Last Tuesday, I arrived at my dorm, slumped on the nearest couch, pulled out my copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and went to pause Beyoncé’s “***Flawless” on my phone before taking out my earbuds – but I stopped with my finger halfway to the button and thought, This album would be a great soundtrack for Dorian Gray.
This is obviously problematic for many reasons. These are only a few:
1. Anachronism. Queen Bey dropped her self-titled album over a century after Wilde dropped Dorian Gray.
2. Radically different experiences. Queen Bey is a feminist woman of color and must cope with discrimination because of these identities. Dorian, definitely, does not have to cope with any discrimination because of his identities. And he’s not exactly a feminist. Like, at all.
3. Different themes. Queen Bey’s lyrics reflect her beliefs and identities, none of which Dorian really aligns with, obviously.
I recognize all of this, but I don’t think we should dismiss any connection (however distant) between Beyoncé’s latest album and Wilde’s only novel.
So do hear me out.
Like Dorian Gray, the song “***Flawless” deals with ideas of perfection, physical beauty, and superiority. Listen here if you wish:
Here’s a snippet of the lyrics:
I know when you were little girls
You dreamt of being in my world
Don’t forget it, don’t forget it
Respect that, bow down bitches (Crown!)
You wake up, flawless
Post up, flawless
Ridin’ round in it, flawless
Flossin’ on that, flawless
This diamond, flawless
My diamond, flawless
This rock, flawless
My rock, flawless
I woke up like this
I woke up like this
We flawless, ladies tell ’em (…)
Say I look so good tonight
God damn, God damn, God damn
As you may have noticed, Bey glorifies her beauty, her wealth, and her superiority over most of the human population. As she should. She does this in many songs throughout her 2012 album. All hail the queen.
Does this aesthetic sound familiar? It should. A century earlier, enter Dorian Grey (here represented by Wilde’s evil boyfriend Lord Alfred Douglas – a similarly beautiful and unsavory character).
Like Queen Bey, Dorian knows his societally determined assets and uses them to his own advantage. The entirety of The Picture of Dorian Gray investigates his self-love, his wealth, and his misguided belief that he, like Bey, is a deity sent to earth. In a lot of ways, Dorian is in dialogue with our current celebrity culture, and everything we assume that culture stands for.
The celebration of beauty is nothing new to the world of art. Neither is the celebration of wealth or hedonistic practices. But I’d like to posit that Bey and Gray are part of a larger trend of the celebration (occasionally poisonous) self-centeredness and pleasure-seeking. It’s possible that Wilde and the aesthetic he portrayed in Dorian Gray paved the way for Beyoncé and similar artists a century before her birth.
Just some tasty food for thought.
I am not the first to notice the connection between pop and “high” art. Fly Art Productions is a Tumblr devoted to superimposing hip-hop lyrics on top of famous paintings (check it out – it’s wicked: flyartproductions.tumblr.com). I like to think we can do the same for great works of literature.
To me, at least, Dorian Gray feels more fly and relevant to the culture I live in when I’m listening to Beyoncé. In spite of their many differences, they are, in a way, echoes of each other, and each other’s aesthetics.
Lyrics courtesy of azlyrics.com.