Former Arkansas governor and potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee isn't mad about Barack and Michelle Obama allowing Sasha and Malia to listen to Beyoncé. He's just confused.
“I don't understand how on one hand [the Obamas] can be such doting parents and so careful about the intake of everything—how much broccoli [their kids] eat and where they go to school and making sure they're kind of sheltered and shielded from so many things—and yet they don't see anything that might not be suitable for either a preteen or a teen in some of the lyrical content and choreography of Beyoncé,” Huckabee told People, expanding on the accusation, set forth in his new book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, that the singer's lyrics are "obnoxious and toxic mental poison."
Set aside the question of whether lyrics and dance moves actually influence fans’ behavior, and of whether it's proper to publicly criticize others' parenting choices. Ignore the suspicion that Huckabee's speaking less out of earnest concern for the first daughters than out of a desire to publicize the fact that he has a book out. Even taken at face value, Huckabee’s bewilderment—and that of conservative pundits before him—need to be addressed, for the children’s sake. If you’re looking for a cultural bogeywoman spreading the gospel of sexual promiscuity and drug use, Beyoncé in 2015 should be the last pop star you turn to. No one else makes traditional marriage and hard work look so attractive.
The People article about Huckabee's comments single out the “steamy ‘Drunk in Love’” as an example of the kind of tune that might corrupt kids. It’s correct to call it “steamy,” but what are its lyrics talking about? Inebriated sex, yes—with a committed, loving, wedded partner. The mere fact of her collaboration with Jay Z gives it marital cred, but also right there in the lyrics she’s boasting about being a “gangster wife.” The song's about the ecstasy of being able to make a mess of the spousal kitchen, of being bonded so intimately with someone that you've nicknamed your bathtub sex routines. Huckabee regularly bemoans single motherhood and the high divorce rate—why wouldn't he applaud a smash-hit depiction of marriage as desirable and vital?
The same question could be asked regarding "Partition," the song whose video led Bill O'Reilly to summon Russell Simmons onto Fox News. Citing the fact that unplanned pregnancies are an issue in black communities, O'Reilly voiced the same despairing puzzlement as Huckabee: “I can't understand why the woman did it," he said, referring to the video's many rear ends and limo-sex scenes.
Let Beyoncé explain why: "The day that I got engaged was my husband's birthday and I took him to [Paris cabaret] Crazy Horse. And I remember thinking, 'Damn, these girls are fly.' I just thought it was the ultimate sexy show I've ever seen. And I was like, 'I wish I was up there, I wish I could perform that for my man ...' So that's what I did for the video." It's Jay Z's gaze she's performing for in the clip; again, the idea is to broadcast the notion that a husband/wife relationship can be as hot—or hotter—than any other kind.
The rest of her self-titled album, and much of her work before it, also focuses on marriage, and not only in a sexual context. The ballads tell of long-term-relationship issues—waning passions, juggled responsibilities, compromised desires—and considering, but almost never succumbing to, the temptation to ditch the nuclear family. Whether she's showing off her adorable baby at the VMAs or scheduling an arena tour with her husband or filming documentaries spotlighting the effort that goes into being a pop star, her entire shtick is showing how wonderful that old American idea of working hard, getting rich, and building a family can be.
None of this is to say that Beyoncé actively preaches against premarital sex or anonymous drunken hookups. But these days she's rarely out to glorify those things, which makes her stand out from longterm competition like Britney Spears and newcomers like Tove Lo. Maybe Huckabee and O'Reilly object to the public flaunting of any sort of sex life, monogamous or not, but at this point it seems inevitable that some racy material is going to filter down to all but the most sheltered of teenagers. If a marriage advocate is going to go out of his way to bash a scantily clad singer, shouldn't he at least choose a more fitting target than Beyoncé?
You could argue that most people aren't paying enough attention to pick up the thematic difference between Beyoncé's "Rocket" and, say, a one-night-stand jam from Kesha. But it seems like a safe bet that the folks who do understand Beyoncé's intended message are the mega-fans who've spent a lot of time with her work—many of whom are girls like Sasha and Malia. The people who see a sexy married woman and automatically assume her to be a symbol of promiscuity are men like Huckabee. If they listened more closely, they wouldn't be so confused.