By now, you have likely heard that Beyoncé released a surprise album on iTunes at midnight on Friday, December 13, 2013. And in addition to the usual samples and collabos, Ms. Knowles incorporated Chimamanda Adichie’s TedX Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” (embedded below) on the track “***Flawless.”
The maverick move is a brilliant extension of the singer’s brand as a complicated woman grappling with both the societal pressures on females (and celebrities) to be flawlessly beautiful, and the enduring legacy of second wave feminism which stigmatized the ideal of female domesticity and certain expectations of femininity (including beauty). It expands her brand as well, forcing thought snobs who might have heretofore dismissed the singer as an empty-headed pop-tart lacking in gravitas to rethink their sniffs at popular culture.
But it also exposes Beyoncé’s fan base — and the American mainstream — to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and by extension, an aquifer of intellectual ideas and culture, should they choose to tap it.
Adichie is not necessarily hurting for publicity. She is the award-winning author of four works of fiction, all of which have enjoyed the most high placed critical acclaim. Her latest novel Americanah has sat atop several Best of 2013 lists and her novel Half of a Yellow Sun has been adapted into a film starring Golden Globe nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and Thandie Newton.
Adichie’s books document and interrogate Nigerian culture — both in history, in contemporary Nigeria and the Diaspora. She’s also given another much-applauded TED Talk called “The Danger of a Single Story” that challenges assumptions and stereotypes about African culture, among other things. With the eyeballs and eardrums that Beyoncé commands, perhaps there will be expansion of narrow views about black culture, especially African life.
Perhaps most exciting — and a little daunting — this unexpected collaboration confirms the same ol’-same ol’ marketing plans (for writers and pop stars) are in dire need of refresh. It can be done simply. Recording artists have sampled speeches before and writers have performed with singers before. But there needs to be consistency around thinking past convention. The culture (“high” and “pop”) craves — and needs — it.