There’s been something significant happening with Beyoncé recently. That’s pretty obvious on its surface, of course; between her secret album’s smashing success and her successful family life, a lot has been happening to Beyoncé recently. But I’m talking less about the broad strokes and more about the subtleties that are hinting at something much bigger happening with Queen Bey.
Bey’s performance with husband Jay Z at last night’s GRAMMYs is a good example of what I’m talking about. They did “Drunk in Love,” because despite not being the best thing on her self-titled, it’s always fun to see hip hop’s royal couple perform together. Watch it below:
Kind of a mess technically, but pretty fun, right? Yet one part sticks out as being much looser and far more interesting than the rest of the performance: When Bey slid on into a surprise reprise of the iconic “Surfboard / Surfboard” section of the song. Twitter went wild when that happened, and of course they did! Trying to figure out exactly how she pronounces the word (Serfbort? Surfboardt? Surfbort?) has become a national pastime since the album first dropped. It’s not surprising that Beyoncé would choose to throw something fun in there for fans.
Except it actually is. It’s incredibly surprising. Queen Bey may be good at a great many things, but fanservice has always been her weakest point.
Think back to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show. Many point to this as one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows ever. The demanding choreography and fast-paced setlist made sure die-hards and non-fans alike could find something to enjoy. On a technical level, it was an absolute marvel.
But look at the setlist closely: “Baby Boy”? “End of Time”? These are hardly the massive, career-spanning hits you’d expect. Sure, “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies” were in there, but I’m pretty sure Bey is contractually bound to play those whenever she appears. Still, no “Say My Name”? You reunite Destiny’s Child, and you don’t play “Say My Name”? The songs she performed seemed more like what she thinks she performs well versus what the audience wants to hear. (Because fans would have died over “Countdown,” let me tell you.)
For the dominant part of her career, Beyoncé preferred to be perfect rather than be playful. She was sexy, sure, but almost robotically so. She was fun, but it always seemed like an act. Being a Beyoncé fan was about worship more than love.
That’s why her new album, BEYONCÉ, is so beloved by fans: she finally stopped worrying and learned to love herself. A song like “Rocket,” with its deep sensuality and sprawling, barely lucid flow, isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But it starts with her exclaiming “Let me put this aaaaaaaaaasssss / On ya,” sounding just as delighted with herself as she should. Same with “Yoncé,” a boastful bridge rap that Dangerously in Love-era Beyoncé would have left to her to-be husband. And yes, on the all-too-scattered “Drunk in Love,” Bey spits rhymes in circles around her husband. It’s a mess, but a beautiful mess. And last night’s GRAMMY performance made it even messier.
While watching the show in my office, many friends watching questioned Bey’s performance, from the song selection to the wet hair she performed it in. Yet I found myself watching it – particularly the “Surfboard / Surfboard” reprise – over and over again. It’s just wonderful to see the queen succeed by doing exactly what she wants to do: have fun. And she’s letting us have fun with her. That’s worth all the messy hair in the world.
(Oh, and it’s definitely spelled surfbort.)