“Your mother is a woman, and women like her cannot be contained.”
It’s a remarkable feat to resuscitate a nation while simultaneously taking their breath away, but such is the otherworldly power of Beyoncé.
Roughly one hour into Sunday night’s Grammy Awards, Beyoncé, fresh off the announcement that she is pregnant with twins, took the stage to perform a spiritual, sweeping, multimedia-filled tribute to motherhood. In some ways, it was a tribute to herself.
Donning a halo crown and draped in gold, she was styled as the Madonna, down to the serene smile on her face and the ethereal glow that radiated off the screen. At one point recreating her own version of the Ascension and a femininity-celebrating Last Supper during her performances of “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles,” the religious epic was almost a nod to the hyperbolic fawning over the superstar on social media. Beyoncé, our Lord and Savior, had arrived.
Her worshippers were ready to be saved. And their testimony: flooding social media with their awe at their deity’s jaw-dropping performance.
If the Grammys have become an annual ritual of wondering who the hell 75 percent of the people on the stage are and uttering baffled “huhs!?” at the obtuse and out-of-touch winners, Beyoncé is the reliable disruptor, raising the bar of what is artistically possible on a level leaps and bounds ahead of all her peers. The “huhs,” oh so briefly, replaced by “hallelujahs.”
In that way, the trippy, spellbinding performance—the Grammys by way of Julie Taymor—was a tribute to healing and resilience. At a time when optimism and peace might seem impossible to imagine, Beyoncé very pointedly crafts imagery exalting the power of sisterhood and motherhood and femininity, and points towards the future. The women will lead the way.
“Baptize me...now that reconciliation is possible,” she says, recreating the Warsan Shire-scripted words from her voiceover in Lemonade. “If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious.”
Glorious is certainly one word to describe Sunday night’s galvanizing affair. But it’s the power of Beyoncé that she can pull off an ambitious, artistically audacious performance like the one she just gave and have you feel that glory in your own life, too. Out of the scorched-earth anxiety of our current cultural state of being, she rises, and she lifts us up with her.
And for all the superlatives we can lob at her Sunday night set—and, yes, all the acid-trip jokes we can make about its spiritually psychedelic multimedia elements—it should not be lost that this was a bold performance; one that made a statement.
As has been pointed out to us on social media, Beyonce appeared to be styling herself in the image of the African goddess Oshun, a deity of sexuality and fertility.
At times staged as if it was its own fertility ritual, this was a celebration of motherhood as much as it was a confrontation about our feelings about motherhood. How often do we see pregnant woman exalted? Hailed as saviors? Leaders of the resistance? Sensual and sexual in their pregnancy? Regal in their bodies?
Just consider visibility. In primetime in network television, we still require pregnant actress to hide their bellies behind laundry baskets and concealed by extra large trench coats. It's hideously retrograde, normalized misogyny.
As Vanessa Williams tweeted Sunday night, "They never showed my pregnant belly when I sang my nominated 'Save the Best for Last"—oh how times have changed!"
On a Grammy stage that requires its pop ingénues to belt it out while maintaining perfect bodies and negotiating pounds of hair, makeup, and glittering gowns while a rotating roster of old white guys with grizzly beards in jeans take home all the trophies, Beyoncé swiveling her hips to “Love Drought,” living for and in her sexuality while cradling her pregnant belly, was gorgeous, provocative, and maybe even a little political. It was glorious.
And the patriarchy, especially today, can use some Beyoncé in all her maternity glory to give them a reminder of where they came from, and who they’re screwing over and disrespecting. The women marched, and Beyoncé is dancing on the passion of their cries.
There were people on social media who found the display to be self-serving, overbearing, and, as you can imagine, off-putting. (I will not be linking to them.) “You’re not the first person to be pregnant, Beyoncé,” was one reaction. But that’s the point of Lemonade.
She’s not the first person to feel betrayal, ignored, denied her femininity, stifled in her power, ashamed of her identity, cheated, robbed, and undervalued. The power in the work is her insistence on making her triumph over those things a collective triumph: acknowledging and validating the pain, and leading the charge past it.
And should there be any confusion that Beyoncé was trying to make a statement with her performance, her acceptance speech minutes later for Best Urban Contemporary Album clarifies it.
“We all experience pain and loss, and often we become inaudible,” she said, after opening her speech by acknowledging her daughter, Blue Ivy. “My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness, and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable.”
“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty,” she continued, “so that they can grow up in a world where they can look in the mirror, first at their own families as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House, and the Grammys, and see themselves, and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent, and capable. This is something that I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital we look at this past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”
There’s been a groundswell of exhaustion over how political award shows have gotten in the wake of last year’s election and the onslaught of concerning decisions being made by the current administration.
Beyoncé’s performance proved why the confluence of art and politics shouldn’t just be permitted, but is necessary.
The same people who think politics should be kept out of pop culture are the ones who cite Apocalypse Now and Platoon as their favorite movies, who had a Shawshank Redemption poster on their dorm room wall, displayed prominently next to the Bob Marley one. They’re the ones who cover Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke and John Lennon on umpteen singing talent shows, but don’t understand the irony in claiming that actors and singers have no role in politics.
Beyoncé is allowed to make a political statement because Beyoncé’s existence—the most famous singer in the world—is a political statement. She is a black woman who has risen to her altar on a sermon of feminism, sexual agency, power, and her blackness. Days after Coretta Scott King, activist and wife of Martin Luther King Jr., was silenced from the grave during a Congressional hearing, it is a fallacy to say that Beyoncé isn't owed a political voice.
We’re just so lucky that she’s using it.
This post has been updated to include information about Oshun, the African goddess who seems to have inspired Beyoncé's styling and performance.