A class at Virginia Commonwealth University focusing on Beyoncé is exciting students to learn about the artist’s role in feminism, African American studies, and pop culture.
Following over 20 years of Beyoncé’s music prevailing in the nationwide music scene, VCU is hosting a new course focused on the artist in its African American studies department.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has produced several number one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 in addition to critically-acclaimed albums, and has received multiple Grammys for her work. Her 2016 album Lemonade became a quick pop culture phenomenon not only musically, but visually — major publications lauded the album for its personal in-depth look into Beyoncé’s life that the artist had previously never shared with the masses.
College instructors across the country now are intertwining the artist’s legacy into lectures and elective courses that students can take for credit toward their degrees.
VCU got into formation, and currently hosts a course on the pop artist labeled “Beyoncé: Music, Race, Fame.” Taught by professor Madison Alexander Moore, the class focuses not just on Beyoncé’s history, but also the impact she has on her community.
“It’s not necessarily a class about Beyoncé, but a class about stardom, virtuosity, and what it takes to be a pop star in the age of Instagram and internet connectivity,” Moore said.
Moore uses the work of a wide variety of black feminist scholars and critics in the class, ranging from Christina Sharpe’s exploration of blackness using the framework of a slave ship in her book In the Wake to bell hooks on black female sexuality. According to Moore, going into depth about Beyoncé’s influence in pop culture teaches students about black feminism and the history behind black female performances.
“I thought I would know everything because I’m a fan, but we learn a lot of stuff I didn’t even know we would touch on,” said VCU senior Kelsey Jones.
Jones — a self-proclaimed member of the “BeyHive,” described as Beyoncé’s devoted legion of fans — initially joined the class for an elective credit necessary to graduate. She didn’t realize how much she was going to enjoy the class or the professor until they started diving deeper.
“He got his degree from Yale; his personality is one of a kind, and he’s honestly so hip and kind,” Jones said. “Not to mention he is an African American male who researches and [is interested in] black queer studies.”
Moore is no stranger to discussing artists and pop culture. He has written multiple articles for VICE, Out Magazine, and The Journal of Popular Music Studies. He also published his first book in 2018, titled Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric, which goes in-depth about how the idea of fabulousness is used by marginalized groups as ways to cope with pain. Moore is currently writing two books, one being a cultural study on Beyoncé.
The pop queen is known for her support of universities. In 2017, in honor of the one-year anniversary of her Peabody award-winning album Lemonade, Beyoncé announced the “Formation Scholars” scholarship. The scholarship was awarded to four women “who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious and confident.” The four participating schools were Berklee College of Music, Howard University, Parsons School of Design, and Spelman College.
The following year, Beyoncé and her husband Shawn Carter (also known as Jay-Z) awarded 10 $100,000 scholarships to “exceptional senior high school students with financial needs.”
Beyoncé also paid homage to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) with her iconic Coachella performance in 2018. The performance, nicknamed “Beychella,” contained sorority and fraternity imagery, and featured bands and performers from selected HBCUs.
The film of this concert, Homecoming, was released April 17 on Netflix. In tandem, Beyoncé released behind-the-scenes footage from the event along with a surprise live album featuring two new recordings. When asked about Beyonce’s legacy, Moore matter-of-factly cited the uproar caused when that album was released.
“What other artist can drop an album at midnight and make the internet stop?”
Moore will teach “Beyoncé: Music, Race, Fame” again in the spring semester of 2020. Interested VCU students can find detailed info here.
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