What Rush Limbaugh Got Right About Beyonce

Her new song "Bow Down" does, in fact, diss women. But so do lots of her songs.
beyonce bow down.jpg

After Beyoncé released her new single, "Bow Down / I Been On," Rush Limbaugh, of all people, hurried to herald a change in the singer's career path. "Beyoncé used to be the lead for a three-girl group called Destiny's Child. And their songs were attempts to inspire young women not to take any grief from men," Limbaugh explained to his listeners. But now, he said:

She's got a new song, 'Bow down, bitches,' a total 180...Beyoncé's now saying, 'go ahead and put up with it.' And you know why? I'll tell you why. Because she got married—she married the rich guy. She's even calling herself "Mrs. Carter" on the tour. She has shelved "Beyoncé"...because why? Because she married the rich guy. She now understands its worthwhile to bow down.

Various folks have said that Limbaugh is misinterpreting Beyoncé's lyrics. But it's pretty clear from the audio that he's not interpreting the lyrics at all, and probably never listened to them. His riff is based on Felicity Capon's piece in The Telegraph, where she expresses disappointment at what she sees as Beyoncé's new, less-than-feminist direction.

... this will still come as a shock to long-term Beyoncé fans. It seems that overnight we've been transformed from Beyoncé's beloved single ladies, independent women and survivors, into her bitches. From Beyoncé singing, "all the women, independent, throw your hands up at me" to "bow down bitches" a change is underway, and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Capon thinks Beyoncé's change is disappointing; Limbaugh thinks it's good—or at least funny, since it makes some feminist somewhere unhappy. But they both agree (Capon because she's a long time fan, Limbaugh because he read Capon and doesn't care enough about it to form his own opinion) that there has been a change.

I'm not so sure. It's certainly the case that Beyoncé's always had a girl-power element to her music, and she's always cheered on "Independent Women," as Capon says. But it's also true that one of the ways that Beyoncé has often shown that she is herself an independent women is by lyrically kicking her sisters.

Capon, for instance, cites the Destiny's Child song "Survivor" as an example of Beyoncé reaching out to tell women that they are strong. But that song wasn't about bonding and overcoming. It was about how much Beyoncé hated her former bandmates, LeToya and LaTavia, and about how she, Beyoncé, was going to survive the fact that she'd dumped them from the band with no warning. It's a breathtaking farrago of self-aggrandizement, self-pity, and aggressive assholery worthy of Limbaugh himself. And while it suggests a kind of girl power, I suppose, that girl power seems focused on empowering Beyoncé first, and any other women a distant second.

"Survivor" isn't an aberration, either. Beyoncé's career is littered with such moments. There's the bizarrely un-self-aware slut-shaming of Destiny Child's "Nasty Girls," in which Beyoncé, of all people, tells other women to "put some clothes on." Or there's the vapid, bloated boasting in "I Was Here" from her last album, 4. Beyoncé doesn't diss, or even mention other women in the song, but it's a reminder that Beyoncé's commitments to female strength and female independence, however real—always come with a large dollop of self-absorption.

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Noah Berlatsky is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the forthcoming book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948.

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