(originally published March 26, 2014, but updated to include the May 4th SNL skit, “The Beygency”.)
It’s been nearly half of a year since Beyonce released her
Beyhive Holy Scriptures “Drunk In Love.”
There have been memes, impersonations,
sacrifices at the altar Bey, analysis about domestic abuse and a whole storm of news that has everybody much pretty much forgetting the other 16 songs on the album. There has no greater platform for the discussion of all of this than (Black) Twitter, the most segregated neighborhood on the Internet. Twitter drives a great deal of what becomes a part of the pop cultural lexicon for the Millennial crowd and you don’t have to be on Twitter to be influenced by its influence. The Beyhive, hashtags, memes – it wasn’t created on Twitter, but it found in Twitter an audience willing to create and share at a much faster and interactive rate than on any other social media platform. And when you’re talking about metrics, there’s almost no sub-Twitter group that does that better or more than Black Twitter. Though Twitter, as a company, has rarely mentioned 18% of its users are Black, it would be hard to deny that most of its ability to share and disseminate important news is because of the Blacks on Twitter.
But back to Beyoncé. We’ll circle back around. Beyoncé is beloved. Beyoncé is revered by presidents and hoodrats alike. That’s really a feat. And it helps that Beyoncé has become a part of the lexicon in popular culture. She’s become a verb, adjective, symbol, aspirational figure, untouchable figure, an icon for the 3D printing era, etc. She’s admired and imitated by all Americas, all classes and all women, who are important but underestimated facilitators of the social media conversation. You really can’t go wrong with her and as SNL proved in their hilarious sketch, there’s a helluva price to pay when you run counter of the Beyhive.
but, alas, the Bey Hive can’t fix everything:
That’s right. “anime”, as in:
lemon or german chocolate cake?
And this is where the path in the Twitter woods diverge.
We’ve already gone over some of the politics of code here, but “Drunk in Love” goes a little deeper, a little harder than that. “Drunk in Love” is an inside joke wrapped into a clever code. A visual analogy might be bacon wrapped dates. Not everyone’s going to get the flavor of a date on it’s own, but most people like bacon (except for me, can’t stand them) and it’s universal enough that unless you’re in San Francisco or any other vegan/vegetarian capital, everyone will eat it. Where it gets tricky is the date. Dates are supposed to be a little erudite, a treat for trained palates. For a lot of Black Americana, Beyoncé’s use of “Anna Mae” was kind of like that. Follow me for a second. There’s no better master of mass appeal than Beyoncé and for many a Black artist, part of of the deal has been giving up a little bit of their Black card, as it were, for the sake of appearing less threatening. The Western world has been gawking at the waist, asses and breasts of Black women since Sarah Baartman. Black superstardom is littered with wasted bodies and minds of talents that were just too Black and/or too uncompromising to crossover; Florence Ballard, Phyllis Hyman and David Ruffin to name only a few. For those that did, the repressed public sexuality of Michael Jackson is a reminder of many lessons and magnitudes. Black superstardom rarely is allowed to explore Black sexuality openly and surely not explicitly. Black (pop) superstardom rarely allows its queens to be sexual; they’re too busy just trying to be whole people. And while Black superstars filter and translate Black soul for popular and mass consumption, their success is largely a direct correlation as to how raceless they can be for White Suburban America.
Catch a charge I might, beat the box up like Mike
In ’97 I bite, I’m Ike, Turner, turn up
Baby no I don’t play, now eat the cake, Anna Mae
Said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!”
So, for the Black populace, “Drunk in Love” was a celebration of the evolution of a woman, a Black woman who has reached the top with a lot of light skin privilege and Photoshop lightening along the way. That’s not to diminish the issue of domestic abuse, but Black America is used to having to take ugly, broken things and re-work and re-claim them. In the same vein and spirit that “nigger” has for some (but certainly not all) been re-purposed to stand for solidarity and camaraderie, “Anna Mae” has been re-worked, re-purposed, re-claimed to be a statement of unabashed sexuality.
And that’s ultimately was “Drunk in Love” was about, what Black Twitter instinctively got in those trap beats. It’s a celebration of Black sexuality, Black aggression and Black charisma. It’s an unapologetic romp in the Blackness that is rough around the edges, tastes like pound cake, sounds like dominos slamming on cheap folding tables and feels like the third cup of warm E&J on a warm summer night. So while the rest of the world was up in arms, Black girls across America were surfborting. It’s in that, that specific Blackness that responds “not a damn thing” when asked What’s Love Got To Do With It and embraces the “IDGAF, I’m still fabulous” bravado that Tina Turner needed to survive and reinvent herself after years of abuse and neglect. Black women have had to be their own Svengalis and there’s almost no better example of that than Tina Turner. For many Black women, they embraced that part of the storyline as a lifeline.
But all of that was lost on Kitty Pryde (now, just “Kitty”). In case you missed it, Kitty Pryde was the young rapper hired by Vice to live tweet her reactions to the Beyoncé album.
Wait she’s going IN right now. My Jay Z senses are tingling, I’m pretty sure he’s about to rap and I really hope it’s EXACTLY like his verse in Suit & Tie. Yes, it definitely is. Is this the same exact verse? I’m pretty sure it is. WAAAAAIT HE JUST SAID “I EAT THE CAKE, ANIME”. JAY Z JUST FUCKING USED THE WORD ‘ANIME’ AS A PUNCHLINE. THIS IS THE BEST SONG I’VE EVER HEARD. Am I supposed to be like explaining what these songs are like? I don’t know what kind of music this is.
The breakdown of white privilege soaking Kitty’s HTML has already been brilliantly and beautifully broken down by Alexander Hardy, so, no need to repave Appian Way. But this isn’t about berating or crucifying Kitty (Pryde?) because she’s That White Girl. Black Twitter already took it’s 10 lbs of flesh.
grape or cherry?
Kitty later apologized in a thoughtful and surprisingly self- aware Tumblr post. It’s well worth the read, though I doubt most of Black Twitter has read it. And it’s contains, definitely unwittingly, one of the best summaries as to why Twitter as a platform has found such a following within the digital Black community. Kitty’s manager, who also happens to be a Black man explain the vitriol as such:
“…Black people are used to having to know the first and last names of the cast of Friends just to keep their jobs. the fact that you will never have to know about their culture and can easily make a joke about something that holds importance to them is offensive.”
And now, the circle back. Twitter is the digital water cooler where a great many people who like Friends and even see themselves embodied and reflected in Friends come together to discuss, lament, complain and/or humble brag about the various degrees and layers of Friends-ness that their life contains. Friends is also super white. Not just in cast, but in cultural references, humor and fan base. Black America is well-versed in the standards and procedures of cultivating a double consciousness. Black Twitter is a natural product of and conduit for that code switching. The same trending topics and events flow through the timelines identically, but the conversations that follow are entirely different. It’s a way of being a part of the conversation and the literal facilitation of dialogue without having to prove that you know Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica and Phoebe’s character bibles. As the topics of water cooler conversation begin to change to reflect and incorporate more of America, it will be fascinating to watch how the Twitters tell those stories.