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Why Beyonce’s ‘Diva’ shoutout to Ronda Rousey is bigger than a fleeting moment

Beyoncé, left, at the 2013 Super Bowl, and undefeated UFC bantamweight champion fighter Ronda Rousey. (Jeff Haynes/Reuters; Bret Hartman/The Washington Post)

First it was novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who enjoyed a feature on the Beyoncé song “***Flawless.”

This weekend, it was UFC bantamweight champion fighter Ronda Rousey’s turn.

Beyoncé, 34, changed up her “Diva” performance at Jay Z’s Made in America festival in Philadelphia on Saturday, preceding it with audio of what’s become known as Rousey’s “do-nothin’ b—-” speech.

While giving an interview for UFC’s “Embedded” vlog series, Rousey, 28, famously explained why she’s not a “do-nothin’ b—-.”

“I have this one term for the kind of woman that my mother raised me to not be and I call it a ‘do-nothin’ b—-,” she said. “Or I call it a DNB a lot of the time. The kinda chick that just tries to be pretty and be taken care of by somebody else. That’s why I think it’s hilarious — when people say my body looks masculine or something like that, I’m just like ‘listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than [having sex with] millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely bada– as f— because there’s not a single muscle in my body that isn’t for a purpose because I’m not a do-nothin’ b—-.'”

UFC president Dana White tweeted a video of Beyoncé’s performance.

Rousey Instagrammed a screenshot of “Diva” playing on her iPhone.

Adding the sample as an introduction to “Diva” made for a fitting follow-up to Beyoncé’s assertion on “***Flawless” in which she states, “I took some time to live my life/But don’t think I’m just his little wife.”

On some level, it’s possible to track the evolution of  Beyoncé’s feminism from “Diva,” which was released in 2008, to 2013’s “***Flawless.”

They’re thematic cousins — both music videos were shot in black and white, and both songs are about rejecting and subverting gender norms. But there’s a gulf in execution. “Diva” is all about polish and adding feminine qualities to a position that’s typically gendered as male. The chorus literally states that “a diva is a female version of a hustler.”

By the time she released “***Flawless,” however, Beyoncé was willing to embrace a much harder, grimier sensibility — the song has been endlessly chopped and screwed to fit her needs. It began as a one-off she released on SoundCloud called “Bow Down/I Been On.” A remix of it featured Houston rappers Lil Keke, Scarface, Slim Thug, Bun B, Willie D and Z-Ro. Bey’s male posturing was reinforced by the production of the track; her voice was altered to make her sound male.

“Bow Down/I Been On” was criticized as anti-feminist, and Beyoncé repackaged the song as “***Flawless,” adding the now-famous audio of Adichie’s TedX speech on feminism and releasing it on her eponymous album with a new video. In the speech, Adichie says that professional competition among women is something that’s healthy and that it should be embraced.

Warning: This video contains explicit language.

The video for “***Flawless” was a rejection not just of all things polite and stereotypically feminine, but also of the male gaze. In it, Beyoncé has surrounded herself with a rowdy, rumbling crowd of tattooed punks. She’s unapologetically doubled down on the bravado that’s typical of hip-hop.

In a video explaining the thinking behind 2013’s visual album “BEYONCÉ,” the singer shared why she chose to open the “***Flawless” video with footage of her childhood girl group Girls Tyme losing a “Star Search” competition.

“I feel like something about the aggression of ‘Bow Down’ and the attitude of ‘***Flawless’ — the reality is, sometimes you lose,” Beyoncé said. “And you’re never too good to lose and you’re never too big to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. It happens. And it happens when it needs to happen. And you have to embrace those things.”

After the now-infamous elevator incident between her husband, Jay Z, and her sister, Solange, at the 2014 Met Gala, Beyoncé released yet another remix of the song addressing the fracas and featuring Nicki Minaj.

Warning: This video contains explicit language.

Amending “Diva” with Rousey’s speech serves as an addendum reinforcing “Diva’s” message about scrappiness and work ethic: “Since 15 in my stilettos been strutting in this game.”

Feminist criticism of “Diva” stated that it nakedly embraced capitalism. It’s a song celebrating Beyoncé’s success in the music business, measured in money — again, something typical and fairly unremarkable in hip-hop. A Post review called it a “gender-twisting play on Lil Wayne’s summer hit, ‘A Milli.'” At one point in the music video, Beyoncé actually cools herself with a fan constructed from hundred dollar bills.

Adding Rousey to the song answers that critique in a way because it takes a certain amount of economic comfort and posturing to espouse such rejection of the pursuit of money and success. Rousey comes from a working-class background. Before she became a mixed martial arts champ making appearances in Hollywood films, Rousey was living out of her car. Try telling her she should abandon the pursuit of economic dominance because capitalism is anti-feminist. She’d probably laugh at you.

Beyoncé’s endorsement of Rousey as a diva also serves as a nice little clap back to Floyd Mayweather who alternates between pretending he doesn’t know who Rousey is, calling her a man and reiterating that he’s got more money than she does.

“Tell me somethin’, where yo boss at?” Beyoncé sings. “Where my ladies up in here that like to talk back?”

In writing about Beyoncé’s refusal to grant an interview to Vogue, despite being the cover model for its September issue, Elaine Lui of Lainey Gossip noted something about the songstress: she wants to be, and understands the power, of being enigmatic. Wrote Lui:

This silence is what’s starting to set her apart from other artists. Which, as we know, is what Beyoncé wants: to have no peer. As we all now know, Beyoncé is her own archivist and historian. Beyoncé is her own student and master. Beyoncé is well aware that we’re talking about why she’s not talking. And she loves it. The more we wonder about it, the longer she’ll keep it up. Which isn’t easy, by the way. Most celebrities can’t help themselves. We see this all the time, especially now, with social media, famous people incapable of impulse control, incapable of not sharing, over-sharing, boasting, over-boasting. They have to have the first word and the last word.
But Beyoncé has always been good at restraint and withholding. Most of them can’t wait five minutes before they’re posting it on Instagram. Beyoncé’s been known to wait years, saving and hoarding in secret until she’s ready to show you — her wedding dress, her holiday videos, exclusive pieces of information let out deliberately, curated as though they’re works of art on loan from museums.
Beyoncé doesn’t want to be liked. Beyoncé wants to be studied. She’s probably the only one right now who knows the difference.

Not only does Beyoncé know the difference, she’s one of a few who can afford to actively make this choice. How many other celebrities do you see getting birthday shout-outs on Twitter from FLOTUS?

This is why a Ronda Rousey feature on “Diva” isn’t just a Ronda Rousey feature. It’s a deliberate decision, informed by a hundred other previous decisions, meant to communicate something very specific. If you want to know anything about Beyoncé, it will only be what she wants you to know. And you will have to consume her art and interpret it in order to decode her message.