After my lengthy close reading of archetypes, identity, and relationship in Beyoncé’s album B’Day, I debated whether to continue the exploration for later albums. This series of explorations comes out of a long-term series of conversations with my best friend Woods. Both of us are around the artist’s age and were in college together when she released her first solo album. We regularly discussed her music and her presentation of her particular intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Earlier this year, I read an article by Nitsuh Abebe called “Why Can’t Beyoncé Have It All?” This article seemed to summarize everything we had ever discussed and contained this gem: “A few years ago, Beyoncé “killed” Sasha Fierce—or, rather, reintegrated Sasha, a process I wish Carl Jung were alive to ask her about.” As someone who is perhaps inordinately fascinated by both Jung and Beyoncé, this stuck out to me as an invitation and challenge. In re-listening to her works, I perceived creative alchemy, a unique process of individuation that has continued with her recent creative emergence, Beyoncé.
In B’Day, we heard the Singer move from rigid identification with the Virgin archetype into a more fluid, real self after her encounter with love and heartbreak. In I Am… Sasha Fierce, the singer’s confrontation moves more deeply into her Self. Beyoncé’s third solo album is divided into two disks, each representing an aspect of her personality. I Am… features far more ballads, reflections on strength and broken hearts, and vulnerability. Sasha Fierce features more danceable hits, filled with attitude, power, and sexuality.
Jung identified, among many things, two compensatory facets of the Self: the persona and the anima (or animus). In his writing, all humans are androgynous: each man has an inner “feminine” soul called the anima and all women an inner “masculine” soul called the animus. For his time and culture, this thinking moved away from gender rigidity and the cultural dualism of sexes. Because of this movement and the work of feminists and queer theorists, we recognize Jung’s theory as heterosexist and gender essentialist, assigning static traits to “male” and “female” bodies and gender roles, with any strict adherence to or deviation from a gender norm potentially pathologized. For many queer people, the words “male” and “female” fail to encompass who that person is. “Femininity” and “masculinity” have become plural categories with multiple expressions. As a society, we continue to debate whether there are meaningful differences between the sexes and genders and how that affects our society. When we began to question gender roles and Once we could begin to question those roles and see ourselves as more than our bodies and socially assigned roles, that questioning continues to expand as whole new genders and sexualities become birthed into our collective consciousness. (Not saying those genders and sexualities did not exist before but that the overculture is beginning to become aware of them, which subjects those expressions and the culture itself to change.)
All that said, I Am… Sasha Fierce reveals a confrontation between the Persona and the inner Opposite that explores opposing femininities with a nod to “opposite” sexes. The album establishes and plays with culturally constructed dualisms. Separated from fixed attributes of gender, we can make use of the concept of an inner opposite as the part of ourselves that balances and completes who we think we are. If I am heroic and introverted, then within me is a fearful and extroverted Twin. Here the Twin and the Shadow occupy similar territory and I am hard-pressed to differentiate them at times. The Shadow could be the total territory of our unconsciousness, while the Twin is the outer edge, as the Persona is the outer edge of our conscious self, both Persona and Twin forming a complete circle. We are all already whole, but we become aware of that wholeness when we’re willing to do the work explored in this album, turning to face the part of us that “I am not.” The Twin can be a guide, helping us to explore the parts of us that are difficult to face and finding strength where we want to see weakness. In I Am… Sasha Fierce, Sasha Fierce” serves the Singer’s Twin, her opposing Persona.
In alchemical symbolism, the Sacred Marriage occurs between the Sun and the Moon, two parts of the Self that are opposing and yet capable of the most profound union. In Western astrology according to Stephen Forrest in The Inner Sky, the Sun represents identity and destiny, what we are here to become. The Moon represents the soul, as well as the instinctive self, the part of us that craves and needs and seeks security. Both are necessary. With an album such as this, I feel the temptation to assign one aspect as the Sun and one as the Moon, yet even this dualism defies easy categorization. Abebeh notes that “you can’t help noticing that Sasha sounds like Beyoncé normally does; it’s the “I” that’s different, singing introspective pop-rock ballads with more technical aplomb than spark.”
