By Caitlin Donohue; Photos by Manuel D. Lira
Once at an epically packed Beyoncé drag, show shortly after the Visual Album was released, a gay boy told me I was ruining things. Please: “It is straight girls like you,” he drunkenly spat at me as his friends looked on in well-founded horror of his words, “that are ruining this club.” Stunned, I tried to reason with him — until he called me a techie, which is a fighting word in San Francisco. Luckily, I had a Beyoncé drag show to watch so at that point I grabbed my friend’s hand and pushed past the dude’s polo shirt to the front of the stage, resolving to enjoy the show. I have thought long and hard about this exchange, and not just about whether I qualify as a straight girl, which is a conversation for another day.
(In hindsight, this was probably the third best way I could have handled the situation. Second best: inquiring loudly whether my verbal assailant was aware that Beyoncé is, to the best of our knowledge, a straight woman. But probably the best course of action would have been: sticking my hands down the front of my pants and smilingly, wordlessly, wafting my vagina-scented hand in front of his face. If a woman was going to ruin his night, it’s only fair that he get the full experience. Come for me, potato face!)
Between you and me, sweet readers of the Bey 4U issue, the dumb shit’s words wounded me. Someone, you see, had attempted to wedge themselves between my beloved Bey and I. That injured brain of his had convinced him that Beyoncé — fine, drag queens interpreting Beyoncé — belonged to him more than she belonged to me. But does she belong to any of us? In the year since the incident occurred, I’ve often questioned my own fierce allegiance to this mythic woman. How can I love someone who once forced us to get a MasterCard to access pre-sales to the Mrs. Carter Tour? Someone who has an endorsement deal with Pepsi?
Somehow she’s won me over. I edited a goddamn magazine issue about her, I mean. And I’m obviously not her only fan girl. Beyoncé is businesswoman, showgirl, wife, mother. She’s a strong woman of color, she’s a feminist, an author, she can fucking dance. Each of these aspects pulls in a different group of ardent fans. She shifts her personal aesthetic every season to sate our appetite for new. By their very definition, that’s what pop stars are: amorphous entities at once unknowable and familiar enough so that we can project whatever we need to onto them. They’re diaphanous and multitudinous enough that we can locate ourselves in some glittering corner of their triple platinum selling circus tent. Poptimism describes the movement of fans and critics towards popular music forms, a shift that valuates pop’s ability to communicate with hella people at once. I’m with the poptimists. Maybe I’m not down with Bey’s corporate trickeries, but I can sure get with Chimamanda Ngozi Adeche samples and those outfits Bey, Nicki and the backup dancers came with for the performance of “Flawless” in the On The Run HBO special. And as to the body politics: tell me shaking your ass isn’t activism. In a world that tells women their bodies don’t belong to them, I will tell you that you are wrong. There’s so much out there to read and consume and listen to about Bey that the less flawless parts of her can fall back in our mind’s eye. We have a lot to think about.
The attempt to locate oneself among the many layers of Beyoncé quickly emerged as a central theme in the submissions that my co-editor Kelly Lovemonster and I received for this issue, which we are releasing without warning on the year anniversary of the Visual Album’s debut. From Antone’s quirky buddy drawings (one of which is our cover image) to Blake Karamazov’s photographic reflection of the glamour veil Beyoncé “lifts” for us from time to time, our contributors all looked deeper than the typical dashed off Bey think piece that has dominated our web browsers in 2014. This issue is about our heroine, and about how we care enough to not just take her at face value, but to require more levels of meaning – sometimes to the point that we have to make them up ourselves. I don’t own Beyoncé, and neither do you. But without us, she wouldn’t be her. We’re the one signing up for those stupid MasterCards, after all.
Who among us has not been in an argument over Beyoncé this year? We’re all on one side or the other about whether she’s a talented musician, a terrorist, socially aware. In 2014, Bey was so huge that our views on her began to signal which cultural demographic we belonged to. What we see in Bey reflects whether or not we think perfection exists, whether it can exist in pop culture, how you have to dress and present to be respected in this world. Basically, I’m talking about our values. So I dunno, if you think about it maybe Bey 4U really is the most important thing.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER Manuel D. Lira is a Mexico City videographer and 4U Magazine contributor. His favorite Beyoncé song is “Irreplacable”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Caitlin Donohue lives in Mexico City. She co-founded 4U Magazine and is a freelance writer. Her favorite Beyoncé song is probably “Crazy in Love”, but she’s been listening to a lot of “Ring Off” recently.