By: Adi Guobadia | Twitter: @majin_ade
Thanks in large part to the enthusiasm of her ever-dedicated BeyHive, Beyoncé is no longer the type of celebrity who generates love and contempt in equal measure. She is instead a cultural giant whose talent and consistency have afforded her relative immunity from the critiques that her inferiors are subjected to. With her surprise album drop in December 2014, Beyoncé solidified her place as a legendary pop artist the likes of which we have not seen since the late Michael Jackson. Brazen in its message, the eponymous album tackled issues of gender inequality and explored sexuality through the lens of black motherhood.
Despite the risks she took in owning her feminism, a label most of her peers in the entertainment business shied away from, there are still some who question whether Beyoncé has done enough with her prominent pop market platform. Her most cynical critics wonder if the #feminist theme to her last album is the byproduct of personal revelation or clever marketing.
With her latest song and video, “Formation,” some are questioning the timing of its release. The pro-black trap anthem and matching visual were uploaded to Youtube 24 hours before the singer’s Super Bowl performance and announcement of her new world tour, during black history month and between Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin’s birthdays. The timing has non-fans wondering if the singer is using pro-blackness as a part of some grandiose marketing scheme.
Interestingly enough, the criticism that has been thrown at “Formation” in the 48 hours since its release—that it’s seemingly opportunistic, perhaps self indulgent and therefore, insincere—are in fact its greatest strengths.
The video begins with Beyoncé sitting atop a New Orleans police car. Staring directly into the camera she sets the tone for the no holds barred song and shuts down long standing rumors of her connection to the Illuminati: “Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess.”
With just seven words she tells us that to imply her success is the result of the occult as opposed to refined talent is just as insulting as it is corny. The most poignant moment in the video is the second to last scene featuring a young black boy in a black hoodie dancing in front of a line of state troopers. He finishes his dance, pulls his arms back so as to make a cross like shape and stares in to the eyes of the state troopers who are now standing with their arms above their heads as the camera flashes to a nearby wall which reads “Stop shooting us.”
As one of the video’s more obvious statements, this scene overshadows some of “Formation’s” more subtle symbols: The cross shapes Beyoncé and other characters make with their bodies and hair; the liveliness of the parade and black church in a city whose black residents were left for dead after one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent memory; the New Orleans police car drowning in flood water. In fact, “Formation” is laden with so much anti-establishment imagery of this sort it’s difficult to imagine Beyoncé’s motivation was solely capitalistic gain.
As far as questions concerning the timing of the video’s release, it stands to reason that given her massive following this song would have charted and sold successfully regardless of when it came out. By choosing to release “Formation” during Black History Month, New Orleans Carnival season and before her second performance at the Super Bowl halftime show, Beyoncé was deliberate in creating an intoxicating, pro-black cocktail. In performing “Formation” (dressed in all black, throwing up black power fists and leading a squad of afro wearing background dancers/Black Panthers) during the halftime show of America’s most watched television program every year, she effectively flung black liberation imagery and manifesto onto every American’s Super Bowl Sunday platter and welcomed us into a new era that will likely be characterized by anthemic music similar to that of “Formation.” In other words, to accept Beyoncé at this onset of her new era is to accept an unapologetically black and socially conscious super woman; one who works hard, takes what’s hers, slays, and wants you to do the same.