Championed for her work ethic, dedication to music, iconic style and sheer talent, Beyoncé is one of this generation’s most esteemed performers. From running strict #MeToo checks on all of her employees to encapsulating gen Zers’ love of house music with her latest album Renaissance, Queen Bey has made a name for herself in the industry as a loyal protector of all things good and an extreme purveyor of compassion. However, considering her recent homecoming to live performance was at an exclusive event held in Dubai for industry insiders and celebrities, some of the Beyhive are beginning to question everything.
While there are many facets in regard to why netizens are criticising Beyoncé’s recent performance, the primary argument revolves around the artist’s decision to perform in a country where being gay is illegal—the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was voted the ninth most dangerous place for a gay individual to travel in 2021 by Forbes.
Secondary to this is the fact that some fans have noticed a sharp increase in global musicians prioritising private performances wherein there’s a serious financial or commercial incentive over supporter-orientated concerts.
Of course, it’s pretty plain to see that these two points are inherently connected. Why would Beyoncé perform in Dubai when she has an overwhelming queer fanbase? Perhaps it was the alleged $24 million in fees she was paid for her appearance?
According to The Guardian, the concert—which took place on 21 January 2023 and marked the singer’s return to live performance after four years—was due to mark the unofficial opening of the new exclusive luxury Atlantis The Royal hotel. “Select guests” had been invited to spend a weekend where “your dreams become your destination,” and witness a “once-in-a-lifetime performance.”
Those “select guests” ended up including supermodel Kendall Jenner, professional boxer Amir Khan, One Direction alum Liam Payne, along with countless other high budget celebrities and a cohort of industry professionals.
The performance itself practically broke the internet. While a number of internet users focused on the fact that Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy joined her mother on stage to perform ‘Brown Skin Girls’ others pointed out the apparent lack of any Renaissance tracks on the set list. Either way, it wasn’t long before the leaked footage had flooded the media multiverse.
But almost as quickly as the clips spread, so did the criticism and commentary surrounding Queen Bey’s venue of choice. One user tweeted: “This [is] great. Wealthy and privileged people get to go watch Beyonce perform in the UAE. With no fear because the UAE would never harm them. Meanwhile it’s one of the worst places to be gay. You’re not an ally if you do this shit.”
It was only last year, during the summer of 2022, that publications and supporters alike praised the artist for honouring black queer culture within the Renaissance album. And even far before that, Beyoncé’s been known to be a proponent of the LGBTQIA+ community.
As noted by Billboard, she’s been a fierce advocate for trans individuals, highlighted queer representation in her music videos, and has practically cited the community as her direct musical inspiration. You’d have to travel pretty far to find a gay club or drag queen event where ‘Partition’ didn’t feature heavily. Now, however, that loyalty is being called into question.
Some theorists have even considered the possibility that Beyoncé purposefully omitted songs from her latest album due to its close association with queer identity. This of course is pure speculation, still it’s powerful to consider the way in which fans have genuinely regarded the musical omission as a statement of erasure.
Posts prompting and upholding this sentiment include one user stating: “Beyoncé doing a paid for press tour in Dubai doesn’t sit well with me especially with the influences for Renaissance being queer ballroom culture and it’s illegal and a death sentence to be gay in Dubai, like?”
Another individual wrote, “Y’all know Beyoncé can’t perform any of those gay ass songs from Renaissance in DUBAI.”
While the online reactions to Beyoncé’s performance make a lot of sense, it should also be noted that there have been a number of white musicians whose fan bases are largely made up on queer individuals who’ve also performed in Dubai and who’ve not received such an explosive backlash.
Either way, it’s clear that the Beyhive have been officially rattled following the performance. Beyoncé has not yet made a statement in relation to the criticism, and it’s unclear whether or not she will.
On top of all this backlash lies another, slightly subtler, criticism. This conversation pertains to the uprise in global celebrities—predominantly musicians—prioritising, or even accepting, private exclusive gigs for the ultra-rich.
These super-private concerts aren’t distinctively new, however, they are evolving and they’re directly changing and impacting the ways in which artists make their money. As reported by Rolling Stone, it’s now become commonplace that the top one-percenters worldwide are cherry picking A-list popstars for private weddings, birthday parties and corporate events. Whoever said money can’t buy you happiness, eh?
And it seems as though this isn’t Beyoncé’s first rodeo when it comes to indulging the desires of the ultra-rich. In 2018, the BBC reported that the artist had performed as part of the festivities at one of India’s most extravagant weddings. The singer was flown in by Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani, whose estimated personal fortune sits at approximately $47 billion.
While private gigs are in no way illegal or immoral, they can result in a disenfranchised fan base. And while I can’t imagine the Beyhive will be disbanding anytime soon, Beyoncé’s decision to take part in such an event has definitely ruffled the feathers of those supporters who are much more interested in ethos and equality than a paycheck.
When it comes to mending a broken heart, in my opinion, there are only two things that can help: a whole lot of time, and a song by your favourite artist dissing their ex. From Billie Eilish’s ‘Happier Than Ever’ and SZA’s ‘I Hate U’ to Whitney Houston’s iconic ‘It’s Not Right but It’s Okay’, these anthems are what got so many of us through our heartaches. More recently, we were gifted with two new additions to our revengeful/pity party playlist.
