Rush Limbaugh has the crazy idea that Beyoncé's new song is a patriarchal anthem, telling women to "bow down" to men. Others have the crazier idea that it's about empowerment and confronting her childhood bullies in "H-town" Houston. I don't buy any of these interpretations. But, I do agree that "Bow Down" is a densely poetic song, with lyrics that need to be unpacked carefully. Below are five much more plausible interpretations of what the song is really about. You're welcome, Beyoncé.
It's a song about drowning at sea. The term "bow" refers to the front part of a boat, not the act of bowing. The song is about a boat that is sinking. The lyric "I took some time to live my life" is a passenger reflecting on her life before she dies a watery death. The "H-town" she sings about is Honolulu. The boat is in the Pacific, and the last hope of safety was making it to Hawaii. "H-town" represents the impossible dream of survival. "I'm coming down/ Get it on the ground" is an acceptance of the inevitable end mixed with a gasp of hope to make it to dry land. Hello Sasha Serious.
It's a song about a hair accessory -- and its quest for independence. The term bow refers a ribbon you tie in your hair. Beyoncé is just doing a sassy pronunciation of it. The lyrics clearly state "bow down", as in the bow fell down. Now her hair "H-town" is "coming down" because the bow is no longer holding her ponytail up. Beyoncé tries to "get it on the ground" and pick up the bow, but -- and here's where it gets a little James-Franco-cerebral -- we switch to the bow's perspective. The bow doesn't want to be tied (literally and metaphorically) to the hair anymore. It's trying to forge its own identity. Hence the lyric "Don't think I'm just his little wife." The hair is referred to as masculine, because the bow represents a woman's quest for independence. (See "Independent Women" by Destiny's child for further exploration of this theme.)
It's a song about the new pope. The term bow does refer to the act of bowing, but the context is worship and prayer. "Bow down b*tches" is about how Beyoncé wants to be revered in a religious way. Then, when she starts singing "bishes", this isn't slang for b*tches" as some suggest, it's common bible slang for "bishops." And "H-town" refers to the heavenly town on earth ie. Vatican City. So the refrain "H-town bishes" is a plea to be chosen as the new Pope. (Yes, a new Pope was technically already chosen, but she's Sasha Fierce. She doesn't play by the rules.)
It's a song about body image. The line "I'm coming down dripping candy on the ground" is a reference to losing weight. In the line "I know when you were little girls/ You dreamt of being in my world" Beyoncé acknowledges that she embodies a physical ideal of the femininity. But she also points out that this ideal is unhealthy, saying "Don't get it twisted" as in don't get caught up in the twisted messages our society teaches about what women's bodies should look like. The lyric "This is my sh*t" is an expression of both her struggle to achieve that physical ideal and her guilt about perpetuating it. Deep sh*t, I know.
It's about letting someone know you're coming down. As the repeated phrase "I'm coming down" makes pretty obvious, the song is about how when someone calls you to come downstairs, you're all like "I'm coming down, give me a second, don't be a b*tch about it." Duh.
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