Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bitch | Music | I got 99 problems and the verb, to bitch, most certainly is one

If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but the bitch ain’t one.

Presumably not. Jay-Z, or Number 6 On Obama’s Speed-dial as he’s increasingly being defined, is one half of a marriage that, because the media know precisely nothing about it and therefore can’t conceive even half-stories (BEYONCE’S PREGGERS, they cried. No, no she’s not, Mr Z explained quietly) is regarded by the trying-to-watch world as happily, heart-warmingly harmonious. A couple other bits of evidence: the man’s married to, very possibly, the most beautiful woman in the world who has also released at least two of the best singles of the last decade. Not to mention one of the richest. And as proved by the way Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bills Bills Bills’, with its implicit, extraordinarily disempowering suggestion that the only point to ‘having’ a ‘man’ is the way he alleviates the need for a job…

But now you’re getting comfortable
Ain’t doing those things that you did no more
You’re slowly makin’ me pay for things
You’re money should be handling

Can you pay my bills
Can you pay my telephone bills
Can you pay my automo’bills
Then maybe we can chill
I don’t think you do
So you and me are through

…was kinda corrected a year later via ‘Independent Woman Part One’…

The shoes on my feet
I’ve bought it
The clothes I’m wearing
I’ve bought it
The rock I’m rockin’
I’ve bought it
‘Cause I depend on me

…it’s obvious that she not gonna encroach upon your own BUSINESS EMPIRE, Jay. She got all she needs herself. No, truly, Mr Shawn Carter Jman, your bitch is not a problem. (It’s worth pointing out at this point that, even though it seems like Beyoncé has sorted out her initial problems with masculinity, 2008’s uncharacteristically dreadful ‘If I Were A Boy’ revealed a whole bunch more: ‘If I were a boy, even just for a day, I’d roll out of bed in the morning and throw on what I wanted and go drink beer with the guys.’ Beyoncé, sweetheart, I don’t know what you think is normal but waking up and almost immediately going to drink beer with the guys is not that normal. If the men in your life – your EVIL, ADULTEROUS SNAKE OF A FATHER, perhaps – are doing that, look into getting them some help, yeah?)
No, when Beyoncé wants to make problems, let’s see who she makes them with/for. First, there’s the ex-bandmates, Destiny’s Child mark one (the excellently-named LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett) and Destiny’s Child mark two (the less excellently-named Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams) all of whom she’s broken off most-if-not-all contact with over songwriting credit issues, that kinda thing – it seems her EVIL, ADULTEROUS SNAKE OF A FATHER snuck ‘Beyoncé Giselle Knowles’ onto songs his little girl had got shit all to do with, in order to secure future royalties. The fucking bastard. And yet she defends him. And so the feuds stand.

Indeed, she defended him via the following statement in a recent interview:

I grew up upper class. Private school. My dad had a Jaguar. We’re African-American and we work together as a family, so people assume we’re like the Jacksons, but I didn’t have parents using me to get out of a bad situation.

Which duly pissed Janet Jackson off no end. Hip Hop Crunch reports, by way of the mandatory unnamed source:

She feels Beyoncé went out of her way to tell the world she’s from the upper class and the Jacksons were like a bunch of dirty gutter rats. Janet is proud of her family and how they came from nothing and became superstars. Not only is Janet telling everyone who will listen that Beyoncé has a lot of growing up to do and that she needs to stop trying to impress everyone, she’s planning to confront Beyoncé herself and read her the riot act.

And read her the riot act? Is that a euphemism for punch her in the mouth, or does Janet Jackson literally speak in legal jargon at all times now in order to protect her myriad assets. Anyway, JJ joins the ranks of the various enormously successful African-American women Beyoncé is supposedly feuding with – I say supposedly because this is, surely, as much a product of the almost entirely white American media assuming something along the lines of, them black bitches, all they do is fight, as it is an issue of Beyoncé’s actual temperament. But yeah, Jennifer Hudson. Aretha Franklin, apparently. Rihanna. And a 71-year-old Etta James, who reportedly barked the following back in 2009, when Beyoncé sang one of her songs at a presidential ball:

You guys know your president, right? You know the one with the big ears? Wait a minute, he ain’t my president, he might be yours, he ain’t my president. You know that woman he had singing for him, singing my song – she’s going to get her ass whipped. The great Beyoncé. I can’t stand Beyoncé. She has no business up there, singing up there on a big ol’ president day, singing my song that I’ve been singing forever.

Brilliant. Etta James fucking rules. Anyway, the moral of the story here is the following: the bitch isn’t a problem for Jay-Z because his bitch is only a problem for other bitches. Bitches will always blame other bitches. Just as, say, Italy hasn’t had a viable leftwing alternative to the ridiculous Berlusconi for a decade or two because of factional infighting that we in a country what’s somehow produced a ConDem coalition can’t possibly imagine (‘Excuse me, are you the Judean People’s Front?’ ‘Fuck off, we’re the People’s Front of Judea.’ ‘Splitters!’ etc. etc.) the feminist cause has been held back, nay, crippled by this simple truism. To cite Silkworms’ current favourite cultural reference-point, The Only Way Is Essex, episode one: when Mark, Lauren’s ex long-term bf (and a proper twat to boot) walked into her birthday party with glamour girl Sam on his arm, Lauren was way more mad at Sam than she was at Mark. Bitches will always blame other bitches rather than the obviously more culpable non-bitch.
At least, á la the racist media issue I hinted at above, that’s what the still mind-bogglingly sexist Western media wants us to think. I’m not saying male journalists, publicists and so on have a covert, divisive agenda which aims to rubbish the very concept of female solidarity existing in successful, high pressure contexts. Actually, possibly I am. We need to put aside the (admittedly dreadful) standard clichés dealt out arbitrarily to high-profile women of business – Deborah Meaden the ‘ball-buster’, Karen ‘sacker’ Brady – for one moment, because this issue permeates popular culture much more seditiously than what is a rather transparent practice of depicting female success as gender-redefiningly grotesque (which I hope most people mostly are capable of seeing through these days).

Consider the example of Keira Knightly and Carey Mulligan, playing Ruth and Kathy – two characters who represent among many, many other things, rather bitchy rivals in a public school kinda way – in the soon-to-be-released movie adaptation of Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro, author of the original novel, has heralded the film as a showcase for a ‘new generation’ of British acting talent – spearheaded, of course, by Knightly and Mulligan (only one of whom can act, admittedly – I’ll leave you to work out which). And how did the British media react to such a charming and optimistic sentiment? LIFE MIRRORS ART, the journos screeched. Apparently, at the premiere afterparty, Knightly and Mulligan sat at DIFFERENT TABLES and DIDN’T SAY A WORD to one another, despite claiming to be ‘great mates’. And thus, how they REALLY FEEL ABOUT ONE ANOTHER was revealed. They hate each other. Of course they do. They’re girls. That’s what (rich/talented/successful/black) girls do.

(Oh yeah, the only other thing what attracted the attention of the tabloid press was the fact that apparently, they kiss each other in the film. But that’s an issue for another day methinks.)

It is, of course, an assumption written into the very word ‘bitch’. When anybody, male of female, uses ‘bitch’ as a verb, they are implying that an unpleasant and, more importantly, disempowering mode of behaviour is a female one, that ‘bitching’ is something women do – for, rare in English, bitch is an unambiguously female (if not feminine) word. It is this that makes me more suspicious of the implicit sexism in a song like the Stranglers ‘Bitching’ – ‘Bitching ’bout the things we’ve seen / Bitching ’bout the things we’ve been / Bitching ’bout the loves we’ve had / My oh my it wasn’t so bad’ – than the explicit stuff in something like Lil Jon’s ‘Move Bitch’: ‘Move bitch, get out the way ho, fuck that shit get out the way ho.’ At least you know where you are with Lil Jon.
Perhaps, indeed, he should be applauded. Good for you Lil Jon, for espousing a sexism that’s easy to despise, rather than veiling it with ‘acceptable’ trappings, a much more dangerous thing. You, sir, are a better feminist than people give you credit for.

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor


  1. I love this article, but i would have been even more critical of the moral hole that is Destiny's Child lyrics. Specifically that the main impression you get from their Lil Wayne-featuring track 'Soldier' is more or less: "Us beautiful singing ladies will only fuck you if you are a horrible gangster with an enormous penis".

  2. Even weirder in that 'Soldier' song is the bit about Lil Wayne's mother: 'Bandanna tied, my momma join the troop / Now every time she hear my name she salute'. I think this is actually a rather sweet Calvin and Hobbes-type image, but I agree it by no means shares a tone with the rest of the song.

  3. I'd love to know who was responsible - individually, poetically responsible - for the couplet, 'I don't think you're ready / For this jelly.'

    I bet it was Matthew Knowles. Horrible man.

  4. George Bernard Shaw: 'As a rule, there is only one person an English girl hates more than she hates her mother; and that's her eldest sister.'

    And thus, the culturally entrenched sexism is revealed, root by root. Downton Abbey seemed to take this sentiment to heart, incidentally.

  5. Ok, Anonymous has made two near-simultaneously awesome posts.

    Reveal yourself, man/woman of mystery! The world must know.

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