I Am… seems an obvious choice with its assertion of Selfhood, yet its themes of softness, woundedness, and vulnerability seems quite lunar. Songs such as “Smash Into You” and “Broken-Hearted Girl” highlight these themes of something shattered and broken, while “Satellites” evokes planetary degrees of relationship and connection. Sasha Fierce, with its wild and passionate sexuality and drama, seems lunar but is quite solar with such swaggering lyrics as “I love my big ego.” (Perhaps “Ego” is a love song from the Moon to the Sun.) Ababeh’s observation reveals further complication: it’s the alter ego with which the audience is most familiar. The artist crafts her stage persona with the same attention and discipline as the craft of music and dance; for us, the revelation is that she is not Sasha Fierce. Revealing the “I” is the discomfiting and liberating work of this album, creating the opportunity for sacred marriage.
To make the game of dualisms clear, I Am… begins with the “I” imagining what it would be like “If I Were a Boy.” Here the Singer imagines herself as the cause of pain and sorrow she has felt in love relationships. Her identity grows to encompass these polarities, the one who waits and the one who leaves, the one who pursues and the one who withdraws, concluding that she has become stronger through this work: “I think I could understand / How it feels to love a girl / I swear I’d be a better man.” Although the song is a litany of wrongs done to a girl, the Singer grows larger and esteems herself more highly, becoming both boy and girl and recognizing that she deserves the love she would give to herself. At the conclusion, she is able to dismiss the apostrophe for being “just a boy.”
Sasha Fierce opens with her declaration of autonomy, sexuality, and self-possession. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” which blew up the radio, highlights Sasha’s taunting declaration to a jealous ex-lover that he missed his chance and lost his claim on her. “Video Phone” expands upon this sexual self-mastery in which Sasha controls the male gaze by instructing her sexual interests to record her on his “video phone” while detailing everything that he enjoys about her. “I got not time for fronting / I know just what I’m wanting.” “Diva” is celebrates power and collapses essentialist notions of gender by defining its own style of femininity — “diva is a female version of a hustler.”
This division into halves brings the strengths and limitations of each facet to the fore. Sasha Fierce drew more commercial attention but lacks a certain depth and soulfulness to which I Am… aspired. Sasha Fierce concludes with a song about being “Scared of Lonely,” the Twin confronting her own fears of vulnerability and isolation that had been cast aside amidst all these declarations of power and autonomy. I Am… concludes with “Save the Hero,” asking “Who’s there to save the hero / when she’s left all alone and she’s crying for help? / Who’s there to save the hero, / who’s there the save the girl / after she saves the world?” Here the Singer’s tendencies toward nurturing and saving others seems to leave her without the capacity to care for her own needs.
From both albums, the songs “Halo” and “Hello” seem to reach across the expanse of duality to touch the opposing Twin. “Halo” is one of the strongest songs and biggest hits from I Am…, the chorus of which celebrates the beauty and divinity of the Singer’s beloved while acknowledging its ephemeral nature. “Baby I can see your halo / pray it won’t fade away.” In the chorus, the Singer continues to echo “I can see your halo, halo, halo.” Sasha Fierce echoes this refrain with “You had me at hello, hello, hello.” Like the symbol of yin and yang, each persona contains a glimpse into its opposite. In “Halo,” the Singer’s vulnerability and capacity to love becomes powerful and beautiful. In “Hello,” Sasha Fierce’s strength and sexuality buckles under this taste of vulnerability and love at first sight.
Neither I Am… nor Sasha Fierce is complete unto themselves. Having engaged in this project of self-examination and confrontation of opposites, we come upon the capacity to observe both at once and recognize how each can complete the other. We see, as the album’s title declares, that “I am” includes Sasha Fierce. Sasha Fierce needs the Singer’s caring and willingness to be vulnerable. The Singer needs Sasha Fierce’s strength and willingness to ensure her needs are being met. If the two personas met at a bar, they might despise or love each other.
Distilling these opposites into their essence, we find a third point between the two: the Witness. In meditation, spiritual work, or psychotherapy, we learn to become our own Witness to the battles within. In the sacred marriage, this third point might be the officiant or the audience, both serving to bear witness, sacralize, and formalize the union. In this creative project, the audience serves as the Witnessing Self. As the opposites face each other in the presence of the Witness, something new can emerge. The two can match each other strength for weakness and birth completion. According to Jung’s view of numerology, the number four is the symbol of wholeness. In Tarot, four is the number of the Emperor, a stabilizing influence that brings order and harmony to the wild creative energies of three, the Empress. Thus, it seems inevitable that Beyonce’s album following this sacred marriage would be called 4.
Complete Jungian readings of Beyoncé’s work: