I went and saw Beyoncé at the O2 Arena last Thursday, for the last of her sold-out London tour dates. As ever, she was magnificent. Awe-inspiring. A goddess amongst women. She mostly performed songs from her new, self-titled “visual album”. An album I am obsessed with. I love most of the songs but I especially adore “Drunk in Love”. And therein lies my problem.
Because “Drunk” is a great song. Rolling Stone called it “superb”, the “best song” on the album and “a bubbly, sexy, snap-filled duet”. It’s all steamy beats, exotic singing and exciting lyrics. Jay-Z has a verse (quelle surprise) and traditionally, he improves any song he guests on.
Except this one. His verse in this song contains the lyrics that I’m sure everyone knows by now:
“I’m Ike Turner, turn up, baby know I don’t play. Now eat the cake Anna Mae. Said eat the cake Anna Mae.”
This is a clear reference to Ike Turner’s famously abusive relationship with his wife Tina Turner (real name Anna Mae Bullock), specifically to a scene in the movie that was made about said relationship, “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” In this scene, Ike (played chillingly by Laurence Fishburne) tries to force feed Tina (played by Angela Bassett) a piece of cake in a restaurant, before hitting her friend when she objects. It is a disgusting, degrading and harrowing scene (one of many), portraying a gross violation of a woman’s body by the man she is supposed to be able to trust the most.
And that is why it is completely nonsensical to me that Jay-Z would include this lyric in a song. In a crazysexycool song, about drunken passion and lust. The video features a scantily clad Beyoncé (another shocker, but who’s complaining?!) writhing seductively on a moonlit beach, cuddling and giggling with Jay-Z as they dance and lark about together. The lyrics include things like:
“Why can’t I keep my fingers off you baby? I want you”
“Can’t keep your eyes off my fatty, daddy I want you”
“Last thing I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding up in that club”
“Slid the panties right to the side, ain’t got the time to take drawers off”
“We sex again in the morning, your breasts is my breakfast”
The music fully matches the sexuality of the lyrics and if I didn’t already mention it, I love this song! Which is why I don’t get why they threw in this big bucket of ice water.
Nothing about that line is sexy. It completely kills the song. What would possess someone to include that reference in a song about lustful, drunken passion? Why would Jay-Z think “ooh this song is so erotic and sensual, I should probably mention that guy who famously used to beat his wife to a pulp regularly, that will get everyone going”?
But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that he appears to have been right. Beyoncé caused controversy at the Grammy’s in January this year when everyone thought they might cut the line but instead she sang it along with him. And on Thursday, at the O2, Jay-Z made a “surprise” appearance to perform his rap. We all cheered with excitement- after all, Jay-Z is a legend- and when the time came for that line, I girded my loins as usual, braced myself and looked down at the ground.
And then he didn’t sing it!
I looked up in excitement, thinking maybe he’d finally gotten a clue, when I realised – he was holding the mic out and the entire stadium (capacity 20,000, of which approx. 70% were women) was thundering “EAT THE CAKE ANNA MAE! SAID EAT THE CAKE ANNA MAE!!!” for him. Only that line. How the actual is it possible that this line is the most popular in the song? I suppose I should just be grateful that it didn’t say it on the T-shirts. But I’m not. I’m just really fucking pissed.
I’m pissed that they ruined this hot song that I otherwise would have loved unreservedly. I’m pissed that Jay-Z thought this was an appropriate lyric. I’m pissed that Beyoncé agreed with him. I’m pissed with every single record-label/producer person who let the song get released like that. I’m pissed that the radio stations and MTV don’t have the sense to at least censor this line. I’m pissed with the 20,000 people who seem to think this is some epic lyric. I’m pissed with myself for buying the album anyway and going to see Beyoncé live because I love her and I didn’t see how me not going would make any difference. I’m pissed with the fact that no one I know feels able to make any difference. I’m pissed that Beyoncé, who has been hit with many criticisms for being anti-feminist in the past, for various things (including but not limited to calling her tour, a show about her own personal fabulosity, the Mrs Carter Show), seems to have made such strides recently in correcting that image (eg. including an excerpt of a TED talk by the eloquent author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in which she speaks about feminism and double standards, in her song “Flawless”; making a big deal at her show of the fact that her band is mostly female etc.) and has then pissed all over it with one wholly unnecessary and completely misguided line.
Because domestic abuse still happens. And there is still a view, held by far too many people, that it is somehow just an extension of love. That domestic violence happens because the abuser just feels too strongly for their partner. That the passion is too hard to contain. That they just don’t know how to control their deep and intense feelings and so they are released in the form of violence. Like a child who squeezes you painfully hard, because they don’t know how to tell you they love you. But domestic abuse is not about love, any more than rape is about sex. Beating your partner is about control, manipulation, intimidation and serious mental and emotional issues. It is the grossest violation of trust there is, and perpetuating the myth that it somehow stems from a place of passion or lust is not just stupid, it’s dangerous. It makes it seem glamorous, romantic and almost even desirable.
Now, I’m not usually one to harp on about the derogatory effects of pop culture on our nation’s youth etc. I’ve always believed (and still do) that if a nice, balanced kid listens to music about murderers/drug-addicts/abusers/whatever, they will not suddenly become any of the above or a willing victim. Youth are young, not stupid. And I believe strongly in free speech. But the Knowles-Carters are a powerful couple. They are admired and adored by millions, they are BFFs with the Obamas, they are respected by their peers and they represent a modern, and wholly desirable, family unit. What they say carries weight. Especially when set to a catchy beat and couched in sexy lyrics. So, while their words do not cause the problem, I believe that they can and do contribute to it.
Ike Turner is probably the most famous wife-beater of our time. For him to be immortalised in a love song by arguably one of the most influential couples of our time, is not fucking ok.
Beyoncé, please sort this out – we’re counting on you.