“Sorry”, is a call for a collective black feminist refusal. As Serena Williams walks down a spiral staircase, she crafts her own sexuality and preemptively disavows the misogynoir that demands her to apologize for her fleshy excess. Beyoncé exclaims, “I ain’t sorry. I ain’t thinkin’ bout you.” She insists upon creating her own machinery for knowledge production with her inscription of vernacular and otherwise modes of communicating: “Middle fingers up, put em hands out, look em in the face, tell em’ boy bye.” This scene is a call to action and radical refusal to lend legitimacy to a traditional symbolic order and what prevails is an internality that necessitates the love, movement, and magic conjured through the collective fleshiness of Black feminist aurality/orality. In the following scene, the viewer is situated inside of a school bus wherein a group of Black women rest their backs against the window. As they are sitting directly across from each other facing the other, they rely on the movement of the other to inaugurate their own. This scene is a critical epistemological intervention inasmuch it generates a discourse that explores the aesthetics of the street and Black studies as a collaborative project. In the following scene the school bus, still and situated on an obscure unpaved road, displays a directive centered above the windshield-BOY BYE. “Boy” is not a singular gendered subject rather “boy” stands as a figure for ideologies people and institutions that attempt to occlude the imaginative latitude of objects. As such, the directive of the school bus serves as a mode of intellectual production. “Now you wanna say you sorry. Now you wanna call me cryin’. Now you wanna see me whilin’”, Beyonce offers a critique of her partners astute and self aggrandizing affective performance before she demands “stop interrupting my grindin’ I thinkin bout you”. The use of vernacular functions as a kind of rhetorical futurity inasmuch as it disentangles masculinity from her grind which thereby enables the Black feminine to, as Hortense Spillers might suggest, gain insurgent ground. In the following scene, Beyonce sits upright on the floor in front of a backdrop that is matte grey complicating the line of demarcation between the backdrop and the subject. As she holds her arms behind her, Beyonce’s hands and arms are removed from the purview of the viewer. This scene is an intellectual project inasmuch as her hands, which stand as a figure for the labor power of the Black feminine, refuse to participate in the labor process and her right leg rests atop her left concealing her belly. Her body is a kind of machinery whose movement and refusal urges the viewer to think the Black feminine in excess of her labor power.
After and before the music begins, Beyonce narrates from a temporal elsewhere: “She sleeps all day. Dreams of you in both worlds. Tills the blood in and out of uterus. Wakes up smelling of zinc. Grief sedated by orgasm. Orgasm heightened by grief. God was in the room when the men said, ‘I love you so much wrap your legs around me pull me in pull me in pull me in.’ Sometimes when he’d have her nipple in his mouth she’d whisper, oh my god. That too is a form of worship.” What occupies this interstitial space is the sonic materiality of Black feminist thought. As the next song begins viewer moves slowly towards a door at the end of a dimly lit red hallway. The sound of a utensil writing against paper looms in the backdrop which indicates that this scene is a text. In the following scene, the viewer is sonically submerged into a body of water as the camera angles towards Beyonce whose brim falls just above her nose. The viewer is situated in the passenger seat of a vintage car whose rear view mirror obstructs three quarters of the scene. Beyonce recounts in the backseat and rear view mirror: “Six inch heels. She walked in the club like nobodies business. Goddamn, she murdered everybody and I was her witness.” Behind the rear view mirror is corner store signed “descuento” and a slew of boarded townhomes in what is presumably a low income neighborhood in our purview. Each scene is diluted with red, however there is a brief chaotic intervention wherein the camera zooms in on a Black man’s gold fronts. This brief intervention, along with the deliberate display of boarded townhomes, centers the hood as that which has the potential to intervene and inaugurate movement. In the following scene, the camera situates itself close to the ground as Beyonce, standing upright in an intricate ball gown, meets the viewer’s gaze. The camera moves from a distressed room with vintage furniture and a ceiling that is beginning to collapse, to her old middle class home in Texas, to the stage that Beyonce sat on prostate in the opening of the digital album. As the performance ensues on the stage, Beyonce’s fingerprints mark a border and it becomes clear that there is a thin glass that separates the performer from the spectator. This border disavows proximity urging the viewer to think critically about the distance between the performer and spectator as well as the distance between the viewer and other spectators. As such, the viewer becomes aware of their own internality and what they project on onto the Black feminine. “She don’t gotta give it up cuz she professional. She stack her money everywhere she goes/ She got them commas and them decimals/ She dont gotta give it up cuz she professional”. These lines legitimize alternative modes of labor and lend legitimacy to the people on Black Wall street, people dope dealing on the corner, sex workers, music artists etc. “And she worth every dollar and she worth every minute. She grinds from Monday to Friday work from Friday to Sunday. She gon’ slang…she pushin’ herself day and night, she grinds from Monday to Friday work from Friday to Sunday.” There is a distinction between work and grind–while the laborer is compelled to offer labor power from Monday to Friday, the labor power of the Black feminine is offered in surplus. This surplus labor or grind presupposes that the laborer or the Black feminine has the capacity to work in excess. This capacity, Beyonce suggests, belongs to the Black feminine.
In the final scene Beyonce addresses her mother, “Did he make you forget your own name? Did he convince you he was a God?” As the camera rotates and moves toward Beyonce who dances alongside an elusive older man playing the guitar, she sings about love and the ways in which heteropatriarchal materializes in the Black community. The cadence suggests a brazen longing to give and receive love devoid of pain. Almost immediately, the scene transitions and the viewer finds themselves situated on the surface of an ocean wherein Beyonce holds and is held by Black women. This gesture insists on Black collectivity and the water with its biblical allusions (inasmuch as Beyonce sings about being baptized) becomes a site for healing. In the following scene, a row of Black girls dressed in minimalist southern white gowns sit on the edge of a stage looking at the audience moments before the song begins. However, the Black girls sitting on the edge of the stage become audience members in the scene that follows. The song, Freedom, suggests that freedom is collectivity, to be both spectator and performer, to traverse borders and occupy space without contingencies. “Grandmother, you spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty in things left behind, found healing where it did not live, discovered the antidote in your own kitchen.” Beyonce’s grandmother Hattie offers a philosophy on enduring-on creating lemonade out of lemons.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**