We All Can’t Be Queens: A Response to Beyonce’s “Bow Down”

Beyonce Bow Down Cover

The Princess Motif

When I was little, I was a very prissy girl. I loved easter colors, wore tons of dresses (most of which had floral prints), and above all, swore up and down that I was a pretty pretty princess. I dreamed that one day a handsome, and fantastically rich, young man would sweep me off my feet, set me up in a mansion and we would live happily ever after.

In terms of hobbies, most of my days were spent memorizing songs or trying to mimic dance routines from Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child, TLC, and all the other black, female greats of the 90s. I know my mom used to sit back and think, “I wish she would spend as much time with her books as she does with them damn music videos” but she never tried to stop me.

As I got older, though, the Disney & R&B inspired fantasies that filled my mind faded, and I learned that everyone, especially women, were not granted the same opportunities to attain success. If I wanted to have my big house, my walk-in closet, and my horse-n-chariot, I would have to earn it. Furthermore, that prince would end up being just one of the many things life didn’t guarantee.

Today,  I am 23, independent, and a Master’s Candidate without a single ring on my finger. It’s not the original blueprint, but it works for me right now, and I’m comfortable. Of course women don’t always accept this reality, and I would be lying if I said it was easy for me to accept it either.

 If ALL YOUR LIFE, you were fed this notion that there will be someone to take the rein and make all your dreams come true, you would be reluctant to think otherwise. And sometimes it’s easier to go along with the program instead of challenging the very systems that created these unrealistic notions in the first place. 

The Carter Dynasty

With regard to Beyonce’s latest release, Bow Down/I Been On, it’s interesting to see how she simultaneously reinforces this system, but argues that there is little to no access to it. Meaning, although she is part of the reason why women aspire to be like her, she does not wish to share the throne. Check out verse 2:

I know when you were little girls
You dreamed of being in my world
Don’t forget it, don’t forget it
Respect that, bow down, bitches

Think about it like this. If everyone were rich, then no one would be rich. The same thing applies to Beyonce. If all of us were iconic queens, like Mrs. Carter, then none of us would be. And it’s not like Beyonce is new to this lifestyle either, so like us, she is reluctant to let go.

Throughout the song, you can see how she was fed the same ideology we were, except hers was a reality. She’s “been on” since her youth, and has had access to things we could only pretend to have. Towards the end of the song she sings:

I remember my baby hair
With my dooky braids
Frenchy’s Boudin
In the parking lot
Shout out to Willie D
I was in that WIllie D video
When I was bout 14
Looking crazy
Shoutout to Pimp C
You know we used to sneak and listen to that UGK

“Baby hair and dooky braids” suggests an access to style and fashion because although we all wanted hair extensions when we were little, our parents couldn’t afford to let us have them whenever we wanted to.

Also, she mentions Frenchy’s Boudin, a brand of French sausage, which shines light on her privileged lifestyle. She wasn’t eating regular sausage links for breakfast, she was eating gourmet meats, like a princess.

Next, she refers to her appearance in a Willie D video, hinting at her success in the entertainment industry before her Destiny’s Child fame–another highlight of her privileged childhood. According to Allhiphop.com, the Houston rapper knew the young phenom when she was 10 years old and “never saw a 10-year old like that.”

Then she hints at how she used to “sneak” and listen to UGK as a kid, meaning hip-hop & rap weren’t allowed in the house. This suggests a structured, strict upbringing, one in which her parents didn’t encourage the “poison” of rap. Therefore, she had to hide her true musical influences despite her involvement with the industry itself.

Finally, the tracks’ album cover confirms these allusions, as a young Bey, with her elegant pink gown, is surrounded by trophies and ribbons, adorned with a tiara atop her noble brow. If this isn’t the life of a future Queen, I don’t know what is.

Don’t Hate the Queen, Hate the Monarchy

Most of the backlash of this song concerns whether or not Beyonce is aware of her impact on the little girls who, like me, have perceived Beyonce as the ambassador of girl power and finer womanhood. And up until this songs release, it was relatively true.

It’s no doubt that Beyonce deserves to be called the Queen of R&B. She is a wonderful entertainer, an international superstar and a successful business woman. In addition, she has done this through hard work and dedication. No one will ever be able to take that away from her.

 However, when she released Bow Down, it’s almost as if she wanted to sabotage those very sensibilities she originally promoted in her music. She went from telling girls that they ran the world to telling them that they are all “bitches” beneath her.

Rahiel Tesfamariam, columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, argues the song “suggests that the pop icon only adorns the feminist label when it suits her – dangerously straddling the line between female empowerment and subjugation.”

To make matters worse, she is the wife of businessman and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, making their relationship the constitutional monarchy of the music industry. It was just last year that they were named the highest paid celebrity couple by Forbes Magazine with a whopping $78 million combined income.

Since then, they both are embarking on world tours (The Mrs. Carter Show Tour and the Legends of the World Tour) and new business ventures. With all this in mind,  it can be argued that she’s literally throwing her fame and financial power in our faces.

But does that really matter?

Should the the problem be that Beyonce is self-righteous, or that she is reflective of an egotistical, capitalist society that brainwashes us into believing that we are entitled to, and have access to, the same type of power, as if anyone could be Beyonce?

Even if Beyonce never made this song, and for that matter, never made a song in her damn life, she is not responsible for the way the media influences our baby girls to believe that prince charming exists and will, in fact, save them from the trials and tribulations of the real world. In addition, it also encourages our girls to believe, with hard work alone, any one of them could be the next Beyonce.

However, in a marginalized, hegemonic society like the United States, where the success of a few means the downfall of many, success itself is almost impossible.

Besides, It’s not like Beyonce gets a check and says, “I wonder how many little girls will be singing Bow Down today to other little girls?” That’s not her job. Her job is to sell records, entertain, and make money for her family. Just like other parents do every day. It just so happens that she makes more money than most parents.

Although she may be part of the problem, we as roles models, parents, and citizens need to be proactive in creating a solution.

So we shouldn’t criticize Bey for her racy track. We should be slapping ourselves in the face for allowing our children to live in a system where that type of self-righteousness can be employed.

3 thoughts on “We All Can’t Be Queens: A Response to Beyonce’s “Bow Down”

  1. First things first, the article is very good. Kudos to you. However, I just wanted to make one point of clarification to give it complete validity. The reference to Frenchy’s boudin that you spoke of (at least in this particular reference) isn’t referring to the fancy French sausage. Being a current and long time resident of H Town (as well as someone who has frequented the spot many times) Frenchy’s is actually a New Orleans style restaurant known mostly for their chicken wings, boudin, and fish and surprisingly are typically not found in the wealthier neighborhoods. So if anything, at least in this particular reference, she was actually appearing to show that she deserved a little “street cred” for eating at one of the popular “hood spots”. No disrespect intended regarding your other views, I loved the article once again and as a 33 year old black man raised by a magnificent single mom I applaud your continued success as an inspiration to my to 2 young daughters. We need more like you as I am now watching the images and portrayals of our proud beautiful black women be ruined and tainted by shows like love and hip hop and basketball wives! All of the struggles and determination despite constant persecution of women like Angela Davis, Ruby Dee, Coretta Scott King, Barbara Jordan, you get my point, are now being minimized and their accomplishments undermined just for entertainment purposes. This makes me sad daily as I ponder on the long term effects this will have on our youth. But women like you give me hope. So again I say thank you sincerely and keep up the good work

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