Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy Performance And If Beyoncé Were A Boy

February 16, 2016  |  

Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce PF; Kendrick Lamar's Grammy Performance

I will say this: Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance of “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” served up another passionate model for how Black artists, in particular, should perform in front of the academy – that’s if you have to perform in front of one of the academies.

Of course, there were rumors of boycotts by some of the industry’s top artists. (Including Kanye West, who tweeted, “I’m practicing my Grammy Speech. I’m not going to the Grammys unless they promise me the Album of the Year!!!(sic)” Which, to me, read like a lame attempt at a joke about himself and his reported narcissism, but still, the think pieces came.) Nevertheless, Lamar’s performance on the main stage was everything that is right about hip-hop. It was inspirational, powerful and political. It was bold and brash. It was Africa and African-American. It was very much conscious of the White gaze but also very defiant of it.

In short, it was a thing of artistic and political beauty.

However, what it did lack was much of the same criticism that Beyoncé received just a week earlier after she dropped “Formation” and performed at Super Bowl 50.

And I’m not talking about what White folks have to say. White folks always have something to say. And truthfully, getting White folks to react and say something is the ultimate point of these performances anyway, right?

But even among us (and especially among us) there was a lot of reaction, critique and criticism. I won’t list it all because I am certain you have read just about all of it (or, at least, glanced at the headlines). But within hours of the surprise video drop, folks had their evaluations already uploaded and circulating through social media.

We questioned her color politics and raised curious eyebrows over her choice to rock a blond weave while singing about Black being beautiful. We debated the appropriateness of using images connected to both the Black radical movement of the past and Hurricane Katrina. We analyzed each frame of the video and combed through each lyric searching for any nugget that proved or disproved how down she was.

We did all of this for one little song. Heck, folks, to this day, are still weighing in on the impact of both her words and the images used to go along with that one little song.

And I even jumped into the fray, particularly noting the contradiction of the song, video, and our overall culture. In particular, I wrote:

It’s for the generation who is openly considering the class consciousness of Cornel West, Adolf Reed and Bernie Sanders, but will form a protective shell around the political moderation and downright social conservatism of the President Obama. A generation that speaks of revolution but are just as comfortable in its conspicuous consumerism. The generation that wants to build our own, away from the dominant White supremacist power structure, but will celebrate each and every “first” the system produces. A generation that will demand that they “stop shooting us” but doesn’t really have a plan of action for the “or else.” A generation that wants our women and girls to be socially carefree, but also requires them to be gracious, demure and not too loud or angry-looking. And a generation that will make pro-Black affirmations of self-determination while showing up, performing for and collecting a check from corporate sponsors at the Super Bowl.

Truthfully, we can direct the same criticisms towards Lamar. After all, the Grammys haven’t ever really given a damn about Black folks – no matter how many of us have graced the Grammy stage. Proof of that is how it has consistently given most of its hip-hop and soul music awards offstage. Proof of that is the 1989 boycott of the awards ceremony by Public Enemy and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (yes, the same year he won and made history at the Grammys was the same year that Will Smith opted not to show up). Proof of that is how the Grammys nonchalantly mentioned Natalie Cole in its annual memorial of those who have passed on in spite of her being a nine-time Grammy-award winner and deserving a tribute of her own.

Therefore, performing on the Grammy stage, and reaping all of the benefits from its platform, is sort of twisted validation in itself.

But we are and will be less likely to make those critiques of Lamar. Several hours and into the first half of the news cycle day, Lamar has been showered with a considerable amount of praise for his powerful and revolutionary performance. Even the official Twitter page for the White House has chimed in and specifically thanked Lamar for being “#MyBrothersKeeper.”

Meanwhile, President Obama didn’t have anything to say about Beyoncé and her formation, and she too has been a guest at the White House.

Beyoncé and Lamar are two sides of the same coin. They both make music for Black people. They are both braggadocios (although Lamar doesn’t talk much about what he has and other materialistic pursuits, he is quick to remind us that he is one of the greatest artists on the scene, just like Beyoncé) and ready to put a hater in their place. Lamar, who hails from Compton, regularly prophesies ghetto life. And although she hails from a much more affluent middle-class background, Beyoncé has been known to show much love for the ‘hood too. So does Lamar. And like Beyonce, he also appreciates his baby (chin) hairs and Jackson Five nostrils.

