Beyonce’s Surprisingly Conservative Inaugural Performance

Yesterday’s inauguration ceremony might be the most singular American political event in decades. To mark both the second swearing in of the country’s first black president and the day set aside to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the ceremony included a prayer by Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams. President Obama’s own speech was one of his most insistently progressive, calling for the civil rights of LGBT Americans to be recognized. Gay Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco recited “One Today,” a meditation on the diversity of the country we all (sometimes begrudgingly) share.

Even the singers chosen for the ceremony might have been a nod to our need for democracy in entertainment, with American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson singing a powerful rendition of “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.” But the most surprising moment was Beyonce’s performance of the national anthem. In a ceremony dedicated to celebrating the expansion of the American experience, the country’s most recognizable singer may have given one of the most conservative live performances of her career:

Of course, “conservative” is a relative term. Beyonce’s singing is always flawless and sometimes needlessly acrobatic; there are times when she sounds so perfect that it’s hard to find the emotion behind her voice. But yesterday she seemed focused on the song and its significance rather than technique. And even during her runs and other touches of color, Beyonce stayed disciplined and controlled; she brought drama with her gestures and a determined expression, but her voice was strong without being overpowering.

Four years ago, Beyonce was clearly giddy when she sang “At Last” for the Obamas at the 2009 Neighborhood Ball. Yesterday, she paid respect to the occasion with an almost muted performance. There are so few classic renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner because it’s sung so often as to be unremarkable—but Beyonce’s toned-down version could join that short list.

Many thanks to Alyssa for hosting me, my fellow guest bloggers for keeping me on my toes, and the Think Progress readers. This has been kind of awesome.