With Beyoncé’s zygote being paraded so dramatically in the public eye, her pregnancy has been transformed from a primal human experience into something for mass consumption.
The glitter has settled in the wake of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, but the show’s de facto highlight is really just getting started. It wasn’t all that big—barely a twinkle in the eye, really—but the standout moment was celebrated in the breathless headlines of nearly every MTV VMA post-mortem: Beyoncé’s got a baby bump! Friends, prepare thyselves for the sacred spawn of Sasha Fierce and Hova, for it is the chosen one who will save pop music. Even Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon interrupted his cranky tirade against the shitty corporate inanity of awards shows to dub it “awesome as shit, culturally speaking.” That’s a lot of hype to rest on the shoulders of one unnamed proto-being, even if that being dwells in the belly of the Beyoncé.
Right, so nobody’s actually expecting the forthcoming Beyoncé/Jay-Z collabo to reinvent the wheel, although public response to news that the two are expecting a child might lead you to believe some kind of revolution is afoot. During her VMA performance, Beyoncé gently caressed her pregnant belly, then cooed, “I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside me.” An instant later, thumbs across the world set a new Twitter record—8,868 tweets per second were sent in conjunction with what Twitter officials referred to as “Beyonce’s big…moment.”
Think about that. No, really. Think about that. Think about the frantic flutter of thousands of people, all madly trying to document the ascent of the child of the former Destiny’s Child member. Think about Twitter as a tool for grassroots uprisings or its importance in providing instant communication during natural disasters and reflect on the fact that an expectant mom’s totally normal pregnancy set a record. Kind of messed up, isn’t it?
Pop pregnancies can be totally punk rock. That was demonstrated at another awards show, two and a half years ago, when a nine-months pregnant MIA upstaged Kanye, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and TI during an explosive performance of “Swagga Like Us.” She may have looked like she was ready to pop, but she was cocky and confident, and she subverted the formula of the eye-candy hook girl by owning the stage. It was a remarkable illustration of femininity at both its most archetypal and its most badass.
With all due respect to Beyoncé, her “big VMAs moment” feels anything but badass. The “announcement” was presented in a manner that felt uncomfortably schmaltzy, if not downright regressive. So too did the sight of father-to-be Jay-Z smugly accepting high-fives while he lounged in the crowd, as if to spell out “Yeah, I tapped that” in semaphore. Perhaps this very public performance of pregnancy strikes me as especially creepy because of the way Beyoncé has operated as a symbolic figure in a peculiar patriarchal pop-music transaction. She was her daddy’s girl, helping to play out Matthew Knowles’ fantasy as both father and manager; she had a coming-out party as a solo artist when she came of age, then was passed, like chattel, on to hip-hop kingpin Jay-Z.
Or to put it another way: The pregnancy seems more like the natural conclusion to Beyoncé’s transition from independent woman to single lady looking to put “a ring on it” to the nest-feathering balladeer showcased on her most recent album.
It’s not that I question whether the hip-hop/R&B power couple is ready to love another human being. But when such a personal relationship is paraded so dramatically in the public eye, it’s transformed from a primal human experience into something for mass consumption. The kids aren’t kids—they’re accessories, called into service to help enact a myth of identity. The ever-expanding Pitt-Jolie dynasty helps shore up the moral foundation of Brangelina’s relationship.
Beyoncé’s zygote isn’t hers; it’s the story of the VMAs. Her belly is the site of a participatory public experience. This is pregnancy as performance art, a dramatic spectacle that’s usurped anything Lady Gaga’s attempted so far (and yes, I include the prosthetic pregnant belly she wore on SNL in that category). As cynical as it sounds, I also can’t help but note that Beyoncé and Jay-Z have pulled off a masterful feat of scheduling—the big reveal comes mere weeks after the release of Watch the Throne, and just as Beyoncé’s middling album 4 could use another boost. This kid isn’t born yet, and it already has impeccable PR skills.