Beyonce, Sade and the meaning of “retro”

These two videos dropped this week, and I was struck by the obvious superficial parallels — both Sade and Beyonce are cast as “traditional” homemakers in retro-styled videos. Beyonce’s retro romp seemed (at least to me) a bit tongue-in-cheek, whereas Sade pretty
earnestly makes Jell-O and keeps house. But regardless, they’re both wearing vintage-looking sexy slips, making dinner, hanging out at home during the day, etc.:

Sade, Babyfather

Lyrics here.

Beyonce, Why Don’t You Love Me

Lyrics here.

At first both videos seemed pretty straightforward-retro to me. Some cute vintage styling choices, that’s all. But given that these are two women of color are playing roles commonly associated with upper-middle-class white women (Betty Draper being the most recent reference point), I wondered: What makes me call this “retro”? I know there were certainly upper-middle-class women of color in the ’50s and ’60s, but this image of the happy-but-secretly-unhappy housewife is stereotypically white. By virtue of race, Beyonce and Sade are twisting that stereotype. (Granted, Beyonce is a more pin-up than straightforward homemaker — but
hey, that’s transgressive, too, as pin-up girls were almost all white.)

It’s worth revisiting Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s commentary about Michelle Obama and black motherhood:

White, middle-class, gender norms in the United States have generally
asserted that women belong in the domestic sphere. These norms have
limited white women’s opportunities for education and employment. But
the story has been different for women of color and women from poor and
working class origins. These women have faced the requirement of
employment and the shouldered the extreme burden of attempting to
effectively parent while providing financially for their families.
Black women were full participants in agricultural labor during
slavery, the backbreaking work of sharecropping, and the domestic
services of Jim Crow. Even middle class and elite black women have
typically worked as teachers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and
professionals. At every level of household income and at every point in
American history, black women have been much more likely to engage in
paid labor than their white counterparts. Even Claire Huxtable worked
full time!

What’s your take on the meaning of “retro” in these videos?

P.S. We can also discuss this on a superficial level. Don’t Beyonce’s baby-bangs look amazing?

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