Cashmore, Ellis. “Buying Beyoncé”, Celebrity Studies, 1: 2, 135-150.
Beyoncé exists in a “living description of a culture in which race is a remnant of history, and limitless consumer choice has become a substitute for equality” according to Cashmore. This article demonstrates the presence of Beyoncé as an African American celebrity widely accepted by a universal audience that has “risen in a post-9/11 era”. However, the article detects that the global singer, actress, entrepreneur, mother, and wife has never identified herself as African American. This questions whether racial divisions are disregarded in the music industry in modern society and how the icon herself stated, “I’m universal… no one’s paying attention to what race I am. I’ve kind of proven myself. I’m past that.”
Cashmore focuses on the idea of Beyoncé and her life as a ‘narrative’. There is no doubt that ‘Queen Bee’ herself is presented as a desirable woman in one of the largest agents of socialisation; the media, who has created her own empire of fame, wealth, success, products and endorsements despite any restraints on the colour of her skin. Cashmore argues that the apparent reason for this is due to her silence on issues involving race and African American history to simply avoid controversy, reinforcing this idea that her “life is like a narrative” so she is a ‘safe’ celebrity for an audience to relate to. However in 2009, Beyoncé performed a cover of Etta James’ ‘At Last’, during the inaugural ‘Neighborhood Ball’ for President Barack Obama and his first lady Michelle Obama, celebrating history as the first black president of the United States. This significant moment in history shows the contrast between Beyoncé singing this song as the title suggests ‘At Last’ the population have ignored racial order by electing a black president, compared with the original version sung by Etta James in 1961 at a time where there was evident segregation. The lyrics in the song ‘I found a dream’ also signifies Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech delivered in 1963, calling for an end to racism in the United States. Therefore, these associations show how subtle Beyoncé’s influence is, upon how race is depicted in the industry and her life, yet she does it in a way that glorifies her name, career and overall presence as a female African American icon.
The article also discusses the physical misrepresentation of Beyoncé in the media. In recent advertisements for magazine covers, endorsements and album covers, the colour of her skin was altered, revealing a lighter and paler hue that showed radical changes to her appearance. This created a significant debate of how her image as a global star, ignores her background and her identity as African American, indicating how perhaps she is a ‘brand’; an object of desire, encouraging the consumer into purchasing the product, based on the physicality of herself, or according to large corporations, possibly just her skin colour. Ultimately, Beyoncé is one of the most established artists of this generation and continues to dominate in her career and personal life without attaining scandalous headlines, perhaps suggesting why her life has a evolved in to a grand tale of extreme success. Yet the argument from Cashmore’s article remains: “Beyoncé’s narrative has no theme of black history… only a wish fulfilment fantasy that portrays the hard-earned success of a black woman in a culture largely purged of its historical iniquities.” Therefore does Beyoncé as an iconic celebrity suppress her identity as an African American or is that irrelevant in contemporary culture?