And they are both performing contradictions.

Some would argue that it is because Lamar is not as big of a star as Beyoncé that his performance wasn’t criticized in the way that hers was. However, I would argue that there is no denying Lamar’s reach, particularly in our community (again we’re not talking about the larger dominant culture), is just as prominent as Beyoncé’s.

Perhaps we see revolutionary acts as less than when they just so happen to be accompanied by breasts stuffed in leotards? And perhaps we are so blinded by our misogynoir to the point that we can relate, apologize for and bypass the contradictions more in Lamar’s work than we can with Beyoncé’s.

It’s possible. It’s likely. However, when we look back at this moment in history, I have a feeling that it will be Beyoncé’s “Formation” and not Kendrick’s “Alright” and “The Blacker the Berry” performance that will still have tongues wagging. And that ultimately says something about where, and with whom, the real revolution is happening in our community.

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
  • Byte Mass

    We are all children of God and should conduct ourselves as such. Everyone has a struggle of some sort ,regardless of race , economic status.

    Believe it or not police profiling happens to anyone the establishment deems to be an easy target for their oppressive tactics.

    Los Angeles was one of the first if not the first to use military machinery in the course of ” law enforcement “.

    That needs to stop . It is in the constitution that the military is not to be involved in domestic law enforcement.

  • Steven Johnson

    Now they got ya’ll fighting against each other (black men and black women) for white approval. This is by design. Say something positive about Kendrick Lamar, and something negative about Beyonce? Then watch the Lab rats go at it.

    The author of this piece is expressing a slave mentality amongst black people, and she doesn’t even know it. This isn’t a double standard, this is a scheme by the corporate media to divide and conquer and it’s working. Black women’s expression within the struggle of our people is not defined by the children of our slave masters.

    However, I will say this. During the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. We were all about conscious music and social art. Gangsta Rap, Bling Bling, hyper sexuality has destroyed Hip Hop and R&B. We allowed the mega producers and record labels to dictate what sells. Now right on script, main stream America has flipped the script. Listen to what that 23 years old, who just got out of high school, Tomi Lahren said about Beyonce. A living legend in Pop music. Referencing about her shaking her butt, not writing her own music, and explicit lyrics. We have us to blame for that one.

    Peace.

  • Steven Johnson

    Now they got ya’ll fighting against each other (black men and black women) for white approval. This is by design. Say something positive about Kendrick Lamar, and something negative about Beyonce? Then watch the Lab rats go at it.

    The author of this piece is expressing a slave mentality amongst black people, and she doesn’t even know it. This isn’t a double standard, this is a scheme by the corporate media to divide and conquer and it’s working. Black women’s expression within the struggle of our people is not defined by the children of our slave masters.

    However, I will say this. During the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. We were all about conscious music and social art. Gangsta Rap, Bling Bling, hyper sexuality has destroyed Hip Hop and R&B. We allowed the mega producers and record labels to dictate what sells. Now right on script, main stream America has flipped the script. Listen to what that 23 years old, who just got out of high school, Tomi Lahren said about Beyonce. A living legend in Pop music. Referencing about her shaking her butt, not writing her own music, and explicit lyrics. We have us to blame for that one.

    Peace.

  • C

    I’ll start believing Bey when she actually finds her own sound and stop caring about being relevant. Side note can some one explain why every time Kaney says something negative against Taylor Swift for some reason Bey is there with an award for Tay Tay I’m just asking.

  • sky luv

    who cares about any of this cause at the end of the day it changes nothing in the world.There will always be racism on both sides and both sides will always dislike something about each other. Like i have told alot of people that hate how America is or how white people are and i have always said if you dont like you can leave America. One thing people forget all the major company that make America like google Inter scope records Univisal records the move people and so on are all white owned company so ya white people will always control the mass and that will never change

  • Beast

    Anything for the clicks right? How can you compare a guy who has 2 albums to his name and is risking everything by presenting consistently his politics, his identity and culture at the core of his art to a seasoned artist who shocks her base with an extreme perspective of her views in one big wave?

