When it was announced that entertainment’s “it” couple, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Jay Z, would be performing at the Grammys—the opening act, no less—I knew it wasn’t going to go well. They were undoubtedly going to perform their latest hit, “Drunk in Love,” an ode to liquor and the joys of marital sex, replete with raunchy innuendo. Everyone would tune in, and there would be a mega backlash.
There’s been a lot of fuss over the song. Over at the Huffington Post, Frances Cudjoe Waters took issue with Beyoncé’s admission that she’s a 32-year-old woman who drinks, but the song’s most troubling lyrics came during Jay Z’s guest verse. In response to his trash-talking wife, who is boasting of her sexual prowess, he slickly—or sickly, depending on your perspective—says, “I’m Ike Turner turn up/You know I don’t play/Now eat the cake, Anna Mae/Eat the cake Anna Mae/I’m nice.” Le scandal.
Jay Z’s allusion to the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It—particularly the scene where Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne) smashes a slice of cake into the face of wife Tina (Angela Bassett)—has been repeatedly (over) analyzed. It’s been called evidence that Bey and Jay Z condone domestic violence and proof of the couple’s insensitivity to Turner, with whom Beyoncé has performed in the past.
Because there have been so many essays taking Jay Z to task since Beyoncé’s album was released in December, I’m well-versed in the argument that his lyrics, joking or not, go too far. But the hype is just that.
Jay Z is in no way condoning domestic abuse on that verse. He’s drunk-talking—hence the song’s title—to his wife, who has been playfully trash-talking to him. By the middle of the verse, he, too, is talking trash about what he’s going to do to her sexually—and, most important, with her consent. I mean, she’s drunk-giggling in the background of the video as he talks drunk mess on a song called “Drunk in Love.” If his wife is fine with him talking about rough sex, what is the problem here?
Is an Ike Turner allusion the best choice? No. But in context, there’s nothing to see here, folks. Drunk married people are playfully saying drunk words to each other—he even says, “I’m nice,” i.e., drunk—right before they “surfboard.”
I know that drunk Beyoncé is a little jarring for some, but at 32, if she wants to get drunk and then be “filthy” with her husband, that’s her adult and wifely right to do so—and her prerogative to sing about it, even at the Grammys, because she’s a “Grown Woman.”
Over at Colorlines, Akiba Solomon seemed fine with all this but believed that Beyoncé should have stayed silent about that “eat the cake” line:
At least one radio station—in the U.K.—blurs out this part of the song because it’s a jokey joke reference to physical abuse. So last night when Jay got to the “eat the cake” line, I thought maybe Queen Bey would stay silent on it. Instead she puts bass in her voice and chants along with her husband, “Eat the cake Anna-Mae!”
That Tina Turner is supposed to be one of Beyoncé’s idols makes this even worse … I’m disappointed in Beyoncé. I wish in this moment she could have been more Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and less “Cater 2 U.”
We’ve all noticed that Beyoncé is in her rebellious stage. Most artists who come of age in the spotlight go through it—see Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Amanda Bynes for recent examples. Beyoncé is a late bloomer in this respect. She has habitually line-stepped with coy sexuality, and p-popped and writhed in very little clothing. But this time out she’s gone full-fledged YOLO, singing about “surfboarding” with her husband, singing about performing oral sex on him in the car (with a driver half watching, no less) and flashing her tush in a thong in videos and onstage. Courting the controversy of her husband’s “eat the cake” line was a given for the new Beyoncé (who seems an awful lot like the current Rihanna).
Would it have been nice if Beyoncé had bowed down to her critics? I would have been bored. I like that finally I don’t know what to expect from Beyoncé. I’ll take this new controversial image any day over the cookie-cutter one she’s shown us for years.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. Follow her on Twitter.