Can capitalist leanings and the search for freedom coexist? Mako Fitts Ward argues that it cannot; in her work, “Close-Up: Beyoncé: Media and Cultural Icon: Queen Bey and the New N*****ati: Ethics of Individualism in the Appropriation of Black Radicalism,” she argues that Beyoncé’s “unparalleled success is reflective of an ethic of individualism that runs counter to the communal uplift necessary to enact radical systemic change” (152). Neoliberalism prioritizes the individual, something that does not align with Beyoncé’s supposed promotion of female community. This tendency towards valuing the individual permeates Lemonade’s, “Freedom.” The lyrics seem to contradict themselves, boasting that “I break chains all by myself,” but then goes on to say “I need freedom too,” implying that the speaker does need assistance in her liberation. If “Freedom” is a call for liberation through the means of the individual, can it truly be considered a radical feminist song?
In her work, Ward also argues that Beyoncé “deploy[s] a vision of power feminism invested in individualism and economic self-advancement” (155). Ward understands Beyoncé’s “I’m the best” mentality as a reflection of “pro-capitalist ethics” and that it “exposes an internalization of neoliberalism” (158). The author also hypothesizes that Beyoncé will not comment on the political nature of her work because it has the potential to alienate consumers. Such observations suggest that “Freedom” only capitalizes on black struggles for the benefit of a single person, which does not align with the history of movements for civil rights in the black community.
In addition to Ward’s critiques, a consideration of the historical implications of black liberation is necessary. The Civil Rights movement in the United States centered around the advantages of community-based action. Of course, individual action is also necessary, but demonstrations such as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom showcased the mass support and unity concerning liberation. Considering the history of economic exploitation of African Americans in the United States—such as slavery and the effects of segregation—it is likely not a coincidence that this event focused on economic justice in relation to the freedom of black Americans. If the historical narrative of black liberation is one of community, it is peculiar that Beyoncé believes she can “break chains all by [herself].” Furthermore, Beyoncé does not give suggestions on the achievement of the referenced freedom; instead, Ward claims:
Her appropriation of activist symbols and legacies is affirming and provocative, but that’s where the music ends as it fails to critically evaluate the systematic violence experienced by marginalized communities. Instead, her performance is rooted in the glamour of radicalism, not its actual implementation.”
“Freedom” appears like a feminist cry to not let “freedom rot in hell,” but if viewed in terms of neoliberalism, the song’s message remains rather empty, as it neglects to critically consider the potential of community-driven liberation.
- Knowles, Beyoncé. Lemonade. Tidal. 23 April 2016.
- Ward, Mako Fitts. “Queen Bey and the New N*****ati: Ethics of Individualism in the Appropriation of Black Radicalism.” Black Camera, vol. 9, no.1, 2017, pp. 146-163. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2979/blackcamera.9.1.09.