  • Sheeka Johnson

    This article points out several points I’ve been making in the last 2 years. A group of people who want equity and justice are quick to support misogyny and chauvinism. I say people because its largely supported by the black female perhaps due to competition for males. As I watch other females be praised by black men for shaming and blaming black women for single motherhood which is only the case when a black man decides not to step, I am even more convinced. People who say that Beyonce has never stood up for black people chose to ignore, just like the efforts made by black people to end black on black violence and the fatherless epidemic, her contributions she’s made throughout the years. When Haiti happened she donated funds, she donated funds to Katrina, she donates to the poor. And when she said she makes black music and if others like it they like it…she was bashed by the BLACK community for saying it. She doesn’t get to claim blackness because she doesn’t market herself as a conscious pop star? You criticize her for her silence and when she uses her celebrity to make a stand you condemn her. You hypocrites!!!!

  • Sheeka Johnson

    One more thing. The comments have labeled Beyonce self- serving, opportunists, who’s trying to exploit black issues to enhance her brand, but Kendrick lamar’s whole brand is an exploit of black struggles. I call it exploit because he’s making money and not just money but profit while creating an image around his whole career of consciousness and blackness. Beyonce doesn’t use her blackness to make money. Beyonce married a black man with undeniable black features. Kendrick is so conscious but acquired a fiance that is typical of good old Hollywood beauty standards. Light damn near white with straight hair. Not any image he’s selling yet to each his own. Yet Bey still gets the short end of the stick. If anything Beyonce will lose money taking such a bold stand. But still she just trying to make a buck. Get real and check your biases.

  • LT

    Is it possible that Beyonce’s performance and video were derivative and opaque, and that Lamar’s was original and thought-provoking? Asking for a friend.

  • African Woman

    I loved Beyonce’s black panther inspired dancers @ the Superbowl and her video – but I do feel she does things in half measures when she tries to wave the flag for her race or gender. She could have done better with the lyrics of the song, so they matched up more. It reminds me of when she played a speech by Nigerian author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during a performance where she had female spreading their legs in the air in what can best be described as underwear – women who need the job (oh the irony). I recognize her attempts when she comes out talking about feminism with her all girl band & talking about her love for her black man – but she doesn’t take it all the way there, which makes her stance less believable – then it comes across like another branding opportunity rather than a genuine heartfelt stance. I just don’t get why your compare her to Kendrick Lamar, who’s stance has always been consistent and loud.

  • Mark Bennett

    Some people feel that Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Grammies makes
    Kanye yesterday’s news. YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO TAKE AWAY THE FACT
    THAT KANYE IS THE SMARTEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE. He made Kendrick Lamar
    in his garage using pipe cleaners and an old Lego Science lab. Now Kanye
    will write a song about having sex with Kendrick Lamar.

  • Thatregulargirl

    This isn’t about sexism, it’s about fake versus real. Beyonce and Jay-Z are just trying to profit what they perceive as a “trend”. They moved from trying to profit from ‘Occupy Wall Street’ to Black Lives Matter. Never seen a blonde weave wearing Black Panther.

  • bricktop_MelindaM

    As someone else mentioned, Kendrick’s performance was not shocking for most people. It was a shock for many of Beyonce’s white fans when she performed at the super bowl. I hate to say it but that silly SNL skit about “The Day Beyonce Turned Black” summoned it up as to why she got such a negative backlash.

  • Anniebt

    And this”but will form a protective shell around the political moderation and downright social conservatism of the President Obama”…why not? He has been targeted from day one. Blocked, purposely with blatant racism, like no other. Yet he is, as far as I’m concerned, in the top five Presidents in our history. He is a man of honor who has done more than anyone could have in the circumstances he faces, while maintaining the dignity of the office he holds.

  • Anniebt

    Beyonce’s performance was complex with room for multiple interpretations. It was artsy real. Kendrick’s was in your face real. It’s Kendrick’s performance that will stick in my mind.

  • cinder1freq4n3ella

    Probably because Beyonce’s formation lyrics are neither conscious nor thought provoking, lack passion, do not flow through the heart, and furthermore, contradict what she is “claiming” to portray. I’m sorry, not sorry. She can’t pull that wooly wig over my eyes.

    • Dee

      I concur. She’s too busy slaying!!!!!!!!!!! Okay. Plus without the video, would she even had been considered to be Pro Black?

      • cinder1freq4n3ella

        Lol!

    • iluvme

      So true. “If he f $@# me good I’ll take his a@$ to Red Lobster.” What’s empowering about that? Nothing conscious about that. That’s what we need. More sisters f$@%ing guys who they aren’t married to then taking them to a white owned restaurants. She’s all about uplifting us. Right.

      • cinder1freq4n3ella

        Cackling Mao!!!! So True. Thank you for that, iluvme. You’re hilarious, hun. 😀

      • enlightenment

        Lmao. That was hilarious.

      • Lisa

        Lol. You said it! And I was beginning to think that I was the only one who thought that line was beyond reprehensible.

    • Lisa

      Precisely!

  • pinki

    I think that Beyoncé has a bigger fan base culturally so yes what she does will bring more media attention but Kendrick Lamar is a great artist and will do his part in his own way. Our people judge and talk but do not act !! I think that Kendrick Lamar will be a doer for his generation as Beyoncé has not been but a musical icon. I see Kendrick being more into change of the future than Beyoncé because she has a Reputation across cultures to uphold and if she does too much it could hurt her career and maybe she does hers off stage ?? Not judging they are both Great Talents !! We MUST PRAY FOR OUR NATION

  • cecil toungsi

    This is what I dreaded from the media: compare two very different artists, basically raising beyonce level to kendrick level. So annoying

  • CookieheadJenkins

    Ok, hold up tho! So some senior citizen Rock band group called “Hollywood Vampires” can come out on the Grammy stage with blood smeared on their shirt, with hells fire lit up behind them while they throw up the 666/Baphomet sign and nobody says a word about their “creativity”….but when Kendrick Lamar stood firm and spoke out about racism, slavery, prison industrial complex and police brutality now he’s a racist? GTFOH!! There is a double standard here as always, so much so even so called blacks can’t see the forest for the trees. SMH. It’s a sad state of affairs in our society.

  • saywhat

    Beyonce so commerical. Bey has always been about self gain!!!!!!!!

    • Mr0011011 .

      All singers and rappers want to sell their music. It is stupid to suggest otherwise.

  • Lisa

    Maybe it’s because Kendrick puts way less focus on his crotch area as compared to Beyoncé.

    • Mr0011011 .

      Because she shows her legs? How scandalous.

  • ROSIEGOLDENCHITOWN

    SMFH okay comparing a message from Beyonce and comparing the message of Kendrick lol no, a better debate would come apart if they were speaking about Lauryn Hill or Erykah Badu women who actually speak on a higher basis of the struggle , this is no debate, I guess it was a slow day for stories

  • Trisha_B

    Kendrick has always been Kendrick. His performance was not a surprise b/c that’s the message he has always conveyed. Same can’t be said about Beyonce. Kendricks music is not one to please the masses, Beyonce makes music to please the masses, she plays it safe & never rebels. Just like the SNL skit showed, people forgot Beyonce was black lol. The white audience loved her bootylicous, single lady singles. So to see her perform an all black act, they were like woah whose this woman lol. They just realized she had an all black team (back up dancers & band) lol…you mentioned Will Smith boycotting the Grammys back in the day, but imagine if he pulled that this year? Hell, look at the backlash his wife took for saying to boycott the Oscar’s. I think people forgot Will is black too lol. They love get jiggy with it, if he was to “rebel” it would be a big issue too. So it’s not misogyny at all, it’s about who the messenger is

    • Mr0011011 .

      But the criticism Beyonce got wasn’t that it was shocking. People were complaining because of the way she was dressed and the apparent anti white, anti police performance, regardless of what the lyrics and actually performance said and did. I agree that people GENERALLY expect more pop-soul from her, but her last album wasn’t safe. The complaints were that she wasn’t “wholesome” enough for family viewing.

  • Dee

    I disagree with this article. Kendrick has always been controversial in his music, while Bey has not. Kendrick does not appear to try and promote himself for personal gain, while Bey does. He has always been authentic and pro Black and I pray that part of him never changes. Bey on the other hand, does what she is told, what is popular, and what can garner her more attention. I am just glad that they both addressed a situation on live stages and have people talking. We need to stop playing it safe and continue making them uncomfortable because it hasn’t been done in a long time.

