Her new video is a wonderful, unapologetic display of power and automatically important
Slap bang in the middle of Black History Month, Queen Bey dropped another gem upon us. Unannounced, peppered with political undertones and large doses of Black Girl Magic, the musical powerhouse released a visual ode immersed in New Orleans culture and loaded with black resistance. The new single "Formation" and its accompanying video arrived on the eve of the artist’s highly anticipated Super Bowl 50 halftime performance, made available on YouTube and for free download through Tidal.
Setting the internet ablaze and sending Black Twitter into an (almost) unanimous YESSSS, the intoxicating and equally subversive ballad is a black empowerment anthem in every way. Whether you’re on your umpteenth watch or don’t quite know what to make of it, let’s explore a few reasons why Queen Bey's “Formation” is automatically important.
The film opens with Beyoncé perched atop a police car partially submerged in water, with the wails of late queer media personality and New Orleans bounce rapper, Messy Mya. “What happened after New Orleans?” bellows through the speakers as shots of a sinking NOLA flicker through the screen. A sobering double entendre alluding to the 2005 tragedy of Hurricane Katrina ‒ a massive, racially-centred government scandal in which the Bush administration failed to assist thousands of predominantly black communities in the wake of the storm, leaving them impoverished and displaced, as well as police brutality's destruction of black livelihood.
Within the film’s first 20 seconds, Beyoncé hoists a glaring mirror to the mistakes and systemic issues related to Katrina, and the stark reality that the affected cities have yet to fully recover. She gives a wave to the black community, and lets us know, bitch, she’s back!
I LIKE MY BABY HAIR WITH BABY HAIR AND AFRO
Basically, Blue Ivy is a carefree black girl sporting a bountiful halo of kinky coils and we all will deal. At the tender age of four, the pint-sized mogul has already endured a five thousand-strong petition to “comb her hair,” Beyoncé and little Blu are flourishing and remain blissfully unbothered.
I LIKE MY NEGRO NOSE WITH JACKSON FIVE NOSTRILS
Could this be a reference to the slew of jokes and internet memes surrounding Jay-Z’s appearance? Is it a clapback to speculations of Bey going under the knife? Just as it was probably intended, this jewel from the chorus can be interpreted a multitude of ways. The line tugs at black beauty’s long subjugation to being measured by a proximity to whiteness, with black women especially bearing the brunt. The idea of black people jubilantly singing “I love my negro nose” (and all that comes with it) while entrenched in a society telling them the polar opposite and after years of oppression, is frankly, empowering as hell. It’s an epic cultivation of community and pride, and a beautiful reclamation of black identity, in its many forms, and in all its splendour.
PAYING HOMAGE TO HER HERITAGE
Beyoncé is a southern woman through and through, in case anyone’s memory has deserted them. Owning her Creole roots and Texas upbringing, the self-anointed “Texas bamma” draws from every crevice of black southern womanhood. New Orleans bounce rap pioneer Big Freedia blares on the vocals, a reverend fervently preaches to his congregation, declarations of loving cornbread and collard greens are made, in a wig store no less, while her raspy vocals spill over the sonorous beat with one-liners like “When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster,” and of course, the charming disclosure that a bottle of hot sauce holds a permanent residence in her bag. Beyoncé wittingly embraces aspects of black culture and southern blackness customarily employed to taunt and demean.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to unpack the loaded imagery, symbolism, and lyricism all over “Formation”. Each view offers a new untold narrative, a fresh perspective, a thought-inducing detail, and a longlost bit of history, further intensifying the sheer greatness in its message. While it’s almost overwhelming attempting to condense the rendering, Syreeta McFadden poignantly pinpoints its glorious essence: “There is in it a litany of blackness, of what we love, of our diverse selves, of our intersections – class, sexuality and gender – woven so neatly in the visual that the lyrics and music seem secondary, but are intrinsic to communicating this celebration of southern fried blackness.”
The young boy in a black hoodie and pants is undoubtedly an acknowledgement of Trayvon Martin among others. He’s buoyantly dancing in front of a line of police officers clad in riot gear, their arms raised, “Stop Shooting Us” is graffitied on a wall, Beyoncé is on top of a sinking police car. Lawd. In my most ideal imagining of the film, a young black girl would raise her hands in unison with the young boy, but, nonetheless, an immensely powerful statement. Beyoncé simultaneously said nothing and everything in a matter of seconds.
Will I download and incessantly play “Formation” every day? Probably not. Is it one of my all-time favorite Beyoncé projects? Maybe. I’m not really sure, though it grows on me with each watch and unearthed message. Is Beyoncé without flaw or positioning herself as the next leader of the civil rights movement? I would say no. But that’s beside the point. The song and film’s palatability to the general masses is of no importance. Beyoncé stood before us, as a black woman and public figure of mega stardom; as someone who’s historically been expected to silently ride the coattails of political correctness and pander to whiteness, and unabashedly proclaimed her love of her blackness, her roots, and those belonging to the black community, black women of the black community. That is powerful beyond measure. Therein lies the magic of “Formation”; it's the dizzying, unapologetic black love, black pride, black visibility that have profoundly resonated with those praising it. Beyoncé has arrived. Again.