Last week, the indie rock band Warpaint spent three sold-out nights in Austin, opening for The National at their stand at ACL Live. It was an introduction to the group for many Texans, and a high-profile way for the group to promote its self-titled second album. This week, the band made international headlines by attacking one of the most beloved Texans in the world: Queen Bey herself, Beyoncé Knowles Carter.
In an interview with British music magazine Q, the band’s guitar player Theresa Wayman decried female pop stars, singling out both Rihanna and Beyoncé for the “hyper-sexualization” of their music:
“It just gets worse,” she adds. “Every song on Beyonce’s last album has her basically looking like a slut and she does not need to do that. She’s gorgeous and so fucking talented. And they all take it as women’s liberation!”
An indie rock musician challenging more successful pop stars is almost the definition of a tempest in a teapot (and Wayman went on to offer something of an apology on the band’s Facebook page, explaining that her statements came from a place of love, and she didn’t intend to start a fight), but Wayman’s comments are interesting, because she’s certainly not the only person to hear the lyrics on Beyoncé’s latest album (“I cooked this meal for you naked,” she sings in “Jealous”) and make such a statement.
Beyoncé has plenty of defenders, and doesn’t really need any more, but the response to her lyrics reveals just what an impossible position an artist like Beyoncé is in: There certainly are a lot of references to sex on her most recent self-titled album, released in December—but it’s all very specifically (even explicitly) with her husband, with whom she has a child. If sex within marriage makes a woman a “slut,” as Wayman put it, is there any kind of sex that’s appropriate for Beyoncé to sing about? Is it not “women’s liberation” for a married mother in her thirties to claim a sexual identity and be open about it?
One could play this game indefinitely with female artists, of sifting through their lyrics and finding a statement that, in the eye of the observer, comes off as disempowering, or something that “she does not need to do.” (Warpaint’s most recent single includes lines like, “I’m not alive without you”—as gorgeous, talented women, they could have sent a message that says “I am alive without you” and empowered all of their fans to be more independent!) But that sort of parsing just reveals the bind that female musicians are in: If Beyoncé is responsible to fans (including Wayman) to present the specific image they consider empowering, couldn’t that undercut her efforts to authentically represent herself and her art?
People want sexy music from Beyoncé, and other pop stars like her. The fact that she’s both expected to be sexy and also told in very clear terms (the word “slut” is a pretty heavy one) that even sex in the context of her own marriage is inappropriate basically leaves her with nowhere to go—except to keep making the music that she wants, ignoring the critics, and selling out massive stadium tours with her husband.
(Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)