The Real Reason Critics Target Beyoncé

The blowback about her inauguration performance is not really about lip-synching.

Getty Images
Getty Images

(The Root) — For the last few days, America has been obsessed with a political scandal that seems likely to eclipse Watergate as one of the most covered and dissected controversies of our time: Beyoncégate.

News reports that pop diva Beyoncé Knowles lip-synched her way through the national anthem during President Obama’s inauguration have been treated with the same shock and awe as the discovery that a war hero faked his medals or a celebrated author plagiarized his most famous work — and really, it’s not that serious. The truth is, her critics know this; but the lip-synching is not really what they’re mad about. Some remain mad that she was there performing at all.

There is a lot to like about Beyoncé. She is beautiful, seems sweet and apparently puts on an amazing live show. (I’ve never attended one of her concerts, but I’ve heard they’re pretty spectacular.) But in terms of actual talent and global image, she’s more on par with Madonna, than, say, opera greats Jessye Norman and Denyce Graves, or Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin — all of whom preceded her as inauguration performers.

To have Beyoncé — someone whose image as a star is at odds with the image the first couple has striven to construct — perform at one of the most significant events of their public lives struck many as both politically and professionally tone-deaf. The hypersexualized persona on display in her not particularly tasteful GQ magazine photos, which were embarrassingly released the week before the inaugural, and her Pepsi endorsement deal flies directly in the face of the first lady’s Let’s Move campaign.

Unlike Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson or Audra McDonald, Beyoncé is not really known for her voice but, rather, for her overall performances as an entertainer. That’s why most people can’t really be that surprised by the lip-synching. (But then again, as more than one person has reminded me, Wonder, Hudson and McDonald didn’t raise $4 million for the president’s re-election campaign. Maybe if they had, they would have been singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at his inauguration, and they would have done so live.)

To be clear, Beyoncé, like Madonna before her, has the right to be as sexual as she wants. I don’t believe that stripping down in GQ makes her any less of a feminist than I consider myself to be. She also has a right to make as much money as Michael Jackson did in pursuing an endorsement deal with a high-calorie product that is helping to spread diabetes throughout our community.

But we all make our choices. And when you make the choice to strip down in an intensely sexual manner for a men’s publication, whether your name is Beyoncé or Madonna, no one is ever going to look at you again and think “classy inauguration songbird.” (Even if you are wearing a floor-length, Grammy-esque evening gown for the occasion, while everyone else is sporting an event-appropriate outfit.) Just as no one is ever going to look at your endorsement deal with Pepsi and think, “There’s someone who cares about healthy eating in our community — just like the first lady.”

There were articles and petitions calling for Beyoncé to be removed from the inaugural lineup. (Interestingly, the White House petition disappeared offline days before the inauguration.)