January 27, 2012


You Can Now Take a Class on Beyoncé

Kevin Winter
Kevin Winter

During my freshman year of college, I took a course called “History of Rock, Pop and Soul Music,” where the midterm included questions like, “What genre is Willie Nelson?” and spirited debates arose over the difference between west coast and east coast hip hop. I still have the textbook, figuring I would never again be able to highlight “reggae pioneer” or “blues-rock master Eric Clapton” for credit again. Since then, everyone from Tupac to Bob Dylan to Jay-Z is taught in school, yet Jay can now add his wife to the list of esteemed musicians worthy of academic debate.

Yep. For only $36,679 a year, Rutgers University is offering “Politicizing Beyoncé” as part of its Women’s and Gender Studies program. “The performer’s music and career are used as lenses to explore American race, gender, and sexual politics,” said Professor Kevin Allred, presumably while pirouetting around the room to “Single Ladies” and wagging his index finger side-to-side. Course topics will include “the extent of Beyoncé’s control over her own aesthetic, whether her often half-naked body is empowered or stereotypical, and her more racy performances as her alter ego, ‘Sasha Fierce.’”

I'm on the fence about this. I really want to believe that Bey will be a springboard to discussing important sociological topics that will further the often fraught and uncomfortable discussions we have about race, and, to a lesser extent, gender, in society. But then 17-year-old me thinks back to his professor, clad in a black leather jacket, blasting The Pixies and yelling “Who wants to learn about grunge?!” (True story.) Add to that the overanalyzing of pop music in certain corners of the academic (and music journo) community, in which no twirl, coo or “Baby” is beneath words like “dialectic” and “didactic” and it’s hard not to be a little skeptical.

Allred, however, plans on combining Beyoncé’s videos and lyrics with “readings from the Black feminist canon,” including abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, so for now, let's remain cautiously optimistic. First time I hear about the mathematical and sociological implications of, “I don't know much about algebra, but I know 1 + 1 = 2,” though and I officially call bullshit.