“Beyonce’s rump shaking and knee knocking may trigger a noticeable libidinal response in many, and strike fear in the parental hearts of some. In its Super Bowl edition, it also nicely honored the host town, home of the spectacularly bootylicious bounce music scene. But it’s neither merely instinctive nor an example of video girl-era exhibitionism.
In fact, the shimmy, the Black Bottom, the Quiver and the Funky Butt — the building blocks of what Beyonce does so well — were popular at the turn of the 20th century, and themselves are rooted in the traditions slaves kept alive beyond the Middle Passage. All rock-and-soul era dancing stems from this stuff, of course; but as her Super Bowl routine so memorably demonstrated, Beyonce gets the connection like nobody else. She invokes the madcap, revolutionary spirit of the first great generation of African-American female stars of vaudeville and the cabaret: women like Josephine Baker and Ethel Waters, who once attributed her early success to her “completely mobile hips.”
As a prime mover in the hip-hop era, Beyonce connects these fundamentals to today’s street dances and stepping competitions. But she is easily as interested in how greats from Michael Jackson to Lena Horne absorbed and transformed those vernacular moves. Something similar happens in her sound, which often works like African-Americana, incorporating marching bands, the Aretha of Sparkle and “I Say a Little Prayer,” and the sassy harmonies of the swing era alongside more contemporary beats and studio tricks. Last night, when Destiny’s Child harmonized on their famous line, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly” — a lyric that invokes both the sensuality of classic blues and the loose-limbed sound of early jazz — it all suddenly made sense: Beyonce, the showbiz kid, has worked her whole life for this moment, where she can fully represent an entertainment lineage that inevitably leads to her.”
The Roots of Beyonce’s Super Bowl Spectacular | NPR