ALEX: She’s generally not so literal with her videos—this is a very direct visual representation of what the song is about.
MATTHEW: I wonder what Lily Allen thinks about this song/video.
JESSICA: This is classic Beyoncé “feminism.”
HARRY: The pageant coach is the same actor as “Adam” in Lana Del Rey’s “Tropico.”
MATTHEW: That’s Shaun Ross. He’s having a moment it seems. He has been in another Beyoncé video as well.
DUNCAN: As an albino black man, his employment in these videos automatically brings up questions of race and attraction. But speaking of “Tropico,” Beyoncé’s either a few weeks behind Lana Del Rey, or snuffing her out. I thought “Tropico” was very cohesive and provocative, maybe subversive, and it’ll be interesting to see how this stacks up against it. (Another relevant comparison is Kanye’s half-hour “Runaway” film—especially given the DONDA links to this album, with the cover art, presumably a lot of consulting re: these videos, etc.)
HARRY: The references to plastic surgery make me think of the French performance artist Orlan, who is famous for undergoing plastic surgery to look like classic beauties from art history. And for suing Lady Gaga.
ALEX: It’s such a interesting theme for Beyoncé, since almost more than anyone, she pursues perfection so tirelessly.
JESSICA: Maybe this is her way of not-so-subtly saying that it’s endlessly tiring, even for her.
MATTHEW: I think that’s an interesting point. And surely has to do with her strong desire to keep power over everything she does. She may be seeking perfection, but it’s her own version of it.
EMILIE: It’s interesting to me that this is the video that she opens the album with—criticizing impossible standards of beauty as the “disease of a nation” at the start of a visual album that is essentially a Cindy Sherman-esque compendium of different feminine looks and personas.
ALEX: But it’s also firmly in line with pop diva tropes, from Christina Aguilera to Katy Perry—songs that try to assure their female audience that they are beautiful as they are. I mean, this is the woman who doesn’t want unapproved images of her in concerts on the internet. Perfection is an obsession for her.
JESSICA: Here, she uses that perfect image to project a message of empowerment.
EMILIE: And then, in the second part of the video, we see the dark side of that quest for perfection: plastic surgery, vomiting, running mascara from her tears.
HARRY: I find the clip of young Beyoncé Knowles at the end interesting. It seems to allude to the amount of work and time it took for her to become Beyoncé.
EMILIE: Yeah, it’s really heartbreaking. We see the beginning of that quest for perfection, how long she’s been in the spotlight.
JESSICA: As a person, but particularly as a woman.
ALEX: Could it be a darker read? That she is saying that her pursuit of perfection wasn’t her choice? She’s a pageant child, in some ways.
HARRY: I think so. It seems to speak to how much of a product she is, forged through years of being treated and preened like this. I think the smashing of the trophies would point to her wanting to destroy her pageant days
DUNCAN: It seems very strange that pageant-Beyoncé would ever feel less beautiful than “Miss Pretty USA,” which is I guess the message of Beyoncé’s pageant loss? Or that anyone would judge her to be less beautiful? The winner has lighter skin and blonde hair, i.e. more whiteness, but all of her facial features seem less “standard white American beauty”—wider nose, bigger forehead—and it’s hard to tell what is disfigured via plastic surgery. I’m just confused as to what “Miss Pretty USA”‘s plastic surgery and pageant win signify.
JESSICA: We also now know the origin of Beyoncé’s infamous pixie cut Instagram. She was revealing the secret project under our nose.