I assume you know by now that Beyonce's little sister just dropped an album.
It's called A Seat at the Table, and a lot of people are getting very excited about it. It directly addresses the experiences of black women in a way which is at once wholly feminine and peaceful, but also very confronting for those of us who aren't ourselves black women. It gives you a lot to think about. I love it.
I love her minimal sound, I love the genius styling of her two videos, I love the implicit bravery of making something quietly powerful and not immediately accessible.
But I am also intrigued. Because Solange's two new videos have gone live on YouTube without warning (in true Knowles family style) and with comments disabled. That's right. Solange Knowles does not want your feedback. It may seem trivial, but I wonder whether Solange's flicking of the 'off' switch on her comments sections is the beginning of a new trend in online behaviour. Solange has returned to an almost 1980's era style of communication. Like a newspaper before the invention of fiberoptic broadband and twitter, her output is not a conversation, it's a broadcast. But Solange is braver than a 1980's broadsheet, because her lack of engagement in back and forth with viewers is an active choice. She's saying 'here is what I have made. I don't care what you think of it'. Something which, in a landscape obsessed with likes and clicks and engagement and going viral, is a bold step in itself.
I actually felt a huge amount of relief at seeing no comments beneath her work. It gave me space to breath, space to digest, space to reach my own conclusions as to how I felt about what I was seeing on my own, without input from anyone else. Online in 2016, that is a rare thing indeed. It allowed me to look at something beautiful and purposeful and carefully made and not have my heart sink as I scroll down to find it dismissed and disrespected and subjected to racism and sexism and heinous grammar.
What I wonder is, is this the way forward? I've felt for a while the tide of anger and reactionary harassment rising on YouTube and other platforms, and I feel it stifles creativity. From politicians to columnists to musicians and artists, and even bloggers, that vague threat of angering the mob lingers over the more risky creative leaps we might want to make. We've been told since the dawn of social media that engagement is key and connecting with fans is paramount, but perhaps we've afforded the collective voice of the comments section too much power. Has fear of backlash, doxxing, harassment, abuse and unending critique been permitted to soften the edges of art, to make it blander and simpler, so as to offend no one? After all, Turner Prize winning artist and generally brilliant human being Grayson Perry famously said 'Democracy has bad taste'.
So maybe we should stop democratising everything. Perhaps the platforms which want us to do so, by allowing the most hate-filled voices to shout the loudest, by doing precisely nothing to allow space for reasoned argument and diverse points of view (twitter, I'm looking at you) have lost the privilege of our patience. The privilege of our engagement in the back and forth which forms the bedrock of their business models.
Perhaps this is the beginning of a swing in the other direction. A swing towards simply saying 'here's what I've made. I don't care what you think.'