Column: Beyoncé embraces Black queer culture. And we live in Beyoncé’s world
From its opening line — “This is a reminder” — to the lush vocals dripping off a sweaty house groove, “Cozy,” the second track on Beyoncé’s seventh studio album, “Renaissance,” may not have the distinction of being the first single, but it sure feels like the album’s north star.
Whereas “Break My Soul,” released last month, is a dance anthem celebrating resiliency, Beyoncé uses “Cozy” to showcase a specific kind of resilience — that of trans people and queer people of color — as well as the subculture of ballroom that tastemakers glean from.
The queerness of “Renaissance” is undeniable. There’s the inclusion of musicians such as Big Freedia, Honey Dijon and Kevin Aviance. And then there’s Beyoncé herself thanking “the most fabulous gay man I’ve ever known,” her late Uncle Johnny, for being “the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album.”
LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.
“Renaissance” is an homage to Black queer culture, and “Cozy” is the perfect entry point, highlighted by the inclusion of trans actress and TV personality Ts Madison and lyrics that, as one Twitter user pointed out, “specifically described Daniel Quasar’s ‘Progress’ pride flag to bring to the forefront marginalized LGBTQ+ people of color, trans people, and those living with/lost to HIV/AIDS.”
Some fans believe the song’s line telling people not to mess with “my sis” is about the infamous elevator clash between her sister, Solange, and husband Jay-Z back in 2014. Perhaps. Yet the “sis” Beyoncé decided to showcase on the track is the first Black trans woman to star in her own reality TV show. It’s doubtful that’s by accident.
“My Biggest Flex yet,” Madison recently tweeted. “Life is a journey Baby… appreciate the downs but Bask in the ups…cause when it’s up…it’s UP.”
“Cozy” reminded me of Jay-Z’s “Smile,” the song from his 2017 album in which his mother came out as a lesbian, or Kendrick Lamar’s “Auntie Diaries” from this year, which aimed to embrace trans identities. Both artists are using their personal stories to challenge listeners on the topic of LGBTQ equality in a way I didn’t think hip-hop ever would. And while in the latter, Lamar unfortunately deadnames and misgenders — presumably unintended slights given the nature of the song — I still appreciated the effort.
Yeah, advocating for compassion is a low bar in 2022, but it wasn’t that long ago popular Black music didn’t bother to try — to put it mildly. For queer Gen Xers like me, growing up listening to hip-hop was a choice between ignoring the homophobic lyrics, some of which are advocating for my death, or convincing myself they weren’t talking about me because I was “straight acting” enough to pass.
I tried both options. Neither works well.
My hope is that there is a lasting effect of having Lamar strike at the heart of the nonsensical Black/LGBTQ divide with a line comparing anti-gay slurs to racial slurs.
Beyoncé’s “Cozy” doesn’t burn like “Auntie Diaries,” isn’t as blatant as “Smile” or as innocent as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ top 15 hit “Same Love” from 2012. Its approach to this multifaceted conversation is more informed and layered and thus requires more exploration. But trust, it is no accident that the last thing Beyoncé says before we hear Madison’s voice is “they hate me because they want me.” Intimate partner violence is all too prevalent against trans women.
Police allege that Naomie Skinner, a Black trans woman in Michigan, was shot and killed by her boyfriend in February. The suspect in the stabbing death of Fern Feather in Vermont this spring told police that she made a pass at him, and that that’s why he panicked and killed her. Last month Martasia Richmond, also Black and trans, was found stabbed to death on a porch in Chicago. Her love interest has been charged with murder.
“They hate me because they want me” sounds different when you hear it from Madison’s point of view.
“A lot of girls were subjected to survival sex,” Maddie told me earlier this year. “I was definitely one of those girls. I am a former sex worker. I used to walk the streets. I was in so much danger. So much danger. It was easy for the men to come solicit my services and then leave me dead on the street or ride around in the car and rob me.
“It was the same amount of danger when I moved up to working as a call girl. Girls were being murdered in a high rate too because the men were coming to our homes. It’s an insane situation when you really sit back and think about it.”
Is it really that crazy for someone like Ts Madison to have a genuine connection to the “Renaissance” bop “Church Girl”? Is it that unusual for her to sing “Virgo’s Groove” about her cisgender boyfriend? Is it really so outlandish to think the “sis” Beyoncé warns against messing with includes the sis who survived homophobia, transphobia, racism, homelessness and multiple murder attempts to become an author, television producer, host of her own TV talk show (“Turnt Out” on Fox Soul) and part of the cast of the Billy Eichner-Judd Apatow rom-com “Bros,” out next month?
Not that it’s a competition. No one ever wins in the Oppression Olympics.
So much energy has been wasted over the past year on the homophobic comments that rapper DaBaby made in Miami in July of last year and Dave Chappelle’s jokes about them since. We can all do better.
With “Cozy,” Beyoncé isn’t just proclaiming her own sense of self-worth. She’s showing listeners how to see it in others.
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