She's strong, she's young, she's wildly famous, and she keeps coming out with songs about how girls rule and boys drool. "If I Were A Boy" is but one of the latest in a series of Beyoncé's hit singles that seem to draw their inspiration from the 1990s "girl power" movement. Is Beyoncé the new face of feminism?
Stick with us as we pull apart the layers of this deceptively straightforward-sounding pop number. We'll take you back to the origins of "girl power," uncovering what the "Single Ladies" singer has to do with the Spice Girls, how the all-female punk band Bikini Kill fits into the picture, and where pop music and gender are intersecting today.
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
At first glance, "If I Were A Boy" seems like a simple fantasy of gender reversal. From Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to the Disney's Mulan (1998), women have often been depicted disguising themselves as men. And beyond fiction, countless figures including Joan of Arc and George Eliot have taken on traditionally male traits in order to gain access to certain privileges.
But "If I Were A Boy" is not a simple role reversal fantasy. It's a song about a break-up that doubles as a pretty cynical commentary on the trappings of traditional relationships between men and women. For Beyoncé (and songwriter BC Jean), talking about being a boy is really a way of talking about not being a boy.
As a result, the crooning break-up song feels more like a throwback to the painful fantasies played out in The Bell Jar or The Bluest Eye. A far cry from any post-feminist gender play, these books deal with women who felt trapped in their roles in the 1940s and 1950s, before the women's movement and the black power movement as we know them had even begun. In "If I Were A Boy," Beyoncé's "girl power" persona touches on a bit of what has not changed in the 40+ years since.
On the Charts
After debuting in November 2008 at number 100 on the Billboard Hot 100, the song peaked at #3.
The song debuted at #1 on the Hot Digital charts directly after its release, only to be pushed down to #2 with the release of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" in December 2008.
"If I Were A Boy" was a big hit in northern Europe, topping the charts in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK.
The song hit #1 on the European Hot 100 Singles charts in January 2009.