The idea that Black women recording artists like Janet Jackson and Beyonce Knowles-Carter sing/write about sex to grab attention (from men) or to increase sales is annoying to me for several reasons. It feels intellectually lazy and dishonest and slightly hotep-ish with a sprinkle of respectability politics thrown in. Because women couldn’t possibly think about sex, enjoy sex, want sex, or want to talk about sex. No, it’s all just a premeditated attempt to attract male listeners because only men care about sex but they only listen to [pick a stereotypical genre of music].
Sure, some women artists are told to ‘sex it up’ more in their lyrics and onstage persona for record sales – Lil Kim comes to mind. But for some artists, it’s not a calculation. It’s just an expression of what they’re feeling at the time.
Consider the moment in both Jackson’s and Knowles-Carter’s lives just before their most sexual content dropped. Janet had secretly married Rene Elizondo was coming off two highly successful albums and tours for Control and Rhythm Nation 1814. She was at the peak of her powers musically. You can pretty much say the same for Beyonce, though she didn’t (and couldn’t) marry secretly. I really think the albums, Janet and Beyonce were borne from a place of personal contentment. Both women were in love with their partners and had earned great success in their careers due to their hard work and brilliance. Both albums were a celebration of that love and happiness, not a calculated cash grab.
I mean, I don’t know about you but let’s say I hypothetically met Oscar Isaac, (or Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Nicole Beharie or even if Gina Torres ever became single again) and one or more of them wanted to get chose. Let’s also imagine that they put it on me regularly and the shit was the bomb to paraphrase Sanaa Lathan in Brown Sugar. [Mmm, let’s just stay here for a minute. This is a nice hypothetical. Mmmm…] Okay I’m back. You think I ain’t gonna write about it, sing about it? Hell, I’d yell it from my bedroom window every morning. And y’all would just have to deal.
And let’s not act like both these albums were just 16-plus tracks all about sex either. Janet had playful tunes like “Funky Big Band” and a damn-near womanist anthem in “New Agenda”. Beyonce railed against the beauty myth in “Pretty Hurts” and created her own feminist anthem with “Flawless”. She opened up about her miscarriage on “Heaven”, then dedicated the album’s last track to her baby daughter, Blue.
It’s interesting that both Janet and Beyonce’s music didn’t get this sexually explicit until after they’d gotten married. Perhaps they did not feel safe expressing their sexuality so boldly without the cover of respectability that marriage gives Black women. And yet even that cover wasn’t enough to shield them from criticism. It’s almost like people can’t handle women (especially Black women) who want sex or enjoy sex. Maybe people are jealous of women (especially Black women) who find compatible partners with whom they have satisfying pleasurable sex. It’s much easier to shame or dismiss folks for expressing needs and desires that many (not all) of us have instead of letting people have their joy and moving on if it’s not for us.
It’s almost become reflex for people to police Black women’s expression of pleasure, of hurt, of anything at all. Which makes me wonder why people fear these expressions, these feelings and thoughts especially when they come from Black women. What makes these things inherently ‘dangerous’ when coming from us? But that’s another post. I’ve rambled enough for now.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.