Formation: the new anthem of Black History Month and #BlackLivesMatter
By SIMRET AKLILU
“Unapologetically black” is perhaps the only phrase that could describe Beyoncé’s new hit single Formation. The video, which came out less than 24 hours on Tidal and YouTube before the singers much anticipated Super Bowl performance, was perhaps the most controversial because it addresses issues that have plagued the black community for decades.
The sheer bravado of this video in addressing topics like police brutality, stereotypes concerning black women and men in society and Hurricane Katrina have made it an unforgettable, politically direct piece for Beyoncé as she continues to set standards in the music industry.
Formation begins with Beyoncé squatting on top of a sinking New Orleans police car surrounded by sinking houses. This visual is a commentary on the state of New Orleans after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the lack of efforts that have been made in restoring certain communities, especially those that were predominantly black. It also addresses the police brutality cases that followed Katrina, namely, the famous Henry Glover case, where an African American man was gunned down by a white police officer for no reason.
Beyoncé also intentionally incorporates a powerful scene that is symbolic of both the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown cases. The scene opens up with a small African American boy in a black hoody –symbolic of Trayvon Martin- dancing in front of a group of police officers that are in what can be referred to as a ‘firing squad’ formation. The boy immediately stops and raises both his hands prompting the police officers to do the same in a “Hands up, don’t shoot” gesture, representative of the Michael Brown case. The scene then transitions into the penultimate segment of the video where the phrase “Stop Shooting Us” is graffitied on the wall.
In terms of uplifting black culture, Beyoncé’s approach is nothing less than powerful. Lyrics like “My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana, you mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bama” glorify her southern roots. She also picks physical characteristics that society has shamed African Americans for and beautifies them. For example, in the past people have put pressure on Beyoncé to perm her daughter’s hair so that it may become less coarse and more relaxed. The singer addresses the issue by proudly stating that she likes her “baby heir with baby hair and afros.” This message is also exemplified further as many of her backup singers’ hair styles are in an Afro hairdos. These lyrics are also an encouragement for black women to embrace their natural hair. Another criticism that Beyoncé confronts is the stereotype that black men have big noses. The lyrics “I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” are dedicated to uplifting black men and encouraging them to embrace their own unique facial features.
One message Beyoncé stresses in the music video is how even though she “earned all this money” and “might be a black Bill Gates in the making” her morals and values have not changed.
After performing at Levi’s Stadium for Pepsi’s Super Bowl halftime show, Beyoncé received a lot of criticism for the clothing she and her dancers wore. Her outfit, which was a dead ringer for the Michael Jackson’s Super Bowl XXVII outfit, was her way of paying homage to him. Her backup dancer’s outfits, on the other hand, resembled the clothes worn by the Black Panther Party, who were notorious for their aggressive approach to the Civil Rights Movement. This has sparked a lot of controversy as some said that the clothes encouraged people to “attack” police officers. This opinion was specifically voiced by former mayor of New York, Rudy Giulani who referred to Beyoncé’s performance as being “outrageous” on Fox & Friends even though she was only showing her support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Since its release, Formation has received raving reviews and harsh criticisms, but its message remains the same. The video has become an anthem for the black community as they continue to campaign against police brutality. It is also a ringing chorus for black men and women as it encourages them to love their heritage and recognize their worth in society.