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Grammys 2017: all of the iconographic references in Beyoncé’s performance

The performance drew heavily from multiple religious iconographies.

The 59th GRAMMY Awards - Show Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Beyoncé has never been shy about how fantastic she is, but lately she’s been really getting into the goddess imagery. Two weeks ago, she announced that she’s pregnant with twins in a photo essay filled with copious visual references to Venus, the Virgin Mary, and the African goddess Mami Wata.

And on Sunday night at the Grammys, she performed Lemonade’s “Love Draught” and “Sandcastles” in a virtuoso piece that drew heavily from multiple religious iconographies. Let’s take a look a few of them.

Mami Wata

Beyoncé as Mami Wata Joe Posner / Vox

As Beyoncé appeared onstage, with her yellow drapes floating around her as if she were underwater, it was hard to avoid remembering the pregnancy announcement photos that featured her flipping herself playfully in and out of the water, dressed in yellow silk. Those photos were referencing the African diaspora water goddess Mami Wata, a figure who represents beauty, trade, capitalism, and money: she is capricious and powerful and can bestow or take away great fortune at a whim.


59th GRAMMY Awards -  Show Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

Lemonade was full of references to Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of beauty, love, and music, who rules over the sweet waters. Traditionally, Oshun is draped in yellow and wears a golden headpiece.


59th GRAMMY Awards -  Show Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

As Beyoncé unswathed herself from her yellow scarves, her dancers curved them sinuously around her until they looked like multiple arms, echoing the iconography of the many-armed Hindu goddess Kali. Kali is the mother of the universe, and she’s often portrayed dancing on the body of her consort.


59th GRAMMY Awards -  Show Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

Once she’d ditched the yellow scarves, we got a glimpse of that translucent gown and its seafoam patterning: a nod to Venus, the Roman goddess of romantic love and beauty, who in Ovid’s Metamorphosis is born out of seafoam.

Virgin Mary

59th GRAMMY Awards -  Show Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

But that enormous headpiece isn’t all that classical. It’s a lot more Christian. Specifically, it looks exactly like the halos traditionally painted around the Virgin Mary to show her great purity and tenderness.

Last Supper

59th GRAMMY Awards -  Show Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

Beyoncé isn’t willing to stick to just female goddess iconography, though. She had her dancers/disciples gather around a table, draped in robes, while she sets herself up at the head.

Beyoncé at the 2017 Grammys Joe Posner / Vox

If this were any other celebrity, we might second-guess their decision to depict themselves as multiple gods and goddesses — crossing the boundaries between gender and multiple religious traditions — but this is Our Lady Beyoncé. She says, “I am a goddess, and you know you want to worship me,” and we say, “You know what, you’re right.”