It’s official: the newest and most important celebrity accessory is the squad.
You had a good run, Tinkerbell.
With the release of “Bad Blood” and “Feeling Myself,” Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj have solidified the notion that #SquadGoals are the only goals that matter.
After the Billboard Music Awards Sunday night, all anyone could talk about was the premiere of Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video that opened the show. Swift’s video, teased with nearly two weeks of Instagram promotion, paid homage to, at MTV’s count, at least 16 different movies, as well as a slew of other pop-culture references.
And then a 30-second teaser for “Feeling Myself” landed Monday afternoon, and boy, the social media sea change was brisk. It wasn’t necessarily all positive — there was a good bit of grumbling that the full video was released exclusively on Tidal. But within an hour, Tumblr was filled with “Feeling Myself” GIFs.
There’s a point toward the end of the full video that captures Nicki and Bey hanging out somewhere, perhaps backstage at Coachella.
“Wait,” Beyoncé says to Nicki. “Is that Bubbalicious gum?”
“No,” Nicki says as she bites through a piece of candy.
“Now and Laters?”
“Yeah, you want one?”
How did Now and Laters, lounging around in a watermelon kiddie pool and feeding each other hamburgers manage to steal the thunder from Taylor Swift’s fantasy celebrity death squad?
Taylor wants to be number one in the art of what Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen calls Strategic Girlfriend Collecting. Petersen wrote an exhaustive analysis of Swift’s habit of friend collecting, which she documents through Instagram, earlier this year. It appears Swift’s efforts in the process culminated with the release of “Bad Blood.”
“… it takes a lot of labor to make something as manufactured as a celebrity image look as natural as Taylor Swift and Lorde on a beach, just being the wacky and carefree young women that they are,” Petersen wrote.
Indeed. And Beyoncé, Nicki, and Now and Laters hold similar appeal.
This is something Beyoncé understands well. “Feeling Myself” bears an amateurish imprint that’s reminiscent of “7/11,” which looks like it was shot on an iPhone.
The beginning of “Feeling Myself” is something that would have been cut from a traditional, stylized production. Instead, it feels like the music video equivalent of an expensive garment with edges that have been deliberately left raw. Beyoncé is rap-singing the words to “Feeling Myself” under a city limit road sign for Coachella, with Nicki standing beside her, staring down the camera with her arms crossed, in what can only be described as boss pose. You can hear the director off-camera: “That’s dope, Nicki.”
It’s a different sort of realism from just four years ago, when Beyoncé released the video for “Party.” In it, she courts the camera from the inside of a trailer as a trashy-glam version of herself still “unfinished” for public consumption, but obviously still ***flawless. Even then, the squad made appearances: Solange on the 1s and 2s, Kelly Rowland swaying to the beat in a purple-sequined short set.
But “7/11” and “Feeling Myself” have been crafted to feel more like impromtu Instagram shoots. They’re spontaneously captured as if to say “this is just how we goof off.” There’s Beyoncé taking selfies in a bathtub while Nicki twerks by the sink. There’s a bewildered Blue Ivy chilling on the bed. There’s Beyoncé and a squad of six women dancing toward you in a hotel hallway like a drunken, female, red-cup wielding gang inviting you to play Sharks vs. Jets.
It’s the equivalent of Swift’s Instagram feed, in reverse.
Swift friend-collects and releases a high-priced mini-movie so that she may flex on Katy Perry for stealing back her own backup dancers.
“Feeling Myself” looks like Beyoncé casually called Nicki and said, “Hey, let’s make a video for that song you featured me on.”
Taylor is trying very hard. So is Beyoncé. But only one of them has mastered the artifice, in video form, of making it look spontaneous. More than anything, Nicki and Bey appear to be having a ball. They remind us of chilling with our own girlfriends if we were much, much richer.
In “Bad Blood,” which is essentially Swift and her gang of friends playing dress-up with an unlimited bank account, Swift is clearly in charge. She’s the star of her show, no matter how many of her famous buddies she brings in to back her up.
For Minaj, netting Beyoncé as a public friend and co-conspirator was very much a come-up. When Beyoncé featured her on yet another “Flawless” remix, it was quite possibly the most valuable celebrity endorsement Nicki could attain outside of Lil Wayne, who launched her career.
But then, something interesting happened. Bey didn’t just offer Nicki a hand up, she pulled her onto the stage — literally. Minaj was the only featured artist to appear during Bey and Jay’s “On the Run” concert in Paris, broadcast to the world on HBO. In the ultimate public paean to their relationship, Nicki was bestowed the honor of guest star. Even the title of Nicki’s most recent album is an homage to the work of Bey’s husband. “Pinkprint” is basically the “female version of a hustla” answer to Jay’s seminal “Blueprint.”
“Feeling Myself” is striking because the two women appear as equals, as partners, even though it’s unmistakable who possesses more cachet.
And this is important to remember in contrast to Swift because of this observation from Petersen:
For a young woman so mindful about the power of friendship, it feels noteworthy that of the 16 acts that have opened for Swift over the North American leg of her last three tours, none have been women… Swift, who loves to do things like surprise fans with Christmas gifts and give them cash for dinner, seems less interested in actual female collaboration and partnership than the appearance thereof.
It’s not that Jay and Bey are not above releasing their own #SquadGoals big-budget fantasy production. Remember the trailer for the “On the Run?” The one that starred not only the Knowles-Carters, but Don Cheadle, Blake Lively, Sean Penn, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Guillermo Díaz, and Rashida and Kikada Jones?
You can still find it on YouTube, but not on Bey or Jay’s official accounts.
After all, the only thing cooler than having a bevy of Hollywood super friends to call upon is, after a time, not continuing to brag about it.