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Beyoncé removes ableist slur from new album after backlash

The singer’s decision to withdraw the lyric from her new song ‘HEATED’ has drawn a mixed response. 

Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’, a prodigious, 62 minute cacophony of dance and ballroom culture, has revived us – fawning and jubilant – from the slog of an endless heatwave.

As we throw our limbs about to these 16 new tracks, it seems queen Bey can do no wrong. Her devoted ‘Beyhive’ – a legion of notoriously dutiful fans – aren’t the only ones clinking their glasses. ‘Renaissance’ has, true to its name, rejuvenated all of us.

Beyoncé hinted at the album during an interview with Harper’s Bazaar in 2021, telling them, ‘With all the isolation and injustice over the past year, I think we are all ready to escape, travel, love and laugh again. I feel a renaissance emerging, and I want to be part of nurturing that escape in any way possible.’

She has certainly achieved her goals, providing us with a pastiche of genres and sounds that reflect the myriad ways we have to connect, love, cry, and grow. It is catharsis in its truest form. But despite capturing our hearts in the few days since its release, ‘Renaissance’ hasn’t avoided controversy.

Slotted in amongst the bolshy soul and maximalism of her track ‘HEATED’, Beyoncé had included the word ‘sp*z’, widely considered an ableist slur.

She has since committed to removing the lyric, her representatives confirmed last week in a statement; ‘The word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced’. It’s unclear when or how the edit will happen.

Beyoncé’s decision to rewrite the track come just months after fellow singer Lizzo was urged to remove the same word from her song ‘Grrrls’. At the time, she shared a lengthy apology statement on Instagram. ‘As a fat black woman in America, I have had many hurtful words used against me so I understand the power words can have’.

Like Lizzo, Beyoncé has been quick to take action. But the call for a rewrite has angered many in the Black community, who consider the backlash an ‘overreaction’.

In a post by Impact, Beyoncé fans sounded off about the word in question. ‘Sp*z’ is often used as a derogatory term to describe disabled people with spastic cerebral palsy – which affects their ability to control muscles throughout the body.

However, since the release of ‘HEATED’, many have highlighted the word’s use in the Black community.

Jaclyn McRavin shared her understanding of ‘sp*z’ on twitter, stating ‘as a Black disabled person, sp*z is not a slur in our community. There are dozens of songs by Black people use that word to mean go crazy. It’s like the phrase get stupid [sic]’.

Others have considered the response to Beyoncé and Lizzo’s tracks a ‘disheartening’ censorship of Black female artists.

@chantellyyy told her followers ‘I never knew [sp*z] was a slur till June when Lizzo received backlash for it. I just know that we in the black community use it in a non-harmful way because I have def said it.’

Others have argued that, regardless of personal interpretation, the negative response to artists like Beyoncé has shown we should avoid using terms that could be deemed offensive to others.

Hannah Diviney shared a heartfelt article in the Guardian shortly after ‘HEATED’ was released. Diviney had been part of the viral backlash that drove Lizzo to change the lyrics in ‘GRRLS’, after tweeting about how the term ‘sp*z’ was ableist and damaging to her own experience of living with cerebral palsy.

‘I thought we’d changed the music industry and started a global conversation about why ableist language – intentional or not – has no place in music’ she told the Guardian. ‘But I guess I was wrong, because now Beyoncé has gone and done exactly the same thing.’

Like others in the disabled community, Diviney has been quick to point out Beyoncé’s monopoly over the cultural discourse. ‘Whenever [she] so much as breathes it becomes a cultural moment. She’s often the blueprint for the music industry’.

Debates around derogatory words like ‘sp*z’ have circled for years. But Beyoncé’s recent controversy has proven we’re no closer to a resolution.

While it’s imperative that stars are proactive in their response to criticism, and it’s reassuring that both Lizzo and Beyoncé have proven themselves to be allies, Diviney has underlined that, ultimately, disabled people just ‘deserve better’. ‘I’m so tired’, she said of the whole ordeal. ‘I don’t want to have this conversation again.’

It’s time the non-disabled community assumed responsibility for educating themselves, instead of waiting to be called out for ‘unintentional’ faux pas.


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