Beyoncé: Almost An Icon


Beyoncé had an amazing halftime show at the Superbowl this year, but does that make her an icon? (Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/MCT)

It’s been said that it’s Beyoncé’s world; the rest of us are just living in it. Oprah has knighted her as “The Beloved Mistress of the Universe” and hailed her work as the intersection where “art meets God.”  Is this a fair assessment?  Yes, she’s an incredible performer and has the raw stage magnetism that utterly captivates an audience. Yes, she has perfect skin and a smile that glows. But her true appeal (and the reason for her constant self-promotion) lies in her status as a symbol, or more realistically, her potential to be one.

What Beyoncé represents is a woman trying to have it all. Onstage, she’s a strong, aggressive woman, and this part of her identity comes from “a long tradition of sexuality that’s empowering and seductive and something that she owns very much,” according to Aimee Cox, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) assistant professor of African American studies. Aside from the seductive aspect of her identity, she’s a wife and mother who runs a multimillion dollar empire, and does it on her own. She’s the 21st-century American dream; she came from humble origins and became a megastar. She’s a real woman, with real talent and a real body, and “A large part of her identity that is very much about being a strong, single, woman alone on the mountain representing the masses,” Cox said.

The only problem is, she isn’t totally up the mountain yet. “Beyoncé is making money for people based on her body,” Jennifer Clark, assistant professor of communication and media studies, said. With regard to her shows, her photo shoots  even the self-made documentary “Life is But a Dream,” “Men are the ones who make decisions about the distribution of all of her products. They’re in the driver’s seat in this capitalistic frame.” Even in a situation where she makes all the decisions for Beyoncé, the person, ultimately, she’s at least partially controlled and exploited by “Beyoncé” the brand.

“She and her husband (Jay-Z) have the power to make different types of decisions, the power to do something different, create their own institutions,” Cox said. Beyoncé has the ear of the people and very influential figures, such as her husband, or the Obamas, and enormous power to change things as an artist. But can she overcome this system of exploitation and consumerism?

Not as one person. But her appeal lies in that she tries, or as much as she can. “Girls do not run the world; that’s great but it seems like it neglects what really is happening,” Clark said. “She can’t carry the torch for everybody and everything.” This is undoubtedly true, but as an artist and an influential figure, what she can do is use her power to inspire people to create change.

“I don’t see how you could not be subject to white patriarchy—that’s what it means to be a black woman in this world,” Cox admited. “What keeps her hot is the way she plays with the tensions of what it means to be normative versus black, feminist versus nonfeminist. All these ways that she’s doing both. That speaks especially young female population that is constantly trying to figure those categories out for themselves.”

So yes, Beyoncé exploits the system and is exploited, self-promotes yet is controlled, and is only one person. But her allure, and her true contribution, is that she’s a symbol for what could happen if like-minded people come together.  She could be an icon, but she’s not there quite yet.