Hold UpWhen Music Treats Softness as a Superpower

Cutouts of Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” video and Beyoncé from the “Hold Up” video collaged together with three paintings: Nausicaa (1878) and Flaming June (1895) by Frederic Leighton and “Autumn Sea” (1867) by Gustave Courbet

Artwork by neonhoney

The Power issue cover featuring Meech, a Black woman with short hair dressed in a black and gold embroidered jacket and a Shakespearean ruff adorned around her neck, arms crossed in front giving a commanding look and demeanor.
This article was published in Power Issue #88 | Fall 2020

Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O wrote the 2003 song “Maps” in what she told NME magazine was a 20-minute dreamlike state. The formidable frontperson—known for an aesthetic and stage presence so outrageously shameless that she once accidentally danced off the stage—stood out among her peers in the early aughts. While most of the band’s contemporaries were led by men, Karen O was this group’s dominating force. Still, despite her voracious stage presence and constant bravado in lyricism and performance, her most popular lyrics, “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you,” originated in the lovelorn track that came to her effortlessly. More than a decade later, those lyrics found a second life in Beyoncé’s 2016 song “Hold Up,” a quintessential part of her Lemonade album.

While Karen O reveled in the complicated feelings of a long-distance relationship, Beyoncé weighed in on the far-flung emotions that arise after a betrayal, shamelessly outlining her lover’s misdeeds while blatantly bolstering her self-worth. While there’s a difference between each song’s sonic sound and framing, the ethos remains the same. “Hold Up” is also a nuanced love song in which the female protagonist isn’t begging or asking for love; she’s making a clear and precise declaration: It doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re with because the love I’ve given you is more powerful than any alternative. Even without their mirrored refrains, both tracks exemplify what some of us take lifetimes to realize—the vulnerability and authenticity often associated with divine feminine energy is equal parts beautiful and powerful.

If you don’t spend all of your free time in the New Age self-help section at bookstores or buying crystals from wellness websites, then you may not be familiar with the idea of the “divine feminine.” In many cultures, the “divine masculine” is represented by assertive, logical, and strong energy. It’s that place we go to get shit done, or as the kids say, to hustle. Conversely, in a January 2020 article in SFGate, Deepak Chopra wrote that divine feminine energy includes mothering, abundance, beauty, sexual charm and attraction, inspiration, and peace, and that without these traits, “We find ourselves in a drastic state of imbalance.” While these energies are considered “feminine” and “masculine,” they’re not necessarily connected to gender; instead, they symbolize how we’re socialized to navigate the world. As our culture has pushed an arbitrary idea of constantly working toward success—at all costs—many women have negated our ability to feel and see nurturing and intuition as traits worth embracing.

Many of us have subconsciously either given away or inhibited our “divine feminine energy.” That comes in a number of different forms: Maybe you pretended to be okay when someone stole your idea during a meeting because you didn’t want to be perceived as too emotional to lead. As a result, women often—in the words of feminine-energy life coach Connie Chapman—“lead with your shoulders instead of your hips.” But what if we could lead with our hips and still be seen as competent, authentic, and capable? It’s possible, as both musicians show not only through their songs but also in how they show up in the world.

Both tracks exemplify what some of us take lifetimes to realize—the vulnerability and authenticity often associated with divine feminine energy is equal parts beautiful and powerful.

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“In moments of vulnerability, I try to remind myself I’m strong and I’m built for this,” Beyoncé told Elle in December 2019 about the hard lessons that led to Lemonade. Similarly, Karen O has said that she had to “scream and break things to make people listen to me” in order to be successful in a male-dominated musical genre. We often fracture and fragment ourselves for our jobs and our partners, hiding the parts that make us great. But there are many ways to exist in the world, build successful careers, and maintain healthy, intimate relationships while also being our open, intense, and honest selves. If Karen O hadn’t leaned into feminine energy, we wouldn’t have the comfort of one of the most popular musicians crying real tears on set or the shameless honesty of Beyoncé admitting that she’d rather be crazy than “be walked all over lately” and smiling as she busts out car windows. So, how do we take our power back? We must recognize our feminine energy as a powerful, unstoppable force rather than a nuisance that our jobs, friends, and lovers have to put up with. We share our truths. We admit to our lovers that “they don’t love you like I love you.” We find spaces and people who view our softness as strength. We embrace the female archetype throughout our leadership, ensuring empathy and intuition exist at our executive tables and political offices. We tell our truth, even if some of those truths are ignored, some become lyrics, and some of those lyrics become hit songs.


Erica Campbell, a brown-skinned Black woman with black hair and blond tips, leans against a wooden table
by Erica Campbell
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Erica Campbell is a music journalist, video producer, and host based in New York City. Her stories about entertainment, lifestyle, and culture have been featured in Playboy, Nylon, and HuffPost, and she’s the former music editor of Consequence of Sound. You can follow her @ericacxmpbell and read more of her work at campbellerica.com.