Beyoncé has been gracing the proverbial stage as a powerful black woman for over 20 years. Her Coachella presentation provides an excellent example of how artists can remain influential during contentious times.
Beyoncé became the first black woman to headline Coachella on April 14 since the music and arts festival began almost 20 years ago, according to NBC News.
Instead of pandering to the largely white audience, Beyoncé emphasized and celebrated black diversity, something that other artists of color should not be hesitant about including in their productions.
“Beyoncé was performing her music, but she was also saying that the performance of respectability—the policing of black people’s behavior and appearance to better appeal to white people—is an oppression we don’t need in our lives,” children’s book author Myles Johnson argued in The New York Times.
Far too often, black artists have been told to alter their appearances and concerts in order to appeal to white consumers. For example, Whitney Houston was coerced by her advisor Clive Davis and others into singing pop rather than R&B, the genre she was comfortable with, according to The New York Times. This urging was also a product of her having to dress in trendier styles to appeal to a whiter audience, according to The New York Times.
Rather than performing her entire set shrouded in glamorous, traditionally elegant clothing, Beyoncé wore clothing that subverted conventions.
“Beyoncé reappeared in blue distressed denim shorts and a hoodie advertising a fake historically black college … [she] shows that talent and discipline are enough [to captivate the imagination of the public],” Johnson wrote in The New York Times.
Beyoncé’s wardrobe wasn’t the only innovative move she made that deconstructed the expectations of performers of color. In front of a largely white audience, Beyoncé made direct references to black culture.
“Echoing the struggles of the civil rights era, Beyoncé sang verses of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ also known as the Black National Anthem, which was a staple of black gatherings throughout the 20th century,” as noted by columnist Ronda Racha Penrice for NBC News.
“[The show also included] a sample of a Malcom X speech declaring that ‘the most disrespected woman in America is the black woman’ and a performance of her 2013 hit ‘Flawless’ featuring the voice of Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie,” Penrice said.
Sadly, we still live in a world where female sexuality, especially a black woman’s sexuality, is demonized and seen as animalistic. While Beyoncé could have edited the sexual elements of her performance to fit the audience’s expectations, she remained unapologetically authentic.
“Beyoncé performed her sensuality proudly in those songs, making a political statement that a person can be both intellectually rigorous and sexually expressive,” Johnson argued. “Beyoncé’s Coachella performance suggests that, as black people’s power grows, we should intentionally amplify the culture that nurtured us.”
We are living in a world where some people do not embrace diversity, causing many to steer away from it. With a star as massive as Beyoncé promoting her unique politics through her work, hopefully more artists in the industry will be inspired to make public political and social statements through their performances.