Back in the early 2000s, when MTV2 was still a novelty of non-stop music videos, a profound little interstitial interview/bumper with Del the Funky Homosapien played quite frequently. It featured Del weighing in on hip-hop’s massive influence on popular music as a whole. His primary example was how Destiny’s Child were, for all intents and purposes, rapping on their chart-topping “R&B” songs. That felt like a big deal to him. Now, this may seem obvious to many, but it was a mindblowing observation coming from an undie type like Del — in an era when the underground was truly, indefatigably embattled. That enlightened MTV2 clip came to mind when I read semi-professional hack Bob Lefsetz’s piece, “Beyoncé at the Super Bowl.”
Lefsetz calls Beyoncé’s ambitious and deeply feminist performance “an assault,” and “blame[s],” among many things, “hip-hop” because it is “laden with attitude.” Lefsetz is correct that Beyoncé’s performance could not have happened without hip-hop, but that’s something to celebrate. That super-fast singing-stutter of Destiny’s Child that had Del the Funky Homosapien excited more than a decade ago, walked onto the stage for the Super Bowl on Sunday, and entertained millions (and enraged plenty, as well). Beyoncé played the game with dancing and explosions, but her set was thoughtfully curated (“Baby Boy” popped up!), on her own terms.
All that Lefsetz saw though were “thighs.” This guy actually wrote this sentence: “I wasn’t sure what to do after Beyoncé’s appearance, join a gym or masturbate.” Neither the image of Lefsetz in the gym feelin’ the burn and sprinting like Idris Elba in that Mumford & Sons video, or sitting at his computer desk and doing whatever he does in his feverish delusions are not the image I want flashing through my head ever. However, the idea that some rap-tinged R&B mega-jams would make one want to hit the gym or jerk off actually seems like a pretty good case for the transformative power of music, doesn’t it? What do Mumford & Sons make you do?
Lefsetz writing that sentence seems like a pretty good entry-way into the skull of this self-important, self-loathing man. He’s a rock’n’roll white supremacist who declares Colorado folk-jerks the Lumineers and U.K. spiritual ninnies Mumford & Sons bigger and more important than Alicia Keys and Beyoncé, and views that as a victory. Also, Adele is apparently better than Beyoncé because Adele doesn’t “work out.” Not to get all Macklemore “Thrift Shop” thinkpiece on your asses again — and playing Lefsetz’s rolling, inside-out “authenticity” game is a dicey situation — but hey, you know, we expect way more out of our black superstars than our white ones, and laughing off a visceral and emotional performer like Beyoncé as a schtickmeister who simply works out a lot is grotesque.
Beyoncé’s performance was a very fun, deeply personal, and political spectacle. Her all-female band is the kind of “girl power” nod that still cannot be taken for granted, and this happened at the Super Bowl, making it a sly assault on the most manly of sporting events. For too many Lefsetz types, the halftime show was a moment to indulge their male gaze. (For example, my father tweeted: “I am out of singles and I need a cigarette” as the performance ended, and nothing more.)
The sexuality of the performance was important, but let’s not reduce it to a flurry of body parts moving around for Bob Lefsetz and millions of others to get their rocks off. And one more time: This was all happening on a stage that, thanks to an all-female band, was free of dudes altogether. When Beyoncé’s guitarist wandered by with a flames-shooting guitar and let out a Prince-like solo, it’s a guitar-guy affront. Even this Instagram photo of Destiny’s Child, in their onstage outfits, jumping up with no interest in how “hot” they’re supposed to look, is a dude-bro culture jam. The Super Bowl set ended with “Halo,” a warm-hearted and vulnerable song that shoved romantic love in everybody’s faces. It’s a shame Lefsetz and too many others were leering instead of listening. The least they could have done is both.