Both Miley Cyrus and Shakira came out with their own brutal diss tracks aimed at their respective ex. First,the ex-Disney star sent gen Zers into a frenzy on Friday 13 January 2023 with ‘Flowers’, the first single off her highly anticipated album Endless Summer Vacation due to be released in March.
It didn’t take much for netizens to read between the lines and list the many Easter eggs hidden in the song’s lyrics as well as its music video. Though Cyrus herself hasn’t yet confirmed whether the track details her relationship with ex-husband, Hunger Games actor Liam Hemsworth, fans have picked up on a few details—including the fact that it was released on Hemsworth’s 33rd birthday.
Having met in 2009 while filming for the movie adaptation of the popular Nicholas Sparks novel, The Last Song, the two celebrities had had a bumpy ride of a relationship before eventually filing for divorce in August 2019.
Furthermore, it was theorised online that, since the Australian actor had once dedicated Bruno Mars’ ‘When I Was Your Man’ to Cyrus following their first engagement in 2013, it made sense that so many of the ‘Flowers’ lyrics echoed the former hit.
Mars, who originally wrote the song in 2011 about a pre-fame heartbreak as he regrets a girl that he let get away, sings: “I should have bought you flowers, and held your hand / Should have gave you all my hours, when I had the chance / Take you to every party ‘cause all you wanted to do was dance / Now my baby’s dancing, but she’s dancing with another man.”
In ‘Flowers’, Cyrus seems to rework the fellow singer’s words into her own self-love journey: “I can buy myself flowers, write my name in the sand / Talk to myself for hours, say things you don’t understand / I can take myself dancing, and I can hold my own hand / Yeah, I can love me better than you can.”
Even the track’s opening verse was somehow linked to Hemsworth, with celebrity and entertainment magazine Us Weekly stating that the lyrics “We were good, we were gold / Kind of dream that can’t be sold / We were right till we weren’t / Built a home and watched it burn” refer to the home the couple shared, which burned down during the 2018 Woolsey Fire.
TikTokers also noticed that Cyrus’ words weren’t the only shade made towards her ex. It looks like she went one step further as it’s been alleged that the beautiful modern mansion featured in ‘Flowers’ is in fact the house in which Hemsworth once cheated on her while they were still married.
Last but certainly not least, fans went as far as to draw comparisons between the singer’s dance moves in her new music video and a past red carpet moment. In 2019, while attending the Vanity Fair Oscars party, an Access Hollywood reporter asked Cyrus and Hemsworth what a dance number would look like between the couple.
When the Hannah Montana star began dancing on her husband, Hemsworth shut her down, saying: “We’re not doing this. Not on the carpet.” One Twitter user put that video side-by-side with a promotional clip Cyrus posted on the social platform, where she appears to do a similar dance move.
Other netizens have also said that the suit Cyrus wears in some shots of the ‘Flowers’ music video looks exactly like the one Hemsworth wore to the Avengers: Endgame premiere when a clip of the actor supposedly telling his ex-wife to “behave” went viral.
Moving on to Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira, who broke the internet with her own diss track aimed at her ex, the infamous football player Gerard Piqué, ‘Out Of Your League’, making it the most-watched new Latin song on YouTube within a 24-hour period.
Unlike Cyrus, it seems Shakira decided to let the words speak for themselves, with the ‘Out Of Your League’ music video set in a recording booth. Throughout the song’s lyrics however, it’s obvious the Latina superstar is talking about the former Barcelona defender, who she was with for over 11 years before the couple called it quits in June 2022.
Going for the jugular, Shakira also makes several digs at Piqué’s new 23-year-old girlfriend, Clara Chia Marti. One savage lyric states: “I’m worth two of 22 / You traded a Ferrari for a Twingo / You traded a Rolex for a Casio.” Ouch.
Being a bad bitch through and through, Shakira also goes on to mention her recent run-in with Spanish authorities, when she was accused of tax fraud amounting to €14.5 million (£12.8 million). In ‘Out Of Your League’, she can be heard singing about how Piqué abandoned her in her time of need: “You left me my mother in law as my neighbour / Media outlets at my door and in debt with the government.”
“Lots of time at the gym, but your brain needs a little work too,” reads another burn, insinuating that the footballer should focus on mental stimulation rather than physical.
Regardless of the personal reasons behind why both pop stars needed to get those savage tracks out, it’s important to note just how helpful they are for the rest of the world. Speaking to HuffPost UK, Alice Gray, neuroscientist and science presenter explained that “music, including sad music or breakup songs, activate the empathy and compassion pathways in our brain, driving a desire to connect with other people.”
She added: “Connecting with people, seeking out our friends or establishing new friendships is an important part of getting over a breakup. So, music can help us give us a jump-start into becoming more social again when getting over an ex.”
Diss tracks may not be new—having existed within the realm of YouTube for almost a decade—however, female celebrities have tended to dodge this particular pastime. While male strength has always been celebrated, women are often deemed overly emotional or vindictive if they publically call out bad behaviour or stand up for themselves. This no longer appears to be the case, so fingers crossed we’ll get to witness more female empowerment as 2023 rolls along.