've you been the last 10 years. Guess it's always Eve's fault..."

Ha! I should have known that someone would get me on the sexist angle! I guess to some extent I am guilty. But honestly, if my article were called, "What Can We Learn From Jay-Z's Bottom?,” how many people would have read it?

So, perhaps I, too, am part of the problem... In fact, I was just hired to add cello tracks to a hip hop recording, and I don't even know what the MC is going to rap about! I can only hope it will be positive. Word!


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