Beyonce’s third single, “Pretty Hurts,” off her self-titled album was released in April of 2014.The song is based predominantly on pageants and their damaging practices, but also acts as a commentary on society’s standard of beauty. When the song was release, the body positivity movement was fully taking off which is could have had some influence over the song being released. Gina Tonic wrote an article for Vice where she stated, “But if 2013 was the year that body positivity tentatively approached the mainstream, 2014 was the year that it became the mainstream, as more and more fat people went viral for their activism in providing liberation from fatphobia and strict body standards” (Vice). Furthermore, 2014 saw the release of “All About that Bass” by Megan Trainor, which was heavily praised for its body positive message and topped charts for weeks because of its massive popularity. 2014 was a huge year for self-love and body confidence. This atmosphere and social movement really set the stage for the “Pretty Hurts” not only to be written, but also to gain popularity and be meaningful to a lot of people. I think another important piece of context about this piece is that Beyonce used to compete in pageants, so it is a very personal message for her. While she only co-wrote this piece, I am sure her past experiences shaped a lot of the message in this song. In terms of genre, this song should mostly be categorized as pop, but it has R&B influences. Pop music often mimics what is trending socially, so this song coming out at a point where the body positivity movement was becoming less radical and more mainstream makes a lot of sense.

Sia, Joshua Coleman, and Beyonce all worked together to write this song and their lyrics have a lot of weight to them. He first verse of the song starts off strong with the lyrics, “Mama said, ‘you’re a pretty girl’ / What’s in your head, it doesn’t matter / Brush your hair, fix your teeth / What you wear is all that matters.” Right off the bat, this sets the tone for the song as it exemplifies very well the culture of beauty in our society. It shows is critiquing the fact that we spend so much time worrying about our appearances. This is enhanced when they write, “You’re tryna fix something / But you can’t fix what you can’t see / It’s the soul that needs the surgery.” This directly correlates to the fact that we worry so much about how we look, but do not spend the same amount of time on who we are as people. This is a major commentary on our society putting appearance above morality and empathy. This part of the critique ties in again with the Vice article where the author quoted Lindsay King Miller saying, “Today’s body positivity focuses too much on affirming beauty and not enough on deconstructing its necessity” (Vice).

The writers really focus their efforts on critiquing beauty standards as well as the consequences those standards have. Towards the end of the song, the refrain, “Are you happy with yourself?” is repeated quite a bit which also ties into the intro where Beyonce says her aspiration in life is to be happy. This shows that they are commenting on the fact that when we, as a society, are constantly focused on what we look like and how to fix ourselves ot fit the beauty standard, we cannot be truly happy. The song is extremely powerful not only because of Beyonce’s incredible vocals and emotional performance, but more so because the lyrics are so authentic, moving, and relatable to so many people. They are the framework to give Beyonce the opportunity to make it so powerful.

Jacqueline Ward