Last week, Reba McEntire covered Beyoncé on the Country Music Awards. The song: "If I Were a Boy," as made popular by the R&B star in 2008."When I got the song and the lyrics, I thought it was an incredible song," the country singer said. Her recording of "If I Were a Boy" appears on her new album, All The Women I Am and also made Reba a viral sensation of sorts last year when she initially sang a stripped-down version on YouTube.
McEntire’s version is poised to be almost as successful as Beyoncé’s, which was made more popular by the accompanying music video that starred the singer in a Freaky Friday scenario of sorts: While singing the song about what she’d do if she were male, she donned a police uniform and acted out lyrics like:
If I were a boy / I would turn off my phone / Tell everyone it’s broken / So they’d think that I was sleeping alone / I’d put myself first / And make the rules as I go / ‘Cause I know that she’d be faithful / Waiting for me to come home
These lyrics translate well from R&B to country, as cross-genre songs typically do when they’re about a universal theme. And this theme is one that seems to be popping up more and more as of late — songs about the privilege of being male.
One of the earlier performances of this theme is from the movie musical Victor/Victoria, a gender-bending film and stage play that starred Julie Andrews as a woman pretending to be a man who was a female impersonator. One of the songs she sings in both versions is "If I Were a Man."
Man assumes that the world is tailor made for him, which it is / He presumes that the world indulges ev’ry whim / If it’s his / What a fabulous pursuit, / Hands in pockets, running things / I must say, it appeals / In my hundred dollar suit / Toying with my golden fob-watch / As I make my deals / Lucky man who is not made to feel / Like an also-ran / What a lovely life I’d plan / If I were a man.
What’s made interesting not only about the lyrical content of songs about women longing to have the privileges of men is that they are often accompanied by performances of masculinity. Beyoncé singing about switching roles with her boyfriend might not be so queer, but her performance as a strong policewoman with no concern for her male counterpart gives her some queer subtext, whether she’s intending to or not. And Andrews is performing as a man-turned-woman, donning suits and short haircuts and balancing masculinity and femininity as best she can depending on who she’s around and what she is trying to evoke.