Media, Culture, and Identity
1 May 2019
With this project, I wanted to explore black celebrity relationships, specifically Beyonce and Jay-Z and how their relationship has impacted the culture of black relationships. Beyonce and Jay-Z are one of the most influential couples in pop culture. While their relationship has been the topic of discussion in pop culture for over a decade, most of the details of their relationship have been private unless they would like the information to be released. When the details of Jay-Z’s infidelity was highlighted in 2016, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the details were derived from music that each of them released. Beyonce and Jay-Z each told their sides of the story with music because throughout their relationship, music has been their outlet and almost like diaries for both of them. Although they are very private, they still release sensitive details of their relationship within their music. I realized that by doing this they were trying to take control of their own narrative which is something that is very hard to do as a public figure.
My argument is that Beyonce and Jay-Z have defied stereotypes surrounding black couples due to the control they have maintained over their relationship status throughout the years. They have been a positive representation for black couples especially marital relationships that deal with infidelity. By telling their stories through music, they have been able to inspire their fans and inspire themselves simultaneously. The three keywords I chose to apply were stereotype, representation, and race. I chose stereotype because there is a stigma surrounding the legitimacy of black relationships. In pop culture and media, black relationships that are publicized aren’t seen in a positive light and most of the highlighted points involve drama and infidelity. I chose representation because Beyonce and Jay-Z positively represent a successful black couple that is realistic and relatable. They are a complex couple with many ups and downs; however the strategy they’ve utilized to take control of their own narrative is very smart. The public is only able to assume what their relationship is like based on their music and whatever else they decide to release to the public. I chose race because I wanted to emphasize how important Beyonce and Jay-Z’s relationship is in the black community. They are almost always mentioned when black love is brought up in conversation. They have become the prime example of black love and their story is very well known.
I made my decisions on the videos based on what I thought best portrayed the relationship between Beyonce and Jay-Z. The couple has a long discography of songs together; however, I feel like Beyonce’s songs with Jay-Z as a featured artist are the songs that best portray the dynamic of their relationship. The music videos I chose were Crazy in Love, Upgrade U, Don’t Hurt Yourself, and Sandcastles. These music videos create a visual timeline of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s relationship from dating to marriage. I used two songs and two videos from Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade, which chronicled Jay-Z’s infidelity and their journey to healing. The songs I used from Lemonade were “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “All Night” and the videos I used were “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “Sandcastles”. There have been many analyses on the visual album and the impact that it has had on pop culture has been a great one. One analysis from a journal article on black marriage states, “That is, rather than a modest exploration of the fraught idiom of a black woman hurt by a black man, Lemonade offers an ideological meditation on companionship where what matters is not the coupling per se but the ethical call toward being that coupling inspires” (Quashie). Lemonade is unique in the fact that it not only emphasized the infidelity but it also emphasizes the healing process. With this album, Beyonce was able to break stereotypes and tell the story of how her and her husband were able to break a dangerous cycle.
The process of making my video was one that was very new and difficult. I have never created a video essay before and I usually am a person of many words, so this process was foreign to me. I struggled with letting the visuals speak for themselves instead of placing many words into the project, which would have been a distraction from the visuals. This process showed me how powerful media really is and the stories that visuals are able to tell. After this process, I was able to appreciate visual art and media even more because there is a lot of work that is put into it. Additionally, the culture of music videos was something that I encountered as well. Beyonce and Jay-Z’s music videos have had a significant impact on pop culture and as I was editing the music videos, individually, I quickly realized how much work was put into making each of them. Beyonce and Jay-Z work very hard to create stories for their audience but also are very great at leaving things ambiguous for conversation and media frenzies. I also learned more about celebrity identity during this process because of lot of a celebrity’s identity lies within the work that they release. Beyonce and Jay-Z’s identity is clearly seen within their work and their transparency makes them very brave. I learned a lot about my own identity as well while creating this project because I realized how much their music videos have impacted the way I view black celebrity relationships. I have been watching their videos for as long as I can remember and I believed that the love that was shown in their videos would only be achievable with glitz and glam. However as I grew, along with their relationship, I realized that their love was real all along and the glitz and glam was used to draw attention to them. When things started to become rocky within their relationship you could see the change and their values; as their love was stripped away, so was their glitz and glam.
Quashie, Kevin. “To Be (a) One: Notes on Coupling and Black Female Audacity.” Differences, vol. 29, no. 2, 2018, pp. 68–95., doi:10.1215/10407391-6999774.