Beyoncé’s album “Renaissance,” released just three weeks ago, has already been through many iterations.
First, there was the “ableist slur” controversy. News about “Renaissance” was almost overshadowed by Beyoncé’s inclusion of one controversial word on “Heated.” This word was so bad that major news outlets didn’t even include it in their headlines about the drama. The offending lyric? “Spazzin’ on that a**, spazz on that a**.”
No, the legacy media hasn’t suddenly become concerned with sexual content in pop songs. The word in question was “spaz.” Disability rights advocates complained, and Beyoncé’s team swiftly issued a statement saying, “The word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced.” (Ironically, this exact drama played out a couple of months ago with Lizzo, who also chose to have a song rewritten after backlash over the same word.)
Controversy over, listeners could now enjoy the queen of pop’s new album free from problematic content. Just kidding. “Renaissance” is full of music samples, brimming with the influence of “queer” and transgender artists, much to the excitement of entertainment writers. But when Beyoncé indirectly referenced Kelis’ hit song “Milkshake” on “Energy,” the singer complained.
As BBC reports, both songs were updated on streaming services to remove their respective offenses “just five days after ‘Renaissance’ was released.”
Given Beyoncé’s apparent flexibility with her own music, it’s no surprise that yet another person went looking for a lyric change. This time, it was Monica Lewinsky.
Tweeting out an article about the “spaz” controversy, Lewinsky wrote, “uhmm, while we’re at it… #Partition.”
In Beyoncé’s song “Partition” (yes, the one from 2013), the singer crudely references former President Bill Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky, saying, “He Monica Lewinski’d all on my gown.” A year later, Lewinsky objected to the lyric in an article for Vanity Fair, writing, “Thanks, Beyoncé, but if we’re verbing, I think you meant ‘Bill Clinton’d all on my gown,’ not ‘Monica Lewinsky’d.’”
But that was the early 2010s, an age in which artists weren’t cowed by Cancel Culture into changing their music every time someone got offended, rightly or not. (Now, thanks to internet culture and the explosion of streaming over CDs, it’s easier than ever to quietly acquiesce, edit, and pretend the drama never happened.)
Nearly a decade after “Partition” came out, Lewinsky is now hoping to get the lyric change she wants, and why shouldn’t she? It’s almost too easy to act as a censor these days.
But Beyoncé, Lizzo, and other artists who change their lyrics at the behest of their fans have put themselves in a difficult position. Whether they meant to or not, they are now in the business of explicitly choosing winners and losers in their lyrics. Certain people or groups are allowed to complain and be listened to. Others just have to suck it up.
It was always the case that you could complain about song lyrics. Only recently has it been so easy for your complaint to be heard, accepted, and used to implement an accommodation to your preference within a matter of days.
And there are plenty more lyrics on “Renaissance” to which listeners might object. After bragging about “votin’ out forty-five” on “Energy,” the gun-control advocate sings, “I just entered the country with Derringers / ‘Cause them Karens just turned into terrorists.” Where are the protests about gun control? For that matter, where are the protests from Karens?
If Beyoncé (or her team, who’s really in charge of responding to these silly outrages) were to address Lewinsky’s tweet, the singer could argue that the statute of limitations has expired. It’s been nearly a decade, for goodness’ sake. You have exactly five days to stir up a Twitter mob about your personal grievance, and after that, you’re done!
But as woke culture’s Overton window swiftly shifts — even “woman” isn’t an acceptable word anymore when “birthing people” will do — who knows what will become problematic years, even months, down the line. After all, once a punchline, Lewinsky has become widely recognized as a potential #MeToo victim. It’s not very intersectional for noted feminist Beyoncé to poke fun at Lewinsky.
The underlying irony in all of this comes from the title of Beyoncé’s latest album: “Renaissance.” The word references “a movement or period of vigorous artistic and intellectual activity,” presumably one that includes a debate of ideas in which both sides present their arguments, not one in which one side complains of hurt feelings and the other side plays along out of fear.
Now that Beyoncé has changed her recent music — not even once, but twice — there’s no way listeners will let her get away with another “mistake.” Expect Beyoncé’s next album, and musical albums from other artists, to go through a few early iterations after their release until they’re appropriately sanitized.
Even then, not everyone will be happy. So if she wants to start choosing who has a legitimate right to victimhood, Beyoncé owes everyone an apology.