What Happened With Ledisi Was Messed Up. But I Can't Get Mad At Beyonce

Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook is a force of nature. A basketball singularity whose sole mission is to spaghettify anything existing between him and getting to the rim. Opposing point guards. Gravity. Other teammates. Common sense. It doesn't fucking matter.  He's not the best player on his team. But he is the most unstoppable. Because, 0 for 16 or 10 for 16, it does not matter. He does not change. He will not be deterred. He will not stop.


Admittedly, it took me some time to fully appreciate Russell Westbrook's game. Part of it is aesthetic. When Westbrook is off, he looks like every college receiver or cornerback who finds himself in a pick up game with guys actually on the basketball team. It's not just bad basketball. It's like he's playing a completely different sport. More than that, though, I was judging him by an unfair and completely illogical standard: my own.

Although I was a decent athlete — I could dunk pretty easily and I was usually stronger than most other point guards I played against in high school and college — I wasn't what you'd call a freak of nature. Instead, I relied on a bit of guile, a little sorcery, and quite a bit of cheating to succeed. Basically, I was Chris Paul. A much, much, much worse version of him — the meth head man's Chris Paul — but him nonetheless. And, as a guy who strived to always made the right, fundamentally sound play, watching Westbrook play would aggravate me because I was expecting him to make the plays I would make if I were him. Which, I later realized, was the point. I wasn't him. If he played a more controlled/cerebral game, he would no longer be Russell Westbrook. He would be…someone else. A much less effective someone else. And I couldn't appreciate what he brought to the table until I got over myself and stopped obsessing over what I'd do if I were him.

I am also not Beyonce. (Surprise, I know.) And I won't pretend to know what goes on in Beyonce's head. But I know Beyonce is a superstar. And I know she is a force of nature. And I know that people who are forces of nature just do not think about things the same way people who are not forces of nature do. Decisions that might seem offensive or illogical to us are instinctual and necessary to them. If they didn't think and act that way they wouldn't be who they are.

There's been quite a bit of discussion recently about how Beyonce's rendition of "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" on the Grammys came to happen and shouldn't have happened at all. A summary: John Legend and Common were set to perform "Glory", the song they wrote as the theme to Selma. Beyonce approached the Grammy people and volunteered to sing. Which seems harmless until you realize that the version used in the movie was sung by Ledisi. And Ledisi is very much alive and able to sing the song she sang. But Ledisi didn't sing the song she sang. Beyonce did. Which, well, kinda sucks. It sucks even more when you realize Ledisi's version would have likely been better. (And by "likely" I mean "definitely.")

Now, some people on the internet are upset with Beyonce, claiming that she should have not volunteered or that she should have invited Ledisi to sing with her or that she could have just created a scholarship fund in Ledisi's name. She (Beyonce) should have realized how unfair this was, and used her considerable celebrity influence to rectify it. That's what they would have done if they were in that position. And, admittedly, that's what I would have done too.

But that's the point. We — and "we" means "everyone reading this" — are not Beyonce. The decisions we'd make about something like this and the things we'd do are not the decisions she'd make and the things she'd do. She is who she is because of that. Being upset with her for not being more considerate and magnanimous is like being mad at a Tiger for eating a cute little gazelle kitten or whatever the fuck else rude shit tigers do. You don't fault tigers for going tiger. And, this was just Beyonce going Beyonce.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


God Shammgod

A couple of thoughts here. Sorry for the essay in advance. I will say that if Beyonce had shut the house down we would not still be having this conversation almost 48 hours later.

1) I don't understand the tiger gonna tiger parallel when part of the glory of being a human being is higher reasoning capabilities. Beyonce made a calculated choice, as she does with everything. It's not like she woke up Sunday and decided she wanted to do this.

2) Beyonce singing that song was tacky, period. You can Beyhive it up all you want and act like it was a reach, but it was. It was clearly a Selma Tribute section, she decided to insert yourself and because you can't say no to Beyonce, they complied.

3) All of this "she gave Ledisi shine" is so false. Beyonce didn't say Ledisi's name or acknowledge Ledisi's recent performance once. She shouted out her mom. Which is fine. She doesn't owe Ledisi anything. But stop pretending she did Ledisi a favor. Also, stop pretending that Ledisi is some nobody. She's doing just fine in her shea butter lane…once she let go of trying to revamp her image to be more mainstream friendly. Her shows sell. She's straight. Just say you don't care because its your fave and stop pretending that Beyonce bogarting things is always a net positive.

4)Beyonce has a known history of being derivative in almost everything she does, besides her work ethic. She sees something she likes, and she either tries to buy it and make it her own, or tamp it down if they criticize her. Which again, I'm not knocking her for or saying she shouldn't. Most folks in the industry do. I just don't understand why we have to pretend that she doesn't.

5)Speaking of criticism…using Ledisi's reticence to criticize Beyonce as justification is laughable. No female artist in their right mind would come out against Beyonce in 2015.

6)Lastly, but most importantly…none of this makes Beyonce any less of a feminist. I don't know what folks think feminism is, but this narrow scope of who does qualify and who doesn't is very elitist and reductive. If you believe that women should have the same opportunities as men and the freedom of choice, you're a feminist. It's that simple. You don't have to be well educated, well spoken, or have quality/empowering songs to do that. I don't really understand why folks insist on making Beyonce unfeminist simply because they don't like her or some things she's done. And considering that at this point Beyonce herself dictates every single aspect of her image and brand with an aspect of control that sh*ts on most men in her industry, even her own husband…folks gotta really reflect on why they've decided that she can't sit at the table.