Monday, May 19th, 2014

Beyoncé – Partition

We’re about as sick of writing about her as the world is of buying her (not at all, it turns out).


Alfred Soto: We’ve read drafts. “Bills, Bills, Bills.” “Bootylicious.” “Suga Mama.” “Love on Top.” Demonstrations of virtuosity so muscular that they force me to redefine “ease.” “Partition” shows us nothing we haven’t already heard. It works as a single. It works as album track, setting up the idea of a woman who has never known jealousy, fear, or the common cold (until we get to “Jealous”). It works as parade anthem.

Edward Okulicz: Wait, he Lewinskyed all over your gown? Is Bey saying that Jay Z refused to spring for dry-cleaning, are they angling for a spot at Hillary’s inauguration by not using her husband as the verb, or are things really different for those two? That bit of filthiness feels a bit clumsy, to be honest, but the rest of the song at least makes me somewhat confident the reference to Lewinsky isn’t meant to be heard as shaming of the woman in a compromising position, because she clearly revels in her own, recasting submission as assertion. It doesn’t work so well on the chorus, which drags it out of the play and into the role play, like a fantasy she doesn’t quite believe but is going to sell us. Her carnality over the bass blurps nearly makes up for it, though.

Mallory O’Donnell: The idea of avant-garde as imagined by the super-rich, enlisting as many producers as it does segments. The real partition here is the one between us and them, a wall that separates a song that’s interesting and functional and “good enough” from one that could have been challenging and cool and exciting.

Anthony Easton: I love this song for all of the right physiological reasons, and the libertine in me wants to believe it is radical. It turns me on, literally. It is this fantastic, well curated, incredibly precise work, where the sex is as strategic as an Ophüls film. There is something in how she sings that line about the driver and partition. I also know how power exchange works, and I know that Beyoncé giving up control does not really negotiate power in a relationship that is this equal. I have also been following the aspirational debate via hip hop, and this sounds luxe — it even sounded luxe before the back of the limo sex, even before the video shot in Paris (cf “Niggas in Paris”, cf Josephine Baker, cf Nina Simone). There is also an essay in how she sings the word “peaches” — an entire history of Southern eroticism is grounded in how she sings that word, including but not limited to Bessie Smith singing “Mama’s Got the Blues” by Clarence Williams and Sara Martin, the aforementioned Nina Simone singing “Four Women,” the band Peaches & Herb, even the Berlin via Toronto hipster smut of Merrill Nisker), and this would be enough to give it a decent grade, with Bey’s inflation an 8 or maybe a 9. But,then I watched the bell hooks video, and I read that Lewinsky interview, and talked to my friend Martin, and I wonder — you know, I don’t know how liberating it is. It still seems to be about Jay Z’s pleasure. It still seems to be about selling Beyoncé an object, and I am not convinced of the luxury of class mobility as put forth here. Every time I listen to it, I have these sad, kind of exhausted feelings, where I really want to love it. I love so much else that is retrograde, but it must be noted that this space that is assumed to be progressive just might not be. 

Thomas Inskeep: I love how smutty this is — it makes “Drunk In Love” sound like “God Bless America” by comparison. I can’t really hear the Timbaland and Timberlake contributions (unless JT suggested the French translation of that bit from The Big Lebowski — yes, really), but I can most definitely hear The-Dream’s handprints all over this song’s ass. And he’s smackin’ it but good: all low- and high-end to match its all-id lyrics.

Patrick St. Michel: A perfectly fine song about sex in the back of a limousine, even though Beyoncé does this sort of song way better elsewhere on her album. That, and I think the French part is a little goofy — she’s way better at showing than telling (or hiding it in something you have to Google Translate).

Megan Harrington: It’s incredibly daunting to stare down an empty submission box, to search for an appropriate balance between criticism and swooning. Beyoncé is the first artist to ever make me curious about the sex lives of married couples. She is a master class in manipulating the male gaze. She’s a Rorschach test. And even without all of that, all of her enormous cultural contributions, you can still fuck to “Partition.” It’s a song that meets both our basest and most erudite desires.  

