• Beyonce told Vogue magazine she is descended from a slaveowner. (Getty Images North America)
OPINION: Marlee Silva reflects on how her favourite musician taught her how to be an unapologetic black woman... and dance.
By
Marlee Silva

4 Apr 2019 - 3:25 PM  UPDATED 15 Apr 2019 - 3:31 PM

“No you’re Michelle, I’m Beyoncé, so I’m in the middle!”

With t-minus six hours until the annual Christmas talent quest, and with the coveted title of Umina Caravan Park Champions of 2005 on the line, this was not the time for arguments over positioning.

The choreography was already tough enough — everyone knows the drum sequence opening of Lose My Breath requires precision — and as my cousin, my younger sister and I already established, given that I was aged ten and the oldest out of the three of us, I was Beyoncé.

I always wanted to be Beyoncé.

From those Destiny’s Child days my sister and cousin spent hours on end carefully choreographing dance moves, to secretly practicing my boot-pop in my bedroom after Crazy In Love came out, and even — much to my parents dismay —singing terrible ballad renditions to Irreplaceable and If I were a boy as a teenager; Queen B has always remained a constant throughout my life.

I know a lot of other people — male and female — who feel the same. She’s something of a living icon; synonymous not just with her genre of music, but the entire music industry. Without even mentioning her last name, if someone says ‘Beyoncé’ you know exactly who they’re talking about. It’s a name known in just about every nation and understood in every language around the world, with her sound and style existing as something that holds the power to influence us and how we feel in broader terms than just music taste.

There are few songs that match that power, that uplift, that I felt the first time I heard her Run the World.

Considering how the music industry often gives us lyrics that regularly serve to objectify women and perpetuate damaging body image issues, it was helpful to have such a powerful role model in the form of Beyoncé. I was growing into my womanhood and learning about what it meant to be a feminist and here was a 'pop-star' who toured with all-female bands and held the top spot in her field. Done all the while, standing tall as an unapologetic black woman.

This powerful, loud and unapologetic Woman of Colour fully manifests herself in my favourite Beyoncé phase so far — in Lemonade. When the album was released, it had been so long since we’d seen this kind of genius; this artwork oozing with brilliance.

The celebration of blackness we saw in her song Formation in her performance at the 2016 NFL Super Bowl in (which attracted hundreds of millions of viewers) cannot be matched. With her dancers in outfits reminiscent of the Black Panther movement and calling on black women to feel powerful and unite — it can’t be pulled off by many others. She demonstrated that she's not only here to make amazing music, but she understands her platform and uses it to empower women and raise important issues.

Her performance at the Super Bowl was a particularly poignant moment considering the racism within that establishment, which was revealed by American Football Star Colin Kapernick’s decision to kneel during the US national anthem later that year.

Three years on and I’m still not over not only Lemonade's dope beats, but the looks she slayed in every frame of that film.

Given my long history of trying to portray Beyonce, it turns out that you can’t take the girl out of the Beyonce stance, and at 21, I even attempted to pull off her outfit in the Don’t Hurt Yourself film clip for a celebrity-themed birthday party. I purposely picked one of her lesser known looks, as it was just obscure enough to have people ask me who I was, so I could launch into a well-rehearsed ‘Kanye at the MTV Awards’ moment about the travesty that occurred in Lemonade NOT winning the Grammy for Best Album.

While I’ve never been the type of person to obsess over celebrities much, Beyoncé just represents so much more than fame and pop-stardom.

White standards of beauty are washed over diversity on-screen and we have it shoved down our throats from a young age. Growing up by Cronulla Beach, the “pretty girls” at school were those who could pull off, and fit into, this ideal. They had the beachy look; the blonde hair and blue-eyed type with bikini-ready bodies all year round. They had not brown, but ‘sun-kissed’ skin. In the early 2000s my friends wanted to look like the Billabong models and had crushes on Jesse McCartney or Justin Timberlake, and because I never felt those same attractions or aspirations, I questioned the measure of my beauty (and as such, regretfully experimented with bright blonde hair dye).

In amongst the haze of bleached-ness (skin, hair and otherwise), there was our beacon of hope, with Beyoncé. A celebrated celebrity who had her 'bootylicious' body and beautiful brown skin, she looked a lot much more like the women in my life; the women who I looked up to. She fit my vision of beauty.

She’s not just a performer, her and her husband — the epitome of modern music — are a picture of black excellence. They are the products of hard work and raw talent in a society that has historically (and continues to) privilege whiteness. 

But overall, I guess the biggest reason my love for Beyoncé has continued since I was a kid with a love of dance routines, is that now as a woman in my 20s with a love of female empowerment, is that I’ve grown up with her.

One of my favourite memories of my entire life is actually anchored in our family’s shared love for Beyoncé.

It was another annual Christmas talent show and my parents, sister and I had decided on performing a routine to our favourite song to come out that year — Beyoncé’s Love on Top. This time around, now aged 16, I was finally happy to hand over the baton of the role of Beyoncé. In this performance, it was to be taken over by my Dad. My Dad; the traditionally macho, “too shame” to perform any other Christmas, fairly conservative man. Needless to say, we were blown away when he volunteered to step up and lip sync Love On Top for our whole extended family.

Back in 2005, we were robbed when we lost the talent show as Destiny’s Child to another kid in the caravan park who sang Christina Aguilera’s I Am Beautiful, but Christmas six years later, Dad made up for it when took on Beyoncé and won our hearts.

Mum, my sister and I were his back-up singers, but we didn’t perform to the best of our abilities, as we choked on laughter with tears streaming down our faces. He just looked so hilarious in his white blazer and women’s tights, singing passionately into a broomstick as a microphone, right to the final note, proving once and for all Beyoncé truly is the unifying singer for us all. 

 

Marlee Silva is a proud Kamilaroi/Dunghutti woman living on Dharrawal country in the Sutherland Shire, NSW. She is the founder of Indigenous female empowerment network @tiddas4tiddas. She is passionate about culture above all else, is generally full of opinions and is a self-professed nerd. Follow Marlee @Marlee_Silva
 

Watch Beyoncé star in the Golden Globe-nominated film Dreamgirls on SBS On Demand: