Beyoncé is selling t-shirts and phone cases that say “BOYCOTT BEYONCÉ” at her current tour, which kicked off last night in Miami. The slogan’s swiped from calls by some law-enforcement organizations to shun her after her “Formation” video and Super Bowl performance. Now, for $45, you can confuse all who encounter you as to whether you’re a cop or a Beyoncé fan with a sense of irony, or both.
Beyoncé is one of the most popular singers in the world, and the notion of her as someone who’s defined by controversy would have seemed strange until recently. Her acclaim was so unanimous that in 2014 SNL aired a sketch about the Beygency, a shadowy group that punishes anyone who dared criticize her. But part of what’s been fascinating about her 2016 PR campaign is the way it has encouraged and capitalized on the notion of her as someone whom everyone can’t agree on. It’s a maneuver that recognizes the drawbacks of her previous model of uber-popularity, fits in with pop culture’s love of conflict, and frees her to be a more politically pointed artist.
You could tell she was up to something different from the opening lyrics of the surprise single “Formation,” which shouted out the sole group that Beyoncé at that point could reliably refer to as “haters”: people who think she and the rest of the cultural elite are members of an evil secret society. Madonna and a number of rappers more known than Beyoncé for their divisiveness have already previously used the conspiracy theorists for musical fodder. Now Beyoncé has helped herself to the psychic payoff that comes with delivering a diss that can’t miss: “Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess.”