    • Mr0011011 .

      Do you not think Kendrick is trying to sell his music as well? Because it is naive to think he isn’t. If Beyonce was going to just do what is popular, she would have just released a pop ballad int he same vain as Irreplaceable, and actually put it out for sale. I am not trying to discredit Kendrick Lamar, but it is a bit foolish to try and suggest that he doesn’t care for selling. Every artist wants to sell, it is why they promote their music. You can want to make money and have a message at the same time. They are not polar opposites. He is also probably told what to do more than she is, seeing as she fired her manager a while ago – her dad – who probably would have preferred the safer route.

      • Dee

        Thanks for your comment. Sure many artist want to make money but some do it because they simply love it. Don’t you think that the song being released a day before the Superbowl only on Tidal puts $$ into Tidal? Don’t you think that it is strange to have a video that showcases New Orleans post Katrina when Katrina happened 10 years ago and the anniversary was held in remembrance last August of 2015? Why not then? Also the lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with the visuals in the video. This is a song about her boasting about who she is and what she can do. Have you read the lyrics or are you distracted by the visual? Also, if this were not for personal gain, why perform on the biggest stage with the world watching only to announce your concert with a commercial at the end? Why on earth are the tickets for said concert so costly? I could go on but I will leave it there. Thanks again for your response.

    • enlightenment

      Exactly.That is the first thing I thought when I saw the title. This isn’t a gender bias thing at all. Kendrick has come out of the gate being controversial and unapologetic in his music. Beyonce, on the other hand, has always been the mainstream princess…being careful not to rock the boat. So of course, being the fact that Bey’s got more white fans because she “plays it safe”, when she does come outta the woodwork with the Black Panther routine, people are going to be shocked.

  • Kevin

    1. It just happened last night, give it some time there’s more hate to come. 2. The Grammys is supposed to be a place for musical creativity vs. the Super Bowl which is usually strictly entertainment. 3. Everyone expected that out of Kendrick based on his music and what he stands for, this was new territory for Beyonce.

  • Betty Shabazz

    What would we do without another attempt by Charing to compare a cat to brick wall as the same thing and throw in some good old victim narrative of being a woman. Charing; Beyonce not only has been in the game for a decade longer but she has never in that time mentioned any Black struggle. This thing you want to label misogynoir just because you said so excludes that whenever any Black Woman has used her lyrics or platform to speak out against any racial injustice, they have always been targeted. Sister Souljah, LinQue aka Isis from X-Clan and even Lauryn Hill. Then you end this article with that typical ideology so rampant on the internet, that any real revolution can occur just through forms of entertainment without any bloodshed or sacrifice. Singing or rapping doesn’t change laws, secure food, housing, clean water or self defense Charing. That real kind of Revolution will not be televised or sold in cd’s at Target. People who think you can twerk your way to a Revolution ultimately subscribe to a White Supremacy Lite Ideology. You want the costumes and rhetoric of Revolution without actually being forced to do anything risky. So everything ultimately remains exactly the way it is.

    • cecil toungsi

      Beautiful.

    • Not about that life

      Thank you, I agree 100%! But I’ll keep it short and no so sweet and say this article was just stupid!

  • _a_

    Probably has more to do with the fact that Beyoncé has always been seen as less than genuine and self-serving.

    • Ret2Go

      That’s probably it. She’s never spoken about any issue with the exception of girl power in her almost 20 year career. Kendrick has from day one. This interview is like comparing Apples to Oranges.

      • ROSIEGOLDENCHITOWN

        I agree, it has nothing to do with man vs woman smh

      • saywhat

        what u said!!

      • Mr0011011 .

        That isn’t the criticism she gets though. Her performance had people crying about how it was apparently “anti-white” and “anti police”. And I don’t see how discussing a different issue means discredits her because she hasn’t as explicitly sang about being black before.

    • guest

      Yep just one of many factors. Also his performance was less than twenty-four hours ago.

    • Mr0011011 .

      Artist sells music. Shocker. Do you think Kendrick Lamar is not wanting to sell his music as well? It’s worth noting that Formation isn’t available to buy.

      • _a_

        Never said anything about selling music.

    • louise_1

      And now she’s trying to ride on his coat tails. She needs to get lost.