When Life Hands You Lemons

When Life Hands You Lemons


My passion for mainstream music meant that I grew up very much entrenched in popular culture. Early on, I could be found singing Kylie hits into my hairbrush in front of the mirror, attempting the moonwalk, to later fan-girling over Taylor Hanson whilst emulating Baby Spice in her cute high knee-socks and platforms.

I'm not afraid to admit how much of a nineties tragic I still am and like every generation before me, I often find myself shaking my head at modern day music, wondering why people can't write songs like they used to “back in the day.”

Cynicism aside, there is definitely great music still being composed and produced out there and many new and current artists that I do admire.

Music is a subjective thing after all, and whilst I'm very open to listening and learning about different styles, there will always be certain genres that resonate more deeply (I'm also of the belief that certain songs and artists find you at particular seasons in your life when you need to hear it most).

My dilemma in this age, is trying to understand how my appreciation for pop music is now at an imbalance with its seemingly depreciation in quality, amongst the noisy world of fame and commercialization. As a musician trying to sustain honesty in my art, this thought often crosses my mind but is somehow further prompted by happenings such as this: Beyoncé releasing another album.

Women of a similar age and profile expect me to adore Beyoncé. It seems that it should simply be a given, that for all she appears to stand for - strength, determination, femininity, sensuality, empowerment - there would be no reason why I wouldn't worship her, why I wouldn't join the masses in advocating the eternal reign of Queen B as she leads the charge for the female species all across the world.

Beyoncé is a beautiful, talented, hard-working woman - no question. Her accomplishments as an African-American female performer has broken barriers - no question. She has experienced as many trials as she has successes - no question. But we have too.

I'm very careful in such judgement for I don't really know her life, but as with every rich, famous and powerful person, we each have the right to make observations, assessing whether or not these 'idols' are in fact positive influences in the culture and society that we have a hand at creating.

For me, Beyoncé is a contentious topic of conversation.

She is undoubtedly an alluring presence, a force to be reckoned with.  She is upheld with the greatest of affections no matter which way she turns, always admired for her prowess, lauded for her success and praised for her talents.  Any movement, beat or lyric that Beyoncé spouts seems to garner reviews of pure musical genius. She is untouchable.

However, Beyoncé has become more so a product of the commercial entity that is the music industry.

Indeed, it would be all too easy to compile a list of young female singers whose beauty and talent have been commoditised for corporate greed, but it is Beyonce’s unparalleled success and global status that makes of her most interest in this particular case.

Before my opinions further isolate me from the female population, I must admit that up until ‘Love on Top’ of 2011, I had been a fan of Beyonce’s music and subsequently, videos and social influence.  Over the last few years, I simply disconnected.

As I had aforementioned, I believe that certain music tends to find us in different seasons of our lives and it just so happens that the Beyoncé of now, no longer resonates with me at my current life stage.  It is when I reflect on why that could be, that worries me about her continued power and influence over other young women.

Beyonce’s surprise self-titled record drop of 2013 sent the music world into mania.  It was a very well planned and executed marketing stunt that further elevated the Beyoncé brand, driving much consumer and critic interest, PR and commercial sales. Even I succumbed to the impulsive iTunes download.  

With music videos to accompany every single track, Beyoncé was produced out of Bey’s creative freedom, with view to provide an audio-visual experience to fans around themes such as relationships, sex and feminism.  Now to current day, Lemonade, her second ’visual album’ seeks to do the same thing, engaging fans in superficial and visceral aesthetics, under the guise of creativity and female empowerment.

A friend of mine was eager to share her excitement about this album, telling me to download it as soon as I had the chance.  Whilst I did not abide, I did take the opportunity to find out why she liked it so much, asking probing questions to which I received responses such as “it’s really good” and “I like all of the songs”.

All that these generic answers told me was that Beyoncé fans don’t even really know why they like her music.  Disregarding my sample size of 1 in this research exercise, it does make me worry that certain brands are sold too well to us as consumers, that we don’t even think to form an opinion or make a considered purchase.

For every good review of Lemonade, there is a justified counter-argument explaining how the album is damaging to young women and their understanding of themselves and the world they live in.

Indeed artists since the very beginning, have used music as a creative vehicle to make political statements and express opinions, however the advancement of technology means that controversial and harmful content is now more accessible than ever, with greater potential of negative social impact.

Such implications of Beyonce’s music lie in young impressionable girls being exposed to such themes and messages as below:

“Middle fingers up, put them hands high.
Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye.

Tell him, boy, bye, middle fingers up.
I ain't thinking 'bout you.

“You ain’t married to no average b***h boy
You can watch my fat ass twist boy
As I bounce to the next d*ck boy
And keep your money, I got my own
Get a bigger smile on my face, being alone”

“Took 45 minutes to get all dressed up
We ain’t even gonna make it to this club
Now my mascara runnin’, red lipstick smudged
Oh he so horny, yeah he want to f***”

It is too naive to think that destructive behaviour is purely instigated by listening to distasteful lyrics, however all of the above begs the question of how uncensored we as parents, guardians and citizens allow music to be, when it comes to the younger generation.

To what extent do we allow the commercial music industry, media, advertising, brands and celebrities influence our own lifestyles and personal choices?  How susceptible are we to the harmful messages that are often subliminal in the content that we consume on a daily basis?  Are corporations so resourced that they have become powerful in dictating our behaviours without us really thinking for ourselves?

Many of us have bought into the Beyoncé brand and it is in ‘their’ interest to sustain our loyalty. It is a sad day when music is no longer the priority, but when marketability in its many forms (ie. beauty, sex, power, wealth, fame) becomes the prime focus in order to generate endless profits.

When all that is left, is the sour taste of lemon.

Eira Joy is one of the founders of Sisters & Stuff and has worked in the media industry for over ten years. She will be quick to tell you that music and writing are two of her greatest non-human loves. Her favourite season is Autumn and her sister is her best friend.