Diversity & Media

Like A Boy & Performance

In Ciara’s “Like A Boy”, she sings about what she could do differently in her relationship if she was the man. “Wish we could switch up the roles and I could be that; Tell you I love you, but when you call, I never get back; Would you ask them questions like me, like where you be at?; ‘Cause I’m out, four in the morning on the corner, rolling, doing my own thing.” The song is about gender roles and assumptions within a heterosexual relationship. In the music video, however, Ciara’s performance centers around two “versions” of herself– one that is her “normal” self (i.e: female, wearing a dress, feminine demeanor), and the other is the “male” version, where she dresses in a more masculine way and performs as this alternate self. In his article, McMillan defines several concepts, including performing objecthood, which is “an adroit method of circumventing prescribed limitations on black women in the public sphere while staging art and alterity in unforeseen places” (p. 7). Additionally, he describes the ways that black female performers especially often engage in the performing of “avatars”: “I rerender “avatar” in the service of black performance art to gesture toward some of the oldest (and newest) forms of impersonation staged by black women and the conversion of these self-effacing perfor- mances into literary, visual, and digital remains” (p.12).

In this music video, Ciara participates in this avatar performance by spotlighting an alternate self that is meant to portray, represent, and perform through distinct versions of herself. By donning traditionally masculine clothes and acting out this unfaithful, selfish partner that the lyrics speak of, she is able to exhibit and inhabit a totally distinct and specific set of assumptions and representations. Compare this video to the “Monster” video we have viewed in class– Nicki does a similar thing by performing as both “dominatrix” Nicki and “Barbie” Nicki, and both individuals and performances have clear implications and reactions by the audience. McMillan is one lens through which we can understand this performance phenomeon, especially in relation to Black female artists, who are under significantly more pressure and criticism from society, in order to understand the motivations behind this “impersonation”.

Aside from this analysis, I can remember seeing this music video for the first time with my friends. It was 2009, so I was a freshman in high school. Even then, before this knowledge of intersectional theory or any sort of media analysis skills, I was struck by the video. I thought it was so cool that Ciara could talk about why this boyfriend sucked, while at the same time somewhat “becoming” that person; a commentary and interesting message to receive at that age. Music videos are such an interesting aspect of media and entertainment, and seem to be a somewhat forgotten art. I really appreciate when artists bring their songs to life, and even more so when (in instances like this) the visuals can provide an additional message and critique in an interesting and impactful way.

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