Crystal Leww: This last week has been horribly rife with the kind of speculation about the relationship between Beyoncé and Jay Z that I’m shocked so few people have taken into consideration Beyoncé’s music. Yes, B often sings about the blissful aspects of her marriage, but the album paints a pretty holistic view of a marriage, even the really nasty parts of it. One of the most intriguing elements of Beyoncé is the use of the word “girl” vs the word “woman.” In public contexts, she is a grown woman, but she is frequently a girl when it comes to love, including here on “Partition.” To be a girl, to aspire to be “the kind of girl you like” is to make a private concession to submit to Jay Z. His presence makes itself well-known all over “Partition,” from the backing whisper “Yoncé all on his mouth like liquor” to the explicitly detailed power move “Hand prints and good grips all on my ass” that is possessive and territorial to the fact that he has so much power over her life that she, Beyoncé, reigning queen of pop music, compares herself to Monica Lewinsky. And yet, for all her concessions, for her submission to the status of “girl,” the best thing about “Partition” is that it is a hell of a song. It bangs much harder than anything Jay Z has done in years and with a better rap verse than anything he’s spit since The Black Album. Despite Jay Z’s fingerprints all over this, “Partition” is much more about the exploration of how Beyoncé views herself as a girl/woman in the context of him than it is about him after all.

Will Adams: It took time for me to accept that this music was not made for me and feel comfortable with that. As an assertion of female sexual agency, as a strong, confident statement from a successful woman of color, as an expression of artistic and individual freedom: I can totally support what “Partition” and the rest of Beyoncé do. But personally, I cannot engage with it. I cannot know what it’s like to assert myself in the back of a limo, or have paparazzi ask me how I’m liking Paris. And that’s fine! As a white male, I haven’t even experienced a modicum of the exclusion many other groups face on a daily basis. It’s no fault of anyone’s, really, and it’s not as if there are other artists with whom I can’t identify. But the ubiquity of Beyoncé, the resounding “Yes!” that follows her wherever she goes, suggests that everyone can take part in the celebration, creating an odd tension for which I don’t have a solution.

Katherine St Asaph: Beyoncé has called Partition a fantasy, which is key. Synths that roar into hungry flames, dirty talk paced like an arms race, stars making a fetish of their celebrity; then, like a tender moment, like a ceasefire or moment of impact, the chorus: “take all of me / I just wanna be the girl you like.” It’s easily the best R&B hook Beyoncé’s had in years, like something off Full Moon, and it gets two different backing tracks: one a fluttery, anxious shudder, one blunt synthpop. The whole track’s like that, delicate sounds shoving and shoved against hard-edged; if the metaphor isn’t obvious, you’re probably one of the people who equate rough sex with misogyny. You know, the people the French section laughs at. (Beyoncé, in the kind of bold move pop hasn’t seen in years, addresses the feminist conversation twice. One, on “Flawless,” is to make people plug Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The other is a joke, where the joke is watching people be less sexually progressive than a Big Lebowski scene.) Without the chorus, this’d just be go-hard sexual braggadocio — though it’d still be pretty good — but the hook is the racing heart: a conglomerate of a superstar marriage depicted with the sexual overwhelm of a weeks-in fling. It makes “Partition,” in every sense of the word, overcome.

Brad Shoup: The crowd-noise is an “Adore“-type link, but flirting is not following. Love how the beat ticks like a Movado, and how she’s willing to submerge the track until it surrenders any notion of being a banger. The track is spare, but she’s the hook.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: although it barely makes sense as a single — this functions better as a mid-album jolt, especially in its origin as half a song — nobody’s put on for limo sex like this since Hot Shots Part Deux. So bless you Queen B.

Cédric Le Merrer: Upon seeing a mother lay her baby on her Hermès carré to change a dirty diaper, my wife once explained to me that this was real luxury: acting like you don’t care about your most valuable possessions. It’s something Beyoncé fully understands, while her husband keeps struggling with it. She still treats sex as bling, though.

David Sheffieck: Flawless. **** and a

Reader average: [8.16] (12 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

20 Responses to “Beyoncé – Partition”

  1. love wills honesty here and tbh wish more publications thought that way (maybe would motivate them to seek out more diverse voices). speaking of, dudes you are great but thank fuck some of the women who write for this site piped up here. the prospect of reading a bunch of dudes on beyonce is boring/dreadful as hell (I swear I do love you guys tho!) and finally Cedric what the fuck did tat really happen????

  2. ps I’m operating on like four hours of sleep over the course of two days hahahha graduation amirite


  4. @David It really happened. To be fair, it was a garden party at the country house of the head of the syndicat de la haute couture. Lots of Carrés there. I met a guy from Air and an ex CSS member there. That may be one of the most improbable event I ever got to feel out of place at.

  5. @megan Illuminati of course

  6. I had a joke about her Beythroning Indiana ready to go :(

  7. megan, the beygency will take care of it

  8. if the Beygency came for us it would be the happiest day of my life.

    Please, Bey! Distract from your scandalous private life by dragging all the [5]s and [6]s!

  9. there needs to be a “potential of having the beygency come collect you” warning system akin to the terror level alert one we…use.

    GREEN: you likely stan for beyonce, meaning you erupt into random exclamations of “BEY ME QUEEN” and keep a steadfast eye on your surroundings, wary of #navy members lurking in the shadows

    BLUE: you generally like/love what beyonce does but are not afraid to point out her missteps like that terrible great gatsby track; of course, this puts you on the beygency’s radar, like a mole requiring more careful observation

    YELLOW: friend, this is the farthest you want to venture out; you may have laughed at some of the poorly written tracks on Dangerously in Love or expressed doubt about the cohesiveness of I Am…Sasha Fierce but know that the beygency now has a medium-sized file on you. they are waiting for your next step, for an excuse to bounce

    ORANGE: bahhahaahhahaah you just thought you could trash “i was here” or roll your eyes at “halo” getting played at your prom???? oh you called the beyonce documentary boring? wait. who’s that knocking at the door? find the nearest exit and run. for. your. life.

    RED: goodbye. it was nice knowing ya!
    RED: they have

  10. in all seriousness, though, i second david about will’s blurb. as much as i love beyonce and the record, his experience with it is an important counterpoint to its overall discussion.


  12. I agree the most with Katherine’s review.

    There is no way that Beyonce is the *object* in this song; it’s pure agency. This is a power bottom anthem. Consider that it begins with commanding her *private chauffeur* to roll up the partition. The song is named after this partition; behind closed doors, she can play a part, just as she plays the part of “all-powerful queen” for the stage.

    “Take all of me” is also a command. And then Jay-Z forgot to bring the towel — tsk tsk, “daddy.”

    As for bell hooks — her criticism was way off; in-line with her previous critiques of media, but missing the context of Beyonce’s work and how she actually operates. I often engage in criticism of media and sex positivity, but even I disagreed with bell hooks’ reasoning, as have many womanists in the past couple of weeks. A pretty good summation of the criticism of hooks’ criticism is here:
    “bell hooks regularly speaks of envisioning new images and Beyoncé is providing them. Choice. Agency. Freedom. Removal of shame. Pleasure. Connection. Love. Things that are denied Black women regularly. But this is oppression? This is “terrorism?” bell hooks clearly should have been more loving and less rigid in terms of the politics of respectability where Beyoncé is concerned…”

  13. And there’s another level: she’s performing for us as powerful Grown Woman Who Can Do Whatever She Wants (which she nearly can, as someone with a ton of capital*) Beyonce, who is then role-playing submissive in the song, while still maintaining the language and setting of Power.

    * but of course, as we saw from the media treatment of Solange last week, capital only gets you so far; you can always be reminded that you’re crazy, a beast, so-strong-that-she-lacks-humanity, drunk, irrational, “uppity,” etc, etc, etc (also thinking of the glee that certain media had with the discarded pictures kf Beyonce’s Superbowl performance — she snarled for half a second and out came the demeaning comparisons to animals)

  14. one thing I cut from my review because I thought it might be a bit much (also it didn’t really fit anywhere): it’s not like the image of pop star as imperious dominatrix hasn’t been itself fetishized to hell and back. (in fact, and not to get all freudian, it might be easier for a certain strain of male critic to fetishize.)

  15. What’s the Beygency’s stance on people who may not like this all that much but who like, uh, “Halo” and “XO” and whose taste in B’s singles obviously blows. DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE LOLOL (vanishes, never to return again)

  16. Thanks for the kind words, David and Josh (and thanks to everyone else’s blurbs/comments; these are all fantastic). David T. makes a great point about how acknowledging one’s position can help people realize that people other than white dudes should be writing about this. I almost didn’t blurb this because its end argument is basically “I shouldn’t really be blurbing this” but I wanted to get it off my chest, so..

    P.S. I gave “Blow” and “Drunk In Love” a [5] and [4] respectively four months ago and nothing happened to me so I’m not sure the Beygency is a re––GETS DRAGGED OFF INTO AN ALLEY, NEVER HEARD FROM AGAIN

  17. I love the idea of Bey more than the execution, and that tends to show up in my numerals. I still think “Ring the Alarm” could be her best single.

  18. I loved the idea of Beyonce more than the execution until 2011, but I try not write praise in terms of how powerful and sexy she purportedly is. She coaxes out my formalist tendencies. The more powerful the vehicle for her fantastic voice, the higher my scores.

  19. this song is gross & dinky as hell. I will never get the praise for her music, too glossy, too blank, a lot of shit other people get criticized for that she somehow escapes for whatever reason

  20. Her genius is using glossy and blank as a content delivery system