"I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars
they criticize me for it; but they all yell 'holla!"
First, let me start by saying that I don't need a scientific study to tell me that Beyonce fans are dumb. I told you that 2 years ago. That's not to say that ALL Beyonce fans are dumb. I am a
Because of that I was slightly offended at the thought that the kind of music I listen to is somehow related to how smart I am. I have always felt that our taste in music says more about our moods and our life experiences than it does about our actual intelligence. Music is very important to me, but the music I listen to may or may not paint the most complete picture of the person I truly am.
For example, my brother will shoot everybody in the comment section, but if you go to his Myspace page the song playing is "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers. The reason why is because he's going through a breakup (his girlfriend came and took all her shit, she took the TV too, even told him the baby wasn't his. It was quite a comedic and Colored spectacle.) My brother's song choice was not influenced by his intelligence or his need to adhere the common perception of what a "thug" is supposed to listen to, but rather by his current life experience. His heart is broken. He hurts. That is the song that expresses that. Music can inspire and uplift your life but there has to be a life already there.
I guess this is the part of the show where I start naming a list of artists that I listen to show you how deep and eclectic I am. Let's go through my iPod. These are the most played songs on my iPod. You probably assumed that Beyonce would be in all the slots. You may see Beyonce a few times. You may see a couple of songs from Beyonceitis victims. You may even see songs from your co-worker at Target:
To me this playlist doesn't say that I'm "smart" or "dumb". It says that I am a little different. I didn't do what the fast "girls" do. It says that I've had my heart broken, but I still believe in love and all that it can do for you. It says that I like synthesizers and thick vocal arrangements. It says "Imma buy you a drank and take you home with me, but no I don't want your number, and no I don't wanna give you mine, and I bet you want the goodies, I bet you thought about it, but if liked it you shoulda put a ring on it, but if you don't want me then don't don't talk to me because I can have another you in a minute because the milkshake still bring 'em to the yard...damn right it's better than yours."
All of these artists and genres co-exist in my iPod with no problem. The only issues I have is when I put my iPod on shuffle and a Kirk Franklin song comes on, and when it goes off the next thing I hear is "All you ladies pop your pussy like this". So I made a separate playlist for my gospel and spiritual songs. I think King Jesus likes it better that way.
But I digress...
I'm writing today not just because of the scientific study, but because of the fact that it brings up an age-old Beyonce argument: "smart" versus "dumb" "real" versus "fake". "deep" versus "shallow", and the fact I may have lost a friend over the "Video Phone" song. Yes, Beyonce's 'Video Phone" has ended one of my friendships. First of all let me just say I don't like or dislike "Video Phone".To me it's a catchy little ditty. Nothing more. Nothing less. But it sparked a heated conversation, which went something like this:
Friend: Why is she talking about stripping over a cell phone? That's not her life. It's just not necessary. Why does she feel the need to dumb things down?
Me: I mean it's just a song...what about the "I Am..." side of the album? You said liked those songs right?
Friend: Yes, but that's just a marketing gimmick.
Me: So let me get this straight. If Beyonce tries to produce a hit then she's "dumbing it down". If she tries to sing a song which may actually speak to her life then it's just a marketing gimmick. So she's either dumbing it down or a marketing gimmick?
Friend: Why can't she just sing songs that are true to her life?
Me: If she sang songs that pertained directly to her life then it would an album about her growing up in upper middle class Houston, TX, and the fact that she has more money than all of us put together, and that she never even saw a man's tenders before she saw Jay-Z naked. That would be kinda boring don't you think? She rides a Maybach but a lot of her fans take the bus to work. Why not speak to the people who buy her music, not as a superstar, but as a person, regardless of whether it comes directly from her life or not, why not produce music that regular people can relate to? Why do you focus on a song about stripping over a video phone? Why not focus on the song where she says that any man worth your time should want to be a committed relationship with you. Or the song where she says that whether or not you have a man or not you should still be your own best friend?
Friend: Because it's not real.
Because I don't think it's possible to form an accurate opinion of a person's intelligence or their life by the music they listen to, I can't possibly form an completely accurate opinion of a person's life or intelligence by the music they produce.
To better understand this, let's take a page from that great Negro poet Clifford Harris. Here's an excerpt from an interview he did with VIBE magazine in August 2007.
VIBE: People look to you to lead. Do you feel like you are in a position to talk about things of substance? Would you?
T.I.: I don't know how much more in my business people want to be. I don't know how much more in my business I want people to be. I heard from Diana Ross that you gotta save some from yourself. I couldn't argue with her. There are so many people to accommodate...
When the interviewer asked him about "T.I. vs. T.I.P." being a "commercial" album T.I. responded:
"Hopefully we'll get more Chevy commercials out of it. This is a business. I'm not going to cut off my nose to spite my face. Some of my best songs most of my fans have never even heard. For your own self-gratification you make the songs you want to make around those other songs..."
To put that in Sasha Fierce terms, for every "Halo", Beyonce does a "Diva", for every "Me, Myself, and I" she must do a "Check On It".
T.I. said he refuses to "cut off his nose to spite his face". Bringing that back into Sasha Fierce terms, Beyonce COULD do an album full of "Halos" or "Me, Myself, and I's" to quiet the critics (and her fans) who question her artistic integrity, but let's just be truthful, critical acclaim does NOT pay the bills (try and take a good review to the leasing office on the 15th and see how long you stay in your apartment). She could also make an album of "Check On Its and "Divas" a bunch of trendy, club-banger, made-for-iTunes, ringtone-ready songs, but that's clearly not what she wants to do, and you must ask yourself as a stan of whatever artist you stan for: Would rather that artist succeed at doing music they don't want to do or flop with an album doing exactly what they wanted to do?
People complain about the "shallowness" of music today. Music ain't like it was "back in the day". Well part of the reason is that music is not received the way it was "back in the day". No matter how "deep" any of us think we are, we still look at music more than we listen to it. Erykah Badu said something really powerful that spoke on this issue, she said: "I discovered I'm in a world full of personality worshippers: People aren't looking for a savior. They're looking for someone who looks like one."
She was speaking on this preconceived notion about how a "real" artist is supposed look, act, dress, and sound. Over 10 years ago, right after her first album had dropped and some of her fans were upset that her dreads were actually extensions. I mean a "real" artist has "real" hair... right?
I guess Erykah longs for a world where we could listen to music free from our preconceived notions about what "real music" is supposed to look like and how "real music" is supposed to be expressed. And she's right about us living in a world full of personality worshippers. When I ask you who your favorite artist is, I am not asking, who is the most best singer, the best dancer, or even who's the most naturally talented, what I am asking is if you were famous which one of these tricks would you like to be? Who would you most like to be friends with? Perhaps if we lived in a world where we judged Erykah's music based on the content instead of what is under her head wrap, or how she conducts her personal life, we could kill this "real" versus "fake" argument once and for all.
I've grown tired of the misuse of the words "real" and "deep". To me "real' is whatever applies to you at that particular moment. If your heart is broken and you need 'Irreplaceable" to pull you out of it then that's real for you. If you need a little self-esteem boost and want to listen to "Diva" that's real for you. If you want to bend over in front a bathroom mirror and send the pictures to your boyfriend then "Video Phone" may be the realest shit ever created. I can't say which one of these songs will go down in history as classics because classic means that it withstands the test of time, and in order for me to know that would mean that I have a time machine which can see into the future. I don't, and I'm willing to guess that you don't either. Not all current classics were deemed classics out of the gate. Not everything mainstream is bad, and not everything underground is good. It simply boils down to what speaks to you at that particular time.
In trying to make Beyonce "real' we may be trying to make her something she's not. and maybe it wasn't just a smart "marketing gimmick" to split her album in half. Maybe Beyonce realized that people's lives are not so simple that one artist, one song, one album, or one style is going to say everything we want to hear ALL the time. That's why we can pull a little bit from everybody. The great thing about it is that if Beyonce isn't saying what I want to hear, maybe Alicia is, and if she doesn't have the words, maybe Keyshia does, or Erykah, or Kanye, Rihanna, or Keri, or Solange. The great thing about life and iPods is that there's more than enough space for variety. Not one artist can be all things to all people no matter how multi-talented they are. There are many of different people with many different life experiences, and many different songs to go along with it.
Maybe Beyonce has heard the "real" versus "fake" argument a thousand times and in spite of it she still sings about swinging her thong around on her video phone, or about her kitty kat, or about how much of a diva she is. Despite all the pressure and the criticism, she makes exactly the kind of music she wants to make, how she wants to make it, when she wants to make it. Isn't that what a "real" artist would do?