Justin Vernon Unfairly Criticizes Beyoncé

Bon Iver front man argues it was wrong for Beyoncé to accept millions from Pepsi

Art by Emily Hill

Art by Emily Hill

We all know Beyoncé. Many of us worship her. We love her not only because of her youthful looks and amazing voice, but because she is a force in the music industry. Many of her songs are about female empowerment, and she is not afraid to promote self-love. For many young girls in our generation, Beyoncé is a role model.

Justin Vernon, the man behind indie folk band Bon Iver, knows this about her. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Vernon criticized Beyoncé, saying: “I’d prefer Beyoncé didn’t do a Pepsi tour. Do not take two million dollars from Pepsi and be a role model for young girls. Do not do that. That stuff does anger me. And I feel like I am not afraid to talk about that stuff.”

Did Beyoncé really sell out for Pepsi like Vernon infers? If selling out means taking endorsements from companies, then Beyoncé has been doing that since 2002, when she was just starting to become famous. Beyoncé grew up in a working class family in Texas and she crafted her own career. She started out as a member of Destiny’s Child and then transitioned into her career as a solo artist, breaking racial barriers and making a name for herself along her journey to stardom.

It is not fair for Vernon to criticize Beyoncé for taking endorsements when he himself was a brand ambassador for Bushmills whiskey, appearing in their 2011 campaign. Now, he says he regrets being a part of the campaign, but that does not excuse him from effectively selling out –the very thing for which he has targeted Beyoncé.

In a 2015 interview with former pop culture blog Grantland, Vernon said, “[Bushmills is] run by a corporation, and you kind of forget that they’re not interested in you or really what you’re doing. They’re interested in your popularity and your reach, and it felt really sickening after a while.”

So, what is so revolutionary about that? Advertisers have been using celebrities to promote products for years. That is the amazing thing about being a celebrity; people know who you are and you have a fan base. Although Vernon has his own personal issues with his celebrity in general, Beyoncé proves that having an influence on her fans can be positive and meaningful.

Beyoncé’s devoted fan base, christened “The BeyHive,” is so powerful that it was able to shut down a government website. Beyoncé took to her own website to voice her passionate feelings about police brutality following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In addition, she left The BeyHive with a link to the website where citizens can contact their representatives in Congress. Her fans got to work and overwhelmed the site so much that it crashed.

Beyoncé has, in recent years, taken a firm political stance against police brutality and crimes against black people. On her most recent album, the song “Formation” and its accompanied music video are a recognition and celebration of blackness. Beyoncé performed “Formation” on the world stage at the 2016 Super Bowl Halftime Show. She makes significant statements with her music and the visuals in her music videos, but she and husband Jay Z also have given back to the black communities of America many times. They are outspoken supporters of President Barack Obama, attended the vigil for Trayvon Martin, donated money to the people of Flint, Michigan, and have bailed Black Lives Matter activists out of jail.

Beyoncé is a smart and capable woman, and she embraces her fame and the power that comes with it. In the big scheme of her career, she will not be remembered for her partnership with Pepsi. The fact is, Beyoncé is an incredibly positive role model for many girls, especially those of color. She has proven to billions of young girls that women of color can be smart, successful, savvy businesswomen, and lead fruitful lives. This is what she will be remembered for.

The fact is, Beyoncé is an incredibly positive role model for many girls, especially those of color. She has proven to billions of young girls that women of color can be smart, successful, savvy businesswomen, and lead fruitful lives. This is what she will be remembered for

The fact that Vernon finds himself to be morally righteous for taking a different path with his career is misguided. It is completely fine if he is uncomfortable with his celebrity and all of the implications of his fame. However, he has no authority to criticize Beyoncé for her business decisions, especially because he had succumbed to being an ambassador for a major brand during his career as well. Beyoncé has proven that her money can be used for good. Whether it is the millions she has acquired from her album sales or the millions from participating in advertisements, Beyoncé spends a portion of her earnings on political activism. So, next time Vernon feels comfortable enough to have an interview, he should be wiser about choosing battles that are really worth fighting.