In 2010—long before the release of Lemonade—Professor Kevin Allred created the university course “Politicizing Beyoncé” to both wide acclaim and controversy. He outlines his pedagogical philosophy in Ain’t I a Diva?, exploring the process of teaching Beyoncé and what it means to use a superstar to blow up the canon. Allred brings his syllabus to life by pairing music videos and songs with historical and academic texts, and combines analysis with classroom anecdotes. Topics range from a capitalist critique of “Run the World (Girls)” to the politics of self-care found in “Flawless”; Beyoncé’s art is read alongside Black feminist thinkers including Kimberlé Crenshaw, Octavia Butler, and Sojourner Truth.
Interrogating the entertainer’s career through a media studies lens, Allred attests that pop culture is so much more than a guilty pleasure—it’s an access point for education, entertainment, critical inquiry, and politics.
Singer, songwriter, actress, mother, wife, there's no doubting that Beyoncé is a modern day icon - a clear star since her Destiny's Child days who has only grown in terms of influence and power. As one of the most famous women on the planet, Beyoncé could have gone down a standard, crowd pleasing route -but in recent years has taken career choices that surprised and excited many, stepping away from the pure pop pleasure of her earlier work and stunning the world with the surprise drop of "Lemonade" in 2016. A visual album that combined a range of musical genres with a furious anger that allowed Beyoncé to explore black history, feminism, indifelity, sexuality, and even Yoruba culture, "Lemonade" showed the world that Beyoncé is a far deeper artist than many expected - and it's these deeper levels that author and Professor Kevin Allred has been exploring since 2010 with his course "Politizing Beyoncé" -a syllabus that analyses the work of Beyoncé alongside black feminist texts to use intersectionality as as an analytic tool through which to view both pop culture and the rest of the world. Here Allred takes his course and transforms it into a fascinating, highly readable book that explores both the political and cultural background behind the work of Ms. Knowles, explored through black feminist thinkers and ending in a fascinating read.
I've always rather taken Beyonce at face value - I've been a fan since the Destiny's Child days, and particularly enjoyed her explosion onto the music scene as a solo performer with Dangerously in Love - but I never gave her work a huge amount of thought, even in recent years when her politics have become more overt in her music. I fully appreciate that's likely due to my privilege as a Cis White Man, and as such I found "Ain't I A Diva" an eye-opening read, and Allred is careful to ensure that he doesn't wallow in dry academia, but instead fills his work with references that are relevant to both the subject and the reader. If the book is this good, I can only imagine how engagingly excellent Allred's lectures are - with the book going far deeper than I perhaps imagined, and as such is a valuable and enlightening read for anyone with an interest in popular culture.