The pinnacle of any music artist’s evolution probably looks a lot like this.
You release a new song online, without any previous announcement, and in just an hour or two, virtually all of the internet — and pretty much the world — is talking about you and your work.
Do it the day before you’re set to perform at the most important American sporting event of the year, and your personal stock shoots through the stratosphere. That’s a place an artist like Beyoncé is very familiar with.
The music video for her newest song “Formation” has become the most political message the she’s ever shared, evoking powerful images of black cultural pride, oppression, wealth, tragedy and resilience.
It’s not just a video about the police, as some who are apparently “boycotting” Beyonce appear to believe.
The video makes two implicit references to law enforcement, and here they are:
The music video’s opening image shows the 20-time Grammy winner sitting on top of a New Orleans police car that’s partially submerged in water. It’s a visceral look that hearkens back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the devastating storm that left more than 1,000 people dead, and thousands more without food and water for days. It was one of the biggest US domestic policy failures of a generation.
In her video, Beyonce rests on top of the New Orleans police car as she, and the cruiser, sink beneath the surface.
Another scene that seems to have caused a lot of conversation is one in which a young boy, dressed in all black and wearing a hoodie, jigs to the track’s bass-heavy beat. Quickly, we see he’s dancing in front of a row of police officers who are dressed in riot gear.
Suddenly, he stops and lifts his hands. The officers respond in kind, lifting their hands, as the camera pans to a wall that has the words, “Stop shooting us” spray-painted on it.
The scene is an implicit statement on police brutality and use-of-force — which has been a leading topic of discussion in the US for the past several years as black men, women and children have been killed by police, sometimes under highly questionable circumstances.
“Formation” touts black cultural pride — which in this case, is a means of owning one’s identity. Beyonce declares in the lyrics her love of the fact that she is genuinely, unapologetically black:
“My daddy Alabama Momma Louisiana You mix that Creole with that Negro, make a Texas Bama I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils …”
And it goes on. The point is, Beyonce is proud of being black, and unafraid to say it.
The video also amplifies the artist’s personal and professional success — which quickly becomes a bold, ethno-feminist statement when Beyonce declares: “I might just be a black Bill Gates in the making.” To date, she remains one of the richest women in the music business.
Jenna Wortham summed it up best in The New York Times:
“‘Formation’ isn’t just about police brutality — it’s about the entirety of the black experience in America in 2016, which includes standards of beauty, (dis)empowerment, culture and the shared parts of our history.”
You can see the full “Formation” video here:
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