The surprise release of Beyoncé’s “Formation” was met with a frenzy of responses from people all over the globe. The video, which opens with a striking image of Beyoncé standing boldly atop a sinking New Orleans Police Department vehicle in the middle of a post-Katrina New Orleans, is laden with elements of what it means to be black in America.
As she stands on the police car, the voice of the late Messy Mya, a famous YouTuber, poses the question “What happened at the New Orleans?” This is followed by a series of images that capture various other aspects of what it means to be black historically and as citizens of the South.
Almost immediately the viewer is submerged in a community characterized by rich black heritage and the experiences that accompany it. Beyoncé begins the song by addressing those who have attributed her success to a conspiracy theory that holds that she and her husband are a part of a global elite aiming to dominate the world.
“Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess,” she said in the video. The chorus of the song highlights elements of black culture that are often regarded in a negative light. Beyoncé challenges the notions that black features like kinkier, coarser hair and a wider set nose are undesirable or unattractive.
The video emphasizes this initially with segments of Blue Ivy, Beyoncé and Jay Z’s daughter, dancing and sporting her natural hair. “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros. I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils,” the lyrics said.
There is a brief moment featuring three black women standing in the aisle of a beauty supply store and there is another comment on hair, a staple in black culture. The video progresses as Beyoncé lyrically claims her roots in southern black America and reclaims terms like creole, Negro and bama, that are typically meant to degrade black people. “I got hot sauce in my bag. Swag, ” Beyoncé sings, reassuring listeners that the fame has not distanced her from black values and customs, like carrying hot sauce around in her bag.
Later, the viewer is introduced to Beyoncé’s all black, all female group of dancers, also sporting their hair in its natural form.
In a display of pure feminism, Beyoncé calls on women to “get in formation” and demands that they “slay,” meaning that they dominate in all aspects of their life, as she continuously does as a mother, wife, artist and feminist icon. As Beyonce says in the song lyric, “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making,” she reminds black women here that they can be as wealthy and influential as someone like Bill Gates.
She asserts her position as a strong, driven and intelligent black female in society and in a career dominated by white men, and she calls fellow black women to join her. What follows the sequence of Beyoncé and her army of women prepared to “slay” is arguably one of the most powerful moments of “Formation.”
A young black boy clothed in all black dances in front of a line of armed policemen. The policemen don the protective gear they are known to wear during instances of rioting and gun violence.
The camera cuts away from this scene to a brick wall with the phrase “stop shooting us” spray painted on it. As the young boy concludes his dance he spreads his arms wide, presenting himself as a vulnerable target and the policemen raise their arms in an act of surrender.
With this, Beyoncé secures her place with the black community in the movement that has been calling for an end to the racism and police brutality since the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and Eric Garner in 2014.
Beyoncé is using the platform she has been granted to practically scream “Black Lives Matter.” She lends a voice to an otherwise disadvantaged people whose lives are far too often endangered by a system that was built to prosper off of their oppression.
The video closes with Beyoncé once again calling for ladies to “get in formation” right before she sinks with the police car that she dominated minutes before, in a display of solidarity with New Orleans and the black community.
Following the unforeseen release of her iconic new music video, Beyoncé delivered a performance of “Formation” at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. Backed by an all-black crew of 30 female dancers, Beyoncé took to the field wearing a black and gold ensemble that bore a striking resemblance to Michael Jackson’s outfit during his Super Bowl performance in 1993.
Her army of dancers followed behind her in perfect formation. Clad in all black, leather and fishnets, the girls performed wearing the signature black berets of the Black Panthers to also pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Black Panther party. Beyoncé and her dancers captivated the attention of over 300,000 Super Bowl fans, as well as a viewership that was the third largest in Super Bowl history.
The controversy that followed the release of her new music video and Super Bowl performance has inspired protests of the NFL, boycotts of the Red Lobster franchise and an eager conversation about race in America. A common criticism in reference to Beyoncé’s performance is that it was too politically motivated for an event as high-spirited as the Super Bowl.
Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay who performed alongside Beyoncé during the halftime show, wore a shirt in support of Global Citizen, an organization that helps to combat extreme poverty and inequality. Though poverty and inequality are deeply political issues, he has been met with far less scrutiny than Beyoncé has over her politically motivated performance.
Many people hold firmly that after the release of “Formation” and her Super Bowl performance, Beyoncé is guilty of perpetuating a seeming double standard between what white people can say or do, in comparison to what black people and other people of color are allowed to say or do. After Beyoncé’s performance, comedian Owen Benjamin tweeted “I really really hope Beyoncé fans google ‘Who were the black panthers.’ Never support her again. She basically just did a KKK dance routine.”
People have used platforms like social media sites and news outlets to respond to claims that Beyoncé is an anti-police, “reverse-racist” ever since the release of “Formation.” Though some are more eloquently put than others, most contend that Beyoncé’s plea to end police brutality was not an attack on the police. Thus, arguing that Beyoncé’s assertion of her blackness was not an attack on anyone’s whiteness.
Story by: Makaelah Walters, A&E Reporter