I’ve watched Beyonce’s performance at the Billboard Music Awards a few times today. Online chatter is generally gushy about the video effects and the dancing, but the song itself gets the least love among the many moving parts. “What a shame that such a performance was wasted on such a weak song. You’ll never hear that song 10 yrs from now,” one commenter noted.
You won’t get any push back on that appraisal from me. Still, my mind wandered to what other music might make use of such a display with more staying power.
Even more than that, however, after reading David T. Little’s column considering the intersection of the musical and the political, tracks like “Run the World (Girls)” raise questions for me concerning the line between performance as political inspiration vs. the manipulative power of a good beat and a great designer. There is a message about empowerment that I’m seeking inside this music that I don’t cleanly hear or see.
At first I thought it was just the idea that the influence of barely being dressed seemed slightly off message. I’m not usually such a prude, and after catching this fan-made video, I realized it wasn’t just that–well, not entirely. The lingerie was a front on an issue that you don’t encounter when, say, reading about this Saudi woman’s campaign to fight against driving prohibitions in her home country. Sexy is a powerful package, as are network production values, but I was looking for a core that brought a celebration of girls running the world to the table with something more weighty than glitz, windblown hair, and tech tricks, and that’s where this performance gave me nothing but air.
UPDATE: I knew I wasn’t the only one who found something hard to swallow in “Run the World (Girls),” but this video from NineteenPercent lays it out and then some.