Beyonce may have been church-mouse quiet for the majority of a calendar year, but as we know, it’s the quiet ones you often have to look out for. By now, you may have discovered Beyonce’s latest song “Formation” for yourself, or maybe you heard the high-pitched shrieks of approval from the Beyhive on that unassuming Saturday afternoon (Feb. 6). The surprise single and video, shot by Melina Matsoukas (the director of the image-conscious anthem “Pretty Hurts” from Bey’s 2013 self-titled opus), features Mrs. Carter on her boss sh*t, discussing how she slays the scene, how she’s about her paper and how the haters should continue to bow down.
However, the Mike WiLL Made-It produced-track is not only about Beyonce and her unimaginable levels of success and wealth. It’s also about the unimaginable power that blackness wields, embracing said power and reveling in its distinctness. In a new anthem to add to her ever-growing repertoire, Bey is extremely unapologetic, and tackles political and societal aspects of the African-American culture for men, women and children. The track and accompanying visuals could not have hit the ‘Net at a better time; Black History Month 2016 is just getting warmed up, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement shows no signs of slowing down.
Of course, my heart skipped a beat upon discovering that Beyonce released new music unannounced for the second time in her career. I had an inkling that something was up after I had read that her entire Parkwood management team was replaced, but it was still surprising to see something new and to hear something so different than what we are used to hearing from the Queen. That Saturday, I watched the video at least seven times—three times consecutively—because I needed to process exactly what she had done. My sister (and designated Beyonce consultant) was the first person I texted, and our entire conversation was in all caps, not just because we were excited, but because we were so surprised that she used the song to make a statement about the BLM movement.
Beyonce has been mum verbally, but through donations and in-person support at various BLM rallies, it’s clear that the singer cosigns the movement. The underlying themes and in-your-face imagery brought to the forefront in the nearly five-minute video are not to be ignored, but digested and processed.
Nothing was quite as culturally significant as the shot of a young boy, adorned in a black hoodie, dancing fearlessly in front of a line of white cops. On his signal, the cops put their hands up, flipping the script on the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” mantra sadly coined in 2014 during the controversial shooting of Michael Brown. The allusion came one day after what would have been slain teen Trayvon Martin’s 21st birthday, and with the words “Stop Shooting Us” spray painted in black against a white brick wall, the chills were ever-present on this caramel sleeve of mine. Sealing the deal with a sinking New Orleans cop car at the video’s conclusion, “Formation” speaks volumes on where Sasha Fierce stands when it comes to the subject of police brutality. She’s not anti-cop, she’s anti-pointless-violence.
Queen Bey also drew attention to the embattled areas of New Orleans still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which ripped through Louisiana in 2005. Messy Mya, an outspoken YouTube sensation and burgeoning rapper from NOLA who was shot and killed in 2010, was featured in the beginning of the video asking the haunting words, “What happened after New Orleans?” Images from the documentary film That B.E.A.T portray overturned, vacant houses and a cop car submerged in water, the same vehicle that meets its aquatic demise around the 4:40 mark. There may be several areas in New Orleans that have received massive amounts of aid, but other predominantly black communities are still feeling the storm’s fury over 10 years later, and Beyonce hasn’t forgotten. This nod is serving as a call-to-action for others to fall into formation (so to speak) and work together to help other members of the black community when the world seems to have turned its back on them.
“Formation” also tackles a myriad of pointless stereotypes plaguing the black community, as Bey hurls endless amounts of shade at these critiques along the way. Who can forget when haters lambasted her for keeping her daughter Blue’s tresses au naturale? In response, the Carter heir’s hair was placed on display, front-and-center. Blue offers a confident gleam at the camera—kinks, coils and all—as her mother discusses how she likes her black baby’s hair as God made it, “with baby hair and afros.” Not to mention, she also likes the way her main man Jigga’s nostrils are naturally flared like a young Jackson 5 member. Stay mad, because she couldn’t give a f**k about your feelings on these topics.
Beyonce’s domination of the music industry can serve as both a blessing and a curse in this situation. Sometimes, it takes a big force to stand up for those who don’t have the platform to move mountains. Having someone as big as Beyonce use her influence to push social activism can bring more attention to the issues within our community, as well as help celebrate what makes our culture special. Adversely however, as we saw with her Super Bowl performance, there will also be hordes of people who will continue to let ignorance blind them from issues that blacks face and the actual message of the song. Conservative Rush Limbaugh said the performance was “representative of the cultural decay and the political decay and the social rot that is befalling our country.”
Being black is a special type of personal wealth, from our skin tone to our hair to customs significant to our culture. Growing up in a predominantly white suburban community along the sandy Jersey Shore, you could imagine how difficult it was for me to take ownership of this. My mother’s skin was so light that she could have passed for white, so I was often asked by my peers if I was adopted because my hue didn’t match up with hers. I also rocked braids and cornrows with plastic flower barrettes until the tender age of 11, often getting into arguments with my mother about why I couldn’t wear my hair “out” like my friends did, to which she would often vaguely reply (much to my adolescent dismay), “because you’re different.”
It was hard, it was painful, and truth be told, it wasn’t until my first year of college that I fully understood that being black was more special than I ever could have realized. When I see how many people are 100 percent comfortable with their blackness, it makes me feel a part of something, something that took so much longer for me to feel a part of than it should have. Seeing someone who I’ve been a fan of since I was seven, celebrating the highs and bringing attention to the lows of the culture is something that I am happy to witness, especially since Beyonce gets flack for certain things about her appearance as well, like her skin’s lightness, the type of hair she wears and her bootylicious-ness.
If we need to keep anything in mind about Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter at this point in her illustrious career, it’s to expect the unexpected, and it’s safe to say that “Formation” follows the songbird’s modus-operandi to a T. As Big Freedia so poignantly describes, she “did not come to play with you hoes.” She came to slay, she came to educate with her platform, she came to celebrate her differences, and she urges her highly-favored black sisters and brothers to do the very same. Swag.