BEYONCÉ’s Velvet Rope: The depth beyond the “Partition”

Last December, Beyoncé dropped an album you may have heard about, arguably her defining album, aptly titled BEYONCÉ. 

You may have also heard the often quoted lyric from one of its singles, “Partition,” on which she sings: “Driver roll up the partition please, I don’t need you seeing Yoncé on her knees.”  I don’t believe I need to explain the implication here.  For that and other lyrics in “Partition,” like “Oh, he’s so horny, yeah he wants to fuck” (and others on the album, too) Beyoncé has been met with a great deal of criticism from the usual suspects: the critics and public alike who think that she should be some model of purity for young girls around the world to look up to.  However, people seem to forget that Beyoncé only has one daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, who she is responsible for raising.

That’s not the point, though.  The outpour of negative reactions to “Partition” for the song’s lyrical content and the visuals in the music video make one thing clear: people are listening to Beyoncé, people are watching Beyoncé… but they’re not actively engaging with her.  The old clichés of “in one ear, out the other” and “gone with the blink of an eye” hold quite true here.  So yes, people are definitely hearing her, and seeing her.  However, amidst all this listening, watching and (dramatically) reacting, they are forgetting to do one very important thing: to think about what she’s really saying.  There is a deeper meaning behind nearly every song and video on BEYONCÉ, and “Partition” is no different.

First, a few acknowledgements.  Yes, on “Partition,” Beyoncé is alluding to oral sex in the back of a limousine.  Yes, Beyoncé does mean what you think she means when she says that he “Monica Lewinsky’d all on [her] gown.”  And no, the “handprints and footprints” on the glass are not because Blue Ivy threw a tantrum and smacked her hands and feet against the window.  And yes, Beyoncé is a grown woman, wife, mother, and creative artist who of course has sexual desires.  She had a fantasy and creatively expressed it in the form of a song.  While this sort of creative expression indeed has significance because of it’s liberating qualities, even still, there is more to “Partition” than it being liberating and empowering for Beyoncé as a woman.

Of course, there’s a certain irony to her singing, “Driver roll up the partition please,” when in both the song and video she exposes some very explicit details of (her fantasy of) what goes on in her backseat… to the entire world.  Not only explicit, these details are very personal, as well.

Next week will begin a series examining Janet Jackson’s 1997 album, The Velvet Rope, in light of its 17th anniversary.  The Velvet Rope has a central theme, that we “all have the need to feel special, and it’s this need that can bring out the best in us, yet the worst in us.”  Janet says, “This need created the velvet rope.”  Of course, the “velvet rope” refers to the literal velvet rope that separates the VIP section of a club from the public.  Janet uses this metaphor to symbolize how the album is her letting the world past her own personal velvet rope.  Once behind the rope, she welcomed us into her confessions of love, heartbreak, pain, loneliness, depression, sexual desires, and more.  Further detail on Ms. Jackson next week, though.

Mrs. Carter, meanwhile, is doing the very same thing on BEYONCÉ, and “Partition” would have been a great alternative album title.  On this very sexualized song, there is a very personal confession weaved in-between its more empowering and explicit lines: “Take all of me, I just wanna be the girl you like, the kind of girl you like.  The kind of girl you like is right here with me.”  With these few, simple lines, she expresses a subtle vulnerability.  She is admitting to her own insecurities, that she feels like her husband sometimes can be more impressed with other girls than with her.  However, she overpowers that by reminding herself, and him, that she can be that kind of girl too, and “Partition” is exists to prove that.

The song, as Beyoncé described in her Self-Titled YouTube documentary, was her creating “whatever world and fantasy that, definitely, at the time, was not happening” during the recording of the album, which occurred following the birth of her daughter.  In the video, she describes the song’s inception, explaining how its lyrics are simply a fantasy she created.

About the music video, she explains that she took Jay-Z to see the Crazy Horse dancers at the famous Parisian club for his birthday, and thought how she wanted to perform like that for her husband.  So, for the video, she did just that – to be the “kind of of girl [he] like[s]” and to prove “the kind of girl [he] like[s]” is indeed “right here with” Bey.

While on the surface, “Partition” may seem as though it’s just another raunchy, sexual song from a female pop singer trying to get attention, it really is so much more than that.  Not only does it symbolize her sexual liberation and maturation, but it also reveals a certain vulnerability that is experienced in most relationships, even the healthiest ones.  Beyoncé’s decision to follow “Partition” with “Jealous” further affirms this interpretation of the track.  Embracing imperfection is a running theme on BEYONCÉ as well.

In short, while Beyoncé did indeed command the chauffeur to roll up the partition and chastised him for eavesdropping and nearly crashing… she did, however, invite you, the listener, into her fantasy.  The invitation was not intended to entice sexual arousal, nor serve as soft-core porn.  Rather, by offering this invitation, Beyoncé was making an effort to embrace her own imperfections and connect to her listeners in a new way because, as carnal as some of it may seem, there is a certain vulnerability to the track that everyone can relate to.  Beyoncé clearly knew, though, that some people wouldn’t realize this and perhaps that explains how she chose to end the song.

“Partition” ends with a monologue in French, in which the speaker asks, “Do you like sex? … Are you not interested in sex?”  Of course, it is a bit of a rhetorical question, isn’t it? After all, who can honestly say no?  Maybe that’s why “Partition” upset so many people, because the undeniable truth behind it may force the prude to realize they’re not so perfect after all.  But hey, like Beyoncé said on “Ghost,” “perfection is so… meh.”  If you still don’t like it, then, well, she has a song that addresses that too: “I’m a grown woman; I can do whatever I want.”

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2 Comments

  1. Gentlgodis

    October 1, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Very insightful. Love the review its much more the a few stand out lines suggest it to be.

  2. Vincent

    October 3, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Thank you! I appreciate it; and definitely agree with you.

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