This essay reads Beyoncé's vocal practices, visual productions, and comments on her own music to theorize her changing conceptions of artistic labor in relation to neoliberal theories of work. I argue that whereas her career is initially shaped by a spectacular performance of hard work and perfectionism that peaks on her 2011 album 4, her 2013 album BEYONCÉ "knocks her own hustle," in Lester Spence's terms, advancing an aesthetic of spontaneity and imperfection that rejects the incessant labor that neoliberalism demands and that her own oeuvre had long celebrated. Enabled as it is by her global pop stardom, this new ethos and aesthetic is no more democratic than her earlier articulation of work; yet Beyoncé's release of "Formation" in 2016 aims to resolve this contradiction by articulating myriad forms of labor that are available to everyday people and whose aim is to challenge the system that makes people of color (especially women) hustle so hard to survive in the first place. In this way, her changing conceptions of work illuminate her transformation from pop star to artist to activist—or, better, her efforts to link all three.


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pp. 131-145
Launched on MUSE
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