Last Thursday, I went to see Lauryn Hill at the Manchester Apollo with my Nerdy Friend. By the way, we have discovered so many other similarities between us, I’m starting to think we are the same person living in a different time space/time continuum. We both cite Salavdor, Bahia as our favourite places on Earth, we found out that we were both in the hair dressers, on the same day, at the same time, having red kinky twists put in(!) and last week I sent her an email while on a journey to Preston and she sent me this picture!
Anyway, we went to see Ms Lauryn Hill. The last time I saw her was at a Brixton Academy, in the 90s as Fugee mania was just about to peak. It was a great concert. Obviously since then, life has happened to Ms Hill. And it’s not necessarily been kind.
Many column inches has been written about her incarceration for non payment of taxes, her relationship with Stephen Marley and her (alleged) subsequent drug use and mental breakdown. Not to mention her racist comments a few years back.
I’m not here to talk about that.
The concert was a shocker but also amazing. She was over an hour late coming on stage. I thought at one point that there was going to be an announcement that Ms Hill would not be performing at all. We were prepared for this because the reviews for this tour so far have been awful, quite frankly. By the time she did actually arrive on stage, the goodwill and atmosphere that her warm up DJ had managed to create had all but disappeared (he’d been playing for 45 mins, hyping the crowd for Ms Hill to come on but each time she seemed to miss her cue). The boos had started when she eventually walked on stage.
Her voice was amazing. She looked amazing. But she had chosen to perform drastically rearranged versions of her most loved songs and the crowd was NOT happy. To be fair, as an artist she is totally entitled to do what she wants with her material BUT, given she has a tiny back catoulouge, given she was over an hour late on stage (with no apology), given that the reviews have been bad, you would think that she would’ve worked harder to get the audience on side. She might have made more effort to understand her audience and give them just a little but more of what they wanted after waiting so long for her.
She turned things around after singing Black Rage, though. Haunting lyrics. The second half was pretty much phenomenal and it seemed that she was all but forgiven for her tardiness, her lack of empathy with her audience and a very ill judged ‘Q&A’ where she asked the audience why they were booing her.
In many ways, me and Nerdy Friend felt let down by Lauryn last night, even though we danced our arses off to Doo Woop (That Thing).
But I’m not even here to talk about THAT!
On the night bus home, we had an interesting conversation about Lauryn and Beyoncé. I have a bug bear about Beyoncé. I admit it. Mostly, this is because it would seem the media seem to believe that she invented feminism and we should now be following her lead. A byline in the Huffington Post recently made me seethe with anger, as they took Chimimanda’s definition, which Bey sampled, and basically said ‘ Bey has given us a definition of feminism, now go forth and practice it”!
WHAT?! Please let us not forget that she only sampled this. It is borrowed from Chimamanda!
Anyway, my friend said if Bey’s spike heels and leotards have got 13 year old girls talking about feminism then that can’t be a bad thing. And I do agree with this. To an extent. The balance between a woman owning her sexuality and doing what she pleases with it, which might be using it as a feminist platform VS the fact that more often that not our voices are not heard unless it’s wrapped up in a hyper sexual package….I’m not comfortable with a lot of how Beyoncé chooses to present herself as seriously talented woman. But I will fight to the death for her right…..
So we started talking about this some more and in my head I saw Ms Hill and Bey side by side. And as disappointed as I felt by how Lauryn had behaved, I would still see her any day of the week over Beyoncé, who I consider to be so talented, so professional and in many ways a role model. She works hard for what she has. And she will also give the fans what they want and then some.
However. In these 2 women I see a stark representation of feminism and black womanhood.
Beyoncé is a mega star. She has worked hard, played the game, married another mega star and become a celebrity juganaut. All the while, there’s been a lot of flesh, a lot of swishy weaves and crowd pleasing. She is the acceptable face of African American womanhood, living the ‘American Dream’. Her moniker ‘Queen Bey’ says it all.
Lauryn refused to play the game. Dark skinned, dreadlocked Lauryn, full of attitude and consciousness. Lauryn, who looked amazing with barely an inch of flesh on show. Lauryn, who consciously fought against playing the game, having her image manipulated in order to be more ‘ consumer-friendly’. A woman who fought the law and the law won.
Her fight to be herself in all her Black womanhood, with all her flaws, without the industry (society) manipulating that; she lost that fight. They out her in jail. Essentially, they showed her that if you ain’t gonna play the game, we’re gonna squash you. This is not to say that Lauryn is a complete innocent. She carries her share of responsibility.
There is a tension between assimilation and disruption. The message is if you assimilate, you can be a winner, you can be one of us, you can be a Queen if you want. But on the terms we set.
But if you try to disrupt those terms, we will shut you down. We will make it hard for you to even be heard. We don’t want your kind of black womanhood here.
Despite still feeling disappointed with Lauryn’s apparent disregard for her fans, I see her her defiance and fight to represent her authentic self as a political act. As a feminist act. And I admire her for that. Beyonce ‘s doing her part; don’t get me wrong. She has the right to self identify however she pleases. And Nerdy Friend is right; there are girls growing up out there who will feel empowered by Bey’s brand of feminism. I’m not the feminism police, neither do I want to be.
For me, these two women represent an interesting narrative about Black womanhood, feminism and the struggle to be our authentic selves.
A couple of interesting reads for you. Different perspectives but both are interesting commentary on Ms Hill, her fans and what creative licence means. Enjoy!