Updated: Dec 31, 2021
In “Upgrade U,” the fourth track on Beyoncé’s B’Day, we see the use of the “upgrade” to promote her significance and power within a romantic relationship in its public flashpoint. Released around the time when many rumors were swirling of an upcoming marriage, this iconic video teased the press further, frequently flirting with the idea of the powerhouse couple tying the knot.
But what does it mean to “upgrade” someone? In Beyoncé’s case, she adds to Jay-Z’s persona and legacy by pairing himself with a powerful woman such as herself. Jay-Z raps about how he “used to beat that block,” but now he is the block. Beyoncé responds that “[she’s] the lights that keep the streets on,” meaning that she recognizes that he is a big deal, but she highlights what he brings to the table. Similar to the light on the streets, she brings in warmth, guidance, security, and one will definitely notice when it is gone. She continues by saying that he shouldn’t “doubt [himself]” because he needs her; her support isn’t damaged or built solely on ego like other people.
Watching the video, it is important to note that Beyoncé portrays both herself and Jay-Z which is significant because a big theme in this album is feminine power and reconstructing gender roles. During this time of much stricter gender norms, Beyoncé assuming Jay-Z’s male form was a brave statement for herself because it demonstrated that women can have a masculine role and “side” whilst remaining feminine. She is showing herself in both a feminine and masculine form, which can point to how she is equally as powerful as her partner is. Beyoncé takes Jay-Z’s appearance, showing their increasing unity and synergy, and raising the idea that Beyoncé is a role model that Jay-Z should aspire to be more like.
How does Beyoncé “upgrade” the relationship dynamic with her partner? She mentions that she will help him in material ways by saying “I'ma help you build up your account” and she’ll “switch [his] neckties to purple labels;” a statement that came true after many years together within the ever-changing music industry. Furthermore, she mentions that she strives to have an equal part in their relationship, noting that “anything you cop, I’ll split the bill.”
Not only can this apply to material things, but it also signifies her intent to be an equally powerful partner and decision-maker. Beyoncé then makes a nod to Black history and makes an important note about how Black women’s significance within the Civil Rights Movement and her relationship.
"I can do for you, what Martin did for the people
Ran by the men, but the women keep the tempo
It's very seldom, that you're blessed to find your equal
Still played my part and let you take the lead role, believe me"
Beyoncé’s perspective emphasizes the lack of recognition women have historically faced in favor of focusing on male counterparts. Beyoncé ties this to how she will organize her own relationship, she’s more than happy to let Jay-Z be the public face of their relationship but behind the scenes, the power dynamic is equal and labor is shared. The relationship stays this way only because Beyoncé lets it happen, not because she’s incapable of leadership and she wants this to be made very clear. Beyoncé has a point on what a healthy relationship behaves like when you can respect your partner’s need to at least feel in charge but never forget that “it's that little glimpse of light that makes that diamond really shine.”
As a whole, “Upgrade U,” shows how Beyoncé will (and let’s not forget ultimately did) promote her significance and power within her relationship with Jay-Z. The hit track on B’Day provides women an inspiring statement on shifting gender norms, promoting feminine power, and recognizing the equal roles needed within healthy relationships.