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2023 Essence Festival Of Culture

Source: Aaron J. Thornton / Getty

Groups of Black women flooded the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, to celebrate Black creativity and ingenuity at the 29th annual Essence Fest last weekend.

Originally a music festival, the Essence Festival of Culture has always had huge headliners, including Beyoncé and Janet Jackson. This year Megan Thee Stallion and Janelle Monae hopped on stage at the Superdome to sprinkle advocacy for an Age of Pleasure and engage in hottie antics. Megan called in the twerk team calvary for a jaw-dropping hot girl boot camp. Janelle supported her efforts and continued their crusade to free the nipple on the stage.

The spice of their playful Essence Fest performances was met with mixed reviews.

Some were so excited that they started throwing it back in the stands; others thought it was too much.


India Arie hopped in the comment section to express her distaste for their methods of self-expression. Essence posted a clip from Megan’s performance with the caption, “Hot girl bootcamp was in full effect last night. It’s @janellemonae with the encouragement for us.” 

“The issue is what is CONTEXT,” wrote the Grammy award-winning performer beneath the magazine’s post. 

“Humanity does EVERYTHING. But does EVERYTHING BELONG IN A STAGE. No, is everything for KIDS? No,” she said. “Is everything for EVERY BODY? NO. so when we as a culture make something like this main stream ~ it shows a lack of discretion [and] discernment,” she continued. 

“To those in the comments who laugh at anyone who wants these things for culture you certainly have that right. Just as many folks have the right to want our MAINSTREAM International export – [our] Music – to show us in a respectful light.” 

She clarified that her comments were not meant to be hateful and expressed love for Megan and Janelle. “I love us all AND i dont like this moment,” she wrote. “Id like to go on the record saying : this wont age well and thats my issue,” she added before declaring that she would not be debating the matter further.

People predictably rushed to drag India Arie. But Black women do not all have to share the same ideas about what public behavior is acceptable to them.

They should hold space for one another no matter what ideas they share or don’t share.

India Arie is an artist whose individuality and commitment to uplifting her audience are worthy of celebration. Megan and Janelle are too.

All three of these artists introduce ideas about radical self-love and acceptance in ways that feel true to them. Sometimes that includes twerking in a stadium full of adults, and that should be okay.

Nearly thirty years later, the f-boy blocking, Lil Baby lyric reciting, telfy-toting hot girls are sliding towards matriarch status and seeking community at this historic event. There should be room for them and those who express themselves differently than them.

There should be room for every type of Black woman at Essence Festival, and anywhere else we come together. The multi-day event could be affectionately considered “auntie palooza” as it brings together aunties across the spectrum every year, which is beautiful.

As elder millennials and Gen-z become the new aunties flocking to NOLA annually for Essence Festival, they will take their ideas about propriety, purity culture, sex, and bodily autonomy with them.

They are not more free than previous generations (we saw ya mama and them at Freanik), but they are less apologetic about upholding that freedom, and that doesn’t mean that they don’t respect themselves or each other. It means they can choose what they do with their bodies, like everyone else.

Black women are disrespected whether they are rocking baggy college sweats or a freakum dress and it is never okay.

Someone who would look at a video of Janelle flashing their nipple or Megan cupping her booty while dancing as an excuse to denigrate Black femmes was going to do so anyway.

No one will convince them that they are not being respected because they like to throw it in a circle because they know better. Respectability politics has not saved one of us yet.

The idea that women should be treated a certain way just because they like to do hoodrat stuff with their friends is tempting to lean into but profoundly untrue.

No matter what they wear to see Usher or what types of selfies they post, they deserve to be respected publicly and privately.



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The Essence Fest Performances Prove That Black Women Deserve Respect No Matter What They Wear Or How They Dance  was originally published on