The Obamas dance at the first inaugural ball, Jan. 20, 2009, as Beyoncé sings “At Last.”
Win McNamee/Getty Images

(The Root) — The Obamas and Beyoncé are practically BFFs — or, at the very least, mutual fans. Since 2009 the first couple seem to have borrowed from the pop star's musical catalog for the soundtrack of their public lives. In a recent interview with Vogue magazine, the Obamas offered proof that their relationship can be summed up with one Beyoncé song ("Upgrade U") while eschewing another featuring the singer ("Cater 2 U").

"Michelle's like Beyoncé in that song," the president said in the April 2013 Vogue cover story. " 'Let me upgrade ya!' She upgraded me," he continued, referring to the singer's 2006 hit featuring her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Jay-Z. In it, Beyoncé sings, "Partner, let me upgrade you. Flip a new page. Introduce you to some new things and upgrade you."

In the article, Mrs. Obama recounts how her husband used to brag about owning a pair of khaki pants for more than two decades. "You don't want to brag about that," she's quoted as joking while young White House staff members laugh in the background.

"There's no doubt I'm a better man having spent time with Michelle," said the president, who claims to now own more than a dozen suits, up from two.  

"Upgrade U" is an obvious choice for the first couple's Beyoncé playlist. The president's genuine affection and consistent admiration for the first lady is well-documented. He's spent plenty of airtime in interviews talking about how she brings the "wow factor" to their relationship.


What's less obvious, as debate has mounted in recent months about whether or not Mrs. Obama is doing enough "work" as mom-in-chief, is the sentiment — espoused in the Destiny's Child song "Cater 2 U" — that the president gave the thumbs-down to.

When asked by Vogue how life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has affected the Obamas' marriage, White House senior adviser and longtime friend of the couple Valerie Jarrett made it clear that the first lady's job managing the Obamas' home is essential to the president's ability to do his job. Jarrett cited "the fact that his partner in this journey has been so steadfastly in his corner and never wavered" as the key to their success.

To some, especially critics of Michelle Obama's decision not to "work," that statement could be construed as a romanticized take on 1950s values.


According to Vogue, this is the one moment in the interview when President Obama gets a little feisty, dropping his "Hawaiian mellowness" and leaning forward to expound on Jarrett's observation and defend his wife's role.

" … I think it would be a mistake to think that my wife, when I walk in the door, is, 'Hey, honey, how was your day? Let me give you a neck rub.' It's not as if Michelle is thinking in terms of, 'How do I cater to my husband?' I think it's much more, 'We're a team, and how do I make sure that this guy is together enough that he's paying attention to his girls and not forgetting the basketball game that he's supposed to be going to on Sunday?' So she's basically managing me quite effectively — that's what it comes down to."

The "Cater 2 U" reference is probably coincidental, but the similarities are clear. In Destiny's Child's last hit single, the former trio sings, "I got your slippers, your dinner, your dessert and so much more. Anything you want, just let me cater to you."


That "so much more" line seems to be the one the Obamas walk publicly and in private.

"I would never say that Michelle's a better woman [since marrying me]," the president told Vogue after explicitly stating that his wife does, in fact, make him better, "but I will say she's a little more patient."

" 'I would say I'm a better woman. You couldn't say it,' " the first lady clarified.


" 'I couldn't say it,' " the president conceded.

But what he can say can also be summed up by those two different hit songs: that his wife has upgraded him from behind the scenes (and in front of the camera) — but what she doesn't do is cater to him. 

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 


Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.