A FAN ETHNOGRAPHY
Communication and Pop Culture | Dr. Dan Heaton Malcolm White 4-2-13
On March 18, 2013, Beyonce Knowles-Carter leaked a song called “Bow Down,” where she instructed all of her competitors to bow down before her. In her estimation, there was no competition, she was aware of it, and anybody practicing in her arena was aware of it too. More importantly, her legion of adoring fans knew it as well. The song leak served as a stark contrast to what Beyonce had recently become known for releasing. Instead of the ballads of romance, anthems of girl power, unity and triumph, or the militaristic pronunciation of confidence and ego, this track releases scathing criticism and pompous boast over all of her contemporaries. The deviance from what normally typifies Beyonce’s sound and message did not extend to her fan base; this is to say that the reaction was largely the same. Regarding anything that has to do with Beyonce, there was instant conversation started. As an outsider who does not consider myself as a “lover” or a “hater” of Beyonce, I saw artifacts and texts everywhere that I went. On social networks, there were links sharing the song. There were comparisons between the newest song and previous singles from her catalogue. There were images that exulted Beyonce to a place of worship and then there were parodies of these said images. Blogs dedicated special release posts to discuss the piece. In person, I heard the song emanating from
vehicles. When I came to work, I was lured into conversation by coworkers. Mind you, I couldn’t care less about anything to do with Beyonce, but I was exposed to it. Beyond the commercial reception to the record, the song had a lot of cultural implications as well. Culture commentators, such as radio DJ’s, online bloggers, and musical critics; all voiced opinions on the magnitude of the song. Some questioned whether or not Beyonce was right in putting out a record like this. For an artist who had so often before touted a hard line on female equality and women against the world, (a very popular recent single of hers is called “(Girls) Run the World”), the lyrics of the song seemed to be very divisive. Some took exceptional offense to the use of the word “bitches” to belittle her supposed competition. Interestingly, the song was more than just another piece of work in a veteran’s discography. Instead it was a cultural statement and artifact that merited conversation, applause, criticism, and opinion vocalization. The reception was so polarizing but such is the case for all things in Beyonce’s world. A famous artist once says, “everybody feels a way about me, but at least you feel something.” While I did not fully understand it at the time, I was actually witnessing a fanevent in progress. It was my intention as, as an ethnographer, to dive into the world of those who found themselves to be fans of Beyonce.
Beyonce fans were not hard to find. They exist in a social ecosystem known to all of those whom have a concentrated interest in Beyonce, whether it’s her music, art, or life. The network is called the “Beyhive.” Appropriately, Beyonce is the “Queen B” and all of her fans, (or subjects), are B-fans, or Beyhivers. I was granted access into the world of a Beyhiver through distant observation, personalized interview and event participation.
While I found that not all Beyhivers self-identify themselves at such a level; nearly all of her fans fell into a similar demographical composition. I found this through primary research, by conducting a wide-series of interviews of Beyonce. Almost universally, Beyhivers possess material artifacts, through her musical collections, or commemorative devices (DVDS, posters, tshirts). They also share a unifying adoration for Beyonce’s discography, the manifestation of which is in the memorization of all her lyrics and imitation of her performances. According to the...