If you weren’t convinced by her first pop at a visual album, with Lemonade, Beyoncé’s made it crystal clear: she’s an artist who is entirely, explicitly in control of her work. The hour-long epic has already blown up social media, spawned a thousand think-pieces and sent gossip sites into overdrive – but it won’t be long before it’s discussed in classrooms, either. The film will provide hours of interpretation for the few Rutgers University students lucky enough to nab a spot on the college’s Politicising Beyoncé class, a course which has become somewhat notorious since being founded by Kevin Allred in 2010. With a reading list comprised of texts only by black women (among them Sojourner Truth and bell hooks) Allred uses the singer as a lens through which to dissect contemporary race, class and gender politics – even examining the way Bey ‘queers’ gender through songs like “If I Were a Boy”. We caught up with him in a break between classes to get his thoughts on the visual album.
What was your initial reaction to Lemonade?
Kevin Allred: Just complete awe at what a genius Beyoncé is, creatively, conceptually, artistically – just everything! I tried to watch and take as much in as possible on the first viewing, not overanalysing too much. I wanted to experience it all as Beyoncé intends us all to experience her work. But of course, the politics shone through right away. I shouted a lot, I gasped, I danced.
Your class is called Politicising Beyoncé – since you started it, how far do you think Beyoncé has undergone a shift to more overtly politicising herself?
Kevin Allred: Well, I think her work is an evolution and is always building on the past. She’s certainly becoming more explicit about certain political issues – but at the same time, the layers have always been there. They just required a lot more digging to find. I think it’s all been part of a long-term strategy to gain the widest following, reach and influence. And then drop more explicit political statements to reach the most people and create really necessary conversations. Even though she’s being more overtly political in some ways, there are still just as many subtle things in the videos and lyrics that can be analysed to enhance the messages (being conveyed).