About a third of the way into her set, Beyonce paused the Formation Tour to say a few words. It was unlike anything I’ve ever heard from the capacity crowd at Levi’s Stadium in that I could actually hear every single word that came out of her mouth. Dead silence, from 45,000 bees hungry for their queen’s instruction. Well perhaps just 44,999.
“I want to thank you all, every single one of you for being with me through all the hard work, the blood sweat and tears, for making me the artist I am today.” Beyonce was thanking me. Me. The one person who wasn’t rocking a “Kale” sweatshirt or didn’t have a plaid shirt around his waist. Me, who knew a good 80% of the lyrics to “Drunk in Love” but could hardly fake his way through singing “Freakum Dress.” Me, who couldn’t (and shouldn’t) wear a “Boycott Beyonce” shirt ironically despite knowing the meaning behind why she would sell such a shirt at her show. But the words still hung with me. “I want to thank you all, every single one of you…” She wasn’t thanking just her supporters, she thanked everyone.
Why the hell was Beyonce thanking me?
I wasn’t particularly interested in Beyonce until she shocked the world and released her self-titled album “Beyonce” without even a whisper of a rumor. She never appealed to me, not that she was trying to. I can clearly see my ignorant college self saying something along the lines of “I’m just not into that women power stuff.” I supported her message, but it didn’t speak to me musically. Of course, back then the moron in me took some sort of offense to that. I’d see my friends all get down to her tracks at parties and think to myself, “why can’t I like this the way they do.” It’s an embarrassingly selfish thought process, but it’s one I fully admit I went through. I was simply too naive to realize that it wasn’t that I couldn’t get into Beyonce, but rather, Beyonce wasn’t meant for me. Me, the college-aged male who despite being brown, had faced very few instances of real racism or other social prejudice.
So why was she thanking me?
Luckily when “Beyonce” was released, I was a little bit wiser, and a bit more open to music that wasn’t off of Kanye West’s latest album or a Swedish House Mafia set. The album had absolute bangers on it, and the production is as infectious as the personality Beyonce brings to the music. And having friends attached deeply to the Beyhive can’t be understated when discussing an appreciation of Beyonce. You can’t fight it. Pun fully intended, they swarm you, suffocate you.Their passion for her music inundates in a way where you simply have to succumb to it. It’s not as if I didn’t curiously invite their enthusiasm in, but my friends certainly took my level of appreciation for Beyonce to new heights.
So perhaps that was it. Maybe that’s why she was thanking me. Because after years of misunderstanding, I finally saw why Beyonce’s music was beloved by so many, and could finally enjoy it myself. Look, the most likely answer to my previous question is that Beyonce was just doing what any artist would during a stadium toor. But that phrasing, “every single one of you” stuck with me, and I had now figured out the answer to my uncertainty. I felt content, as I swayed and belted my way through a few more songs. And then without warning, my glass house of satisfaction shattered.
“Who the fuck do you think I am?” Beyonce belted as the opening notes of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” rang through the arena. I froze. The words sliced through every part of me. It’s the same feeling I had when I first watched “Lemonade” on HBO. The same “what exactly is going on?” I thought I had figured out Beyonce, and I was now realizing I didn’t know. I didn’t know who the fuck she was. I’d gone from complete ignorance, to ignorant understanding, to a complete lack of understanding. My mind was racing.
And then, a second light bulb. Shit, maybe I’m just not supposed to understand. Sure I’m allowed to enjoy the Weeknd feature on “6 Inch” or the Caribbean rhythms of “Hold Up.” But that’s where Beyonce draws the line for someone like me. This music isn’t for me. Me, the person who’s relatively comfortable with my place in a society that rarely helps women, especially those of color, in positions of power.
And maybe that’s why she was thanking me.
In a way, Beyonce was probably pleased to see me be uncomfortable. Maybe she could see my confusion as she dominated the stage in a way many have never seen before. She devours anyone who fails to understand the power a black woman can have on the entertainment industry, and spits them out with a ferocious grace applauded by everyone who has been similarly wronged. Instead of fighting to make sense of Beyonce, and trying to so hard to understand her music, Beyonce’s performance showed me it was simply time for me stay on the sidelines. To call Beyonce exclusive would be far more naive. It’s not that she intentionally means to exclude someone like me from her music or the entire show. It was simply her way of saying “you’ve had your turn, let’s someone else have a turn.”
So for the rest of the show, I did just that. I sat back, I listened, I appreciated the full flavor of the performance. While the Beyhive could embrace her full talent and message, it was my responsibility to hear her out and reconsider everything. I watched as Beyonce booty popped her way through “Countdown,” and listened as she gracefully floated her way through “1+1” with piercing, yet soothing vocals. I observed as she and her dancers kicked through the ankle-high pool of water built into the stage while releasing a full-fledged energy, their own Ultra Light Beams, that penetrated through the hearts of the Beyhive. I watched her showcase how someone could capture the world’s attention by writing music that mixed heartbreak and relationship trauma while using southern imagery to empower women. You can be considered a generational pop icon while making a quick stop at Red Lobster with hot sauce in your bag (swag), none of which I’ve ever done. Beyonce didn’t make her music for me, yet she still wanted me to witness the full range of her dominance so I could rethink the entertainment hierarchy along with society’s. And when the show ended and I exited the arena, I finally thought I have an unconfirmed guess as to Beyonce thanked me. Me, the person Beyonce didn’t make her music for and therefore, perhaps made for me.