By Kwesi Billups
This week, I’d like to explore an excerpt from an analytical essay that I wrote regarding American recording artist, dancer, actor, and mogul Beyoncé Knowles’s impact on popular culture in the U.S. In addition to examining my own interpretation of her career and influence on pop culture, you’ll be able to view Beyoncé’s 2016 MTV Video Music Awards performance that I feel best encapsulates her talent and vocal ability for those unfamiliar with her work. The full film features songs from her critically acclaimed visual album LEMONADE, which featured videos for each song from the 12-track record, as well as poetry by Warsan Shire to accompany the visuals and enhance the poignant themes of the visual artwork.
An excerpt from “Lemons to LEMONADE: Defining Beyoncé’s Impact on You” by Kwesi Billups:
For millennia, music and performance have been used to evoke emotion, communicate messages, promote agendas, and interpret the nature of the human condition. Performance art has undergone countless evolutions to meet the standards and expectations of the existing social norms of the time. Artists’ contributions are often defined and even limited by the boundaries of the cultural tenets of the era in which they create work, but there arise particularly trailblazing artists that transcend the measures of success and ability of their cohorts… Beyoncé has pushed the envelope of today’s performance standards so much so that she is regarded in a category of her own… The quality of her tone compounded with her passion for delivering electrifying performances created what seemed to be the abilities of a “celestial being” although Beyoncé is merely human. But, what is mere about Beyoncé’s fifteen-minute-long MTV 2016 Video Music Awards performance that garnered an intense standing ovation from an audience full of celebrities, performers, actors, athletes, singers, and fans of music? Part of what has made Beyoncé’s superstardom so enduring is that she represents some of the best of what art has to offer. What Beyoncé is doing when she secures the most MTV Video Music Awards of any artist ever, becomes the second-highest Grammy awarded female artist, breaks the Guinness World Record for fast-selling album on iTunes, or embarks on a masterfully curated World Tour that grosses over $250 million worldwide, is demonstrating that people, humans, are capable of brilliant acts. Beyoncé’s commercial and critical success embodies that she is a mirror of American society’s highest ideals of art.
WATCH: Beyoncé’s full 2016 VMA performance
Firstly, I must say that after watching the performance for the first time, I was simply stunned. Never before in my lifetime had I witnessed an artist utilize space, sound, and imagery to take viewers on an emotional journey in such a short amount of time. The reaction from the awestruck crowd of performers, celebrities, and artists alike demonstrates that even her cohorts in showbusiness have immense respect for Beyoncé’s mastery of audio/visual production. Her performance is chock full of references and messages that allude to various political and emotional matters that she has explored throughout her career, but particularly within the last year. If you have yet to do so, I encourage you to listen and watch Beyoncé’s LEMONADE and examine her command of themes of infidelity, insecurity, black empowerment, and womanhood. I believe that she has worked to craft one of the best works of art of the 21st century, and she has only scratched the surface of how her iconic works will influence generations of performers to come. Feel free to check out the full essay I wrote exploring Beyoncé’s role as a pop cultural icon.