At the Grammy Awards, Beyoncé and her husband of six years, Jay-Z, performed a sultry rendition of the hit song “Drunk in Love,” which is a risqué paean to unfettered intimacy. After watching the performance, Alyssa Rosenburg, a blogger at Think Progress, made a surprising claim: By making “marriage look fun, and sexy, and a source of mutual professional fulfillment,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z made the case for marriage that conservatives can’t.
According to Rosenburg, “[‘Drunk in Love’] is a song about flirting, about going out and partying, about having fantastic, adventuresome, totally enthralling sex — with your spouse. That’s a far, far better argument for marriage than the pseudo-scientific case for holding onto your oxytocin by not having sex before you say your vows on the grounds that such conservation efforts will make your first time better.”
Laura Turner, a blogger for Religion News Service and Christianity Today, agrees with Rosenburg, commenting that when Christians talk about marriage, they too often forget that the sacred union should be sexy, fun, and flirtatious. Putting lyrics of “Drunk in Love” side-by-side with excerpts of Song of Solomon, Turner considers both works to be powerful, seductive portrayals of the intimacy that ought to characterize a vibrant marriage.
Gushing about the appeal of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s relationship, Turner says, “[They] have been married almost six years, have had a child together. … They are loving parents, close to their families, and head over heels for each other. It’s endearing to watch the way they watch each other. They both very clearly take pride in the other’s work while also being super into one another. That’s attractive.” Turner indicates that Christians should not hesitate to promote marriage by exalting a celebrity couple who are crazy about one another and who flaunt their irrepressible desire for one another on stage.
But there are plenty of reasons to resist the hasty adulation of King Jay and Queen Bey. For one, their marriage does not seem to escape the female objectification so common in our culture. Instead, they embrace it. In the music video, Beyoncé, who slurs her words as if she were in a drunken stupor, seems more like a mindless drone or brainless sex kitten than a dignified spouse intoxicated by pure love. When Solomon sings praises of his spouse, he uses metaphors and symbols to describe not only his holistic appreciation of her but also his complete dedication to her. Unlike Jay-Z, Solomon does not regret that the “foreplay in the foyer” damaged his Andy Warhol painting (Solomon probably had better taste).
Moreover, it is doubtful that Solomon put his private life on display so recklessly. In other words, his expressions of marital intimacy likely took place within the privacy of his home and not on stage at an awards show. Naomi Schaefer Riley, writer for the New York Post, notes that “the happy couple seems to have completely blurred the line between what goes on in their bedroom and what happens on national TV. So much for the woman that Michelle Obama has called ‘a role model whom kids everywhere can look up to.’”
In a particularly biting line, Riley writes, “What do you call a man who stands there smiling and singing as his scantily clad wife straddles a chair and shakes her rear end for other men’s titillation? … a poor excuse for a husband.”
Whereas the Song of Solomon uplifts marital intimacy through its beautiful imagery and exaltation of righteous love, “Drunk in Love” rejoices in the victory of passion over reason. This, of course, is a continuous theme through Beyoncé’s work, since she has unabashedly boasted of being “crazy in love,” “dangerously in love,” and now “drunk in love.” While emotions have their rightful place — and marital love most certainly ought to be passionate — the love that should predominate in a marriage is completely self-giving and unwilling to honor debasing behavior.
The Song of Solomon is a passionate and romantic poem that is designed to elevate the marriage relationship by joyously exploring the spiritual and sensual aspects of love. But even though Scripture extols sexual intimacy within marriage, it never, as John MacArthur says, describes sex “in a way that would gratify a lascivious imagination or arouse lustful thoughts.”
By masterfully employing elements of poetry, the Song of Solomon simultaneously rejoices in the marriage relationship and respects its sanctity. “Drunk in Love,” on the other hand, is a voyeuristic song that turns marital intimacy into an unrestrained, money-making, lust-inciting exhibition. Even within marriage, we are to display a properly ordered love that leads us to sincerely and actively work for the good of the other. Marriage provides a safe haven for the proper practice of intimacy between a man and a woman. We have to decide if Jay-Z and Beyoncé are, indeed, models of this intimacy or greedy exploiters of it, who are subverting the love fit for marriage.
Even though Jay-Z and Beyoncé are married, they do not mention marriage once in “Drunk in Love.” If Jay-Z and Beyoncé were not married, then would they still have produced this single? Probably. In that case, the song is not about marriage so much as it is about sex, which makes it just like any other pop song on the market. The message of the song isn’t that humans were designed to experience sexual fulfillment within the marriage relationship, but that humans were designed to be drunk in love, whether or not that happens to occur within a marriage.
We can honor marriage without glorifying unrestrained lust (Hebrews 13:4).
“Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.”
When considering whether Jay-Z and Beyoncé should be exalted as exemplars of a vibrant marriage, we should ask whether the power couple is leading people to honor marriage and remain faithful or to indulge adulterous desires. The author of Hebrews praises the former and admonishes the latter. The whole theme of “Drunk in Love” revolves around the ecstasy of unhinged longings. Never once does Beyoncé indicate that this loosening of inhibitions is permissible only because she is married. Instead, the assumption is that a love-inspired insanity is good no matter what — whether one is single or married. If Jay-Z and Beyoncé were campaigning for healthy marriages, then perhaps the song would be more palatable. But they are not campaigning for healthy marriages; they are advocating the pursuit of pleasure and fulfillment of all desires in a euphoric sexual encounter, regardless of marital status. Such a message could indeed lead the married couples in your congregation to have more satisfying marriages. But it could also lead the singles in your congregation to experience that intoxication